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Fargo Season 3 Is Not Afraid to Ask the Big Questions

What is truth? Is capitalism evil? How is Michael Stuhlbarg so good in everything?

Liam Mathews

Fargo has always been a show concerned with big moral and cultural ideas, and Season 3 (or "Year 3," in the parlance of the anthology series' marketing) is no different. This year, Noah Hawley's brilliant Coen Bros. adaptation is interrogating the very nature of truth with the financial crisis as a backdrop.

Fargo's third season, which premieres Wednesday, Apr. 19, is set in Minnesota in 2010 and tells the story of brothers Emmit and Ray Stussy, both played by Ewan McGregor. Emmit is a wealthy and outwardly upstanding businessman, while Ray is a seedy parole officer who's more like his clients than his older brother. Ray resents Emmit for tricking him into giving up his rights to their late father's valuable stamp collection when they were teenagers. Ray wants to buy an engagement ring for his girlfriend Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), but Emmit won't give him any more money, since Emmit is having cash flow problems of his own. So Ray hires one of his parolees to steal the last remaining stamp from their father's collection, which of course goes wrong, leading to mayhem that pulls in small-town police chief Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon). Meanwhile, Emmit is dealing with the malevolent presence of creepy investor V.M. Varga (David Thewlis), from whom Emmit and his right-hand man Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg) took out a loan when the market crashed and that had some unexpected and unwanted strings attached.

Michael Stuhlbarg and Ewan McGregor, Fargo

Michael Stuhlbarg and Ewan McGregor, Fargo

Chris Large/FX

That's the plot, but it's about a lot more than just a crime story. It's quite consciously about the nature of truth itself, which takes on resonance Hawley didn't intend in our era of fake news and alternative facts. Both of the two episodes shared with critics (and presumably all the episodes after that) open with the disclaimer "THIS IS A TRUE STORY," which isn't true. That disclaimer appeared in the original movie, and it wasn't true there, either. The word "TRUE" always fades, and then "THIS IS A," leaving behind just "STORY." The disclaimer is a thematic precursor to the things that happen in the show. Every story in the show has multiple sides, and every character has their own version of the story. The season explores the paradox of the "true story" -- that is, how can something be true if it's a story? What if the truth is in the telling, not the facts?

It's also about what people do for money. This is what Fargo is always about, but the setting of the financial crisis gives it added urgency. It's not as anti-capitalist as Mr. Robot, but heavy themes of how systems break people are at play here.

All these big ideas are anchored by a uniformly exceptional cast. McGregor is the attention-grabber with his showy dual roles, and he's probably going to win an Emmy for his excellent work, but Winstead is delightful as the ride-or-die chick Nikki Swango, Coon is the reincarnation of Frances McDormand's Oscar-winning performance in Fargo the movie and Stuhlbarg continues his streak of being amazing in everything he's in. Thewlis is an enigma in the first two episodes, but by the end of this we're almost surely going to have a Mt. Rushmore of unforgettable Fargo psychopaths adorned with his face, as well as the mugs of Peter Stormare, Billy Bob Thornton and Bokeem Woodbine.

Carrie Coon, Fargo

Carrie Coon, Fargo

Chris Large/FX

And Hawley is one of television's greatest stylists, from his eclectic music selection to his color palette (he removed shades of blue from what he shot this season, which gives it a unique look) to the way he moves the camera. Everything feels intentional in a way that lets you know you're watching a master at work.

Fargo Season 3 premieres Wednesday, April 19 at 10/9c on FX.