“What is the truth?”
We heard from multiple members of the cast and crew of Fargo how that universal question is a major theme of this third season, and it was on full display in the opening scene of the premiere, set during an interrogation in East Berlin in 1988. However, it won’t be any answer to that question that proves most meaningful on the fairy tale-like series, it will be the lessons learned about the real, subjective nature of “truth,” and how it drives our outlook on life.
The married man in his 40s that calls himself Jacob Ungerleider is accused of being 20-year-old suspected murdered Yuri Gurka. Jacob lives at Yuri’s listed address, yes, and his wife has the same first name as the victim, but it seems obvious Jacob is not Yuri, and this is a combination of out-of-date paperwork and a lack of common sense.
But the state’s file says one thing is true, so without question or exception, the state takes that to mean what Jacob is saying must be wrong. Out of fear, Jacob won’t openly admit the file is incorrect, but to the cold and calculating officer questioning him that’s as good as an admission. To the officer, two opposing statements can’t coexist, as simple as it seems here. In the final moments, the officer sums up the whole problem, and cuts to the message of this season’s theme.
“What you are giving me is words. This ‘wife’ who is ‘alive,’ a ‘different last name.’ That is called a ‘story.’ And we are not here to tell stories. We are here to tell the truth. Understand?”
What’s scariest isn’t that an innocent man can so easily be railroaded; what’s scariest is that by scene’s end we are no longer sure Jacob is innocent. An composed military man speaking with certainty and a few circumstantial (and likely coincidental) pieces of “evidence” makes Jacob’s innocence seem less certain. Suddenly the truth that seemed so obvious at the onset is nebulous. It’s a terrifying prospect, that reality can so easily be dismissed by a story. The officer attempts to differentiate truth from a story, but what he does is blur them into the same thing. The truth is a story we tell, and the story we tell becomes the truth.
We don’t get a resolution to this interrogation–and might not–but the frailty of an impossible-to-know, absolute truth is on full display later in the episode when Ray and Emmit disagree over who was responsible for the “car/stamp” swap they made years earlier, the one that has caused animosity between them. They each have their own version of the real story, and therefore their own truths, and it shapes their actions going forward.
If Emmit accepted his brother’s version of events he might very well have repaid his brother the money he owed him; if Ray accepted his brother’s version he would never have sent someone to rob him, avoiding the two murders that might possibly ruin his life.
The reality of what happened between them no longer matters, all that matters is what they believe, and what happens as a result of what they think they know. It’s a powerful and painful lesson on life, the kind we’ve come to expect from the show.
Part of what makes Noah Hawley‘s Fargo series so good is that each season has rich and meaningful themes on the nature of life. They operate like dark, modern fairy tales in that way. Which is why it’s no surprise he said this season was inspired by the Russian kid’s story “Peter and the Wolf.” In that tale, the question of who is really the wolf–a.k.a. who is really the dangerous creature–is the heart of the matter, and it’s a matter of perception, just like the truth.
Somewhere the objective facts about Jacob/Yuri exist, just like there is a real version of what happened between Ray and Emmit, but in both cases that no longer matters. They’ve been replaced by stories, stories that determine what we do and what happens to us. And sometimes those “stories lead us to very dark places.
And that is as scary today as it was in East Berlin in 1988.
But what did you think of the opening scene and how it relates to the theme of the season? Tell us the truth in the comments below.