Fargo and the Gods.

When the TV Show FARGO entered the Classical World

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is fantastic as the hero of this story. Her character is compelling.

Deus ex machina is a Latin phrase from the Greek ἀπὸ μηχανῆς θεός, meaning ‘god from the machine’. The term has evolved to mean a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the inspired and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object.  It is intended to allow a story to continue when the writer has “painted himself/herself into a corner.  Now a days, it’s considered bad form, but I have seen it used in other plots.  One book had the hero surrounded by bad guys, and wouldn’t you know it, THE BUILDING BLEW UP.  In this story, only the hero survived.  “How convenient.” 

I have been told that the ancient playwrights would have the gods literally lowered from the ceiling by pulleys where the actor or actress would happily tidy up the plot.  i.e.  girl gets boy / boy gets girl, and no one is killed by the evil tyrant because Athena appears from the rafters.

I confess…I am hooked on FARGO.  Especially the actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead.  Each season seems to be a movie unto itself, with strong characterizations. If you have not been watching, here is a brief synopsis of Season 3.  


In 2010, St. Cloud probation officer Ray Stussy (Ewan McGregor) and his parolee girlfriend Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), dream of a better, wealthier life as they attempt to steal a valuable vintage stamp from Ray’s more successful older brother, Emmit (also played by McGregor), the self-proclaimed “Parking Lot King of Minnesota”. However, their plans backfire, and they soon have to hide their involvement in two deaths, including the stepfather of former Eden Valley police chief Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon). Meanwhile, Emmit wishes to pay back a shady company he borrowed money from two years prior so he can settle things between them. However, the mysterious company and its employees, V. M. Varga (David Thewlis) and Yuri Gurka (Goran Bogdan), have other plans.


It’s the character Nikki Swango that steals the show.  She may a shady type, but beautiful, and in the long run all she is trying to do is trying to overcome the cards that have been dealt her.  You got to love a character that truly loves her man, and she is no  wilting flower – on more than one occasion she takes matters into her own hands – a perfect representation of a film noir damsel.  Name one who is not willing to kill for her man. 


There is a scene where Nikki is on the run, and chained to a fellow prisoner.  People are getting killed, a crossbow arrow goes through her leg, but she presses on.  Nikki simply does not quit.   She and her fellow prisoner are almost killed, but they kill an attacker with the very chain that binds them together, and an ax provides a handy tool to persuade a maniac to slow his attack after losing his left ear.  The chain is broken, but they continue to flee together.  Soon, they make it to a bowling alley.  Nice how one pops up in the middle of a Minnesota highway.  It is warm inside, she leaves her partner to rest as she get a whiskey from an obliging bartender that does not even ask if she has the money for the purchase.  The police are after them.  Assassins are after them.  She has been a target for two episodes, barely escaping with her life.  No where to run.  Here she is in the middle of the Minnesota countryside with nowhere to hide.

Question:  Have you written yourself into a corner?  Welcome the Deus ex Machina.

A man sits next to her. It is the actor Ray Wise.  You may remember Mr. Wise as playing the Devil in the TV show Reaper.  Who better to play a religious character?  In this episode he plays the part of the Lord God Yahweh, brought down from on high.  At least that is how I interpreted it.  He gives our heroine a way out by offering up a Green Volkswagen with the keys under the mat.  “You look like you could use a break,” he says.

Nikki is saved.  She and the other fugitive drive away just as the maniac, missing an ear, shows up.  In the old days of Greek Drama, a goddess would be lowered by a crane to make everything right.  In this drama God sits down and has a drink with  you.

The introduction of the Deus ex Machina has always been considered a mistake for the writer.  It’s too convenient.  It’s an easy way out to get your character out of an impossible situation.  I recognized what was going on immediately.  I couldn’t believe this was happening.  I had never seen Deus ex Machina be played out in a police procedural.  I wanted to yell out, “STOP.  UNFAIR.  GET BETTER WRITERS!”

But somehow, it worked.  The show is a little strange to start with.  Face it – the antagonist, Mr. Varga, who appears earlier in the show (played by David Thewlis), appears to take over a company, with either peaceful or violent means, is a perfect personification of the Devil.  Thewlis up in a Wonder Woman movie as a God.  He is alluring, filled with attractive stories and persuasions – as he forces you to drink his poisoned tea.

So, why not an appearance by God himself?  Ray Wise has the face for it.  You can believe its Yahweh in human form.  Why shouldn’t that work as well?

I have been thinking why I liked the episode.  There can be only one answer.  I have faced death three times, and somehow maybe, there was someone saying to me:  “You look like you could use a break.”  The other reason is Winstead.  It’s a perfect performance, but I knew that already.  She was the girl with the purple hair in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.  Sigh.  

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