Maybe taking a bit of a breather after an intense episode was the right way to go this week for Fargo. Yet “Who Rules the Land of Denial?” felt like it slowed the momentum down just a bit. Maybe we’ll end up enjoying that pause before the final two episodes. For now, this was more of a curiosity when the series should arguably be building toward the finale.

To be fair, the episode picked up right where the last one left off. We got a little bit of backstory with Yuri and the unnamed fake cop (played by DJ Qualls) putting together a makeshift ramp. That turned the prison bus over when the driver had to swerve to avoid Yuri walking onto the road.

But having to get through the gate separating the inmates from the officers provided some time for Nikki Swango to escape before Yuri could get his hands on her. When Nikki boarded the bus, she was seated next to Mr. Wrench, one of the hitmen assigned to kill Lorne Malvo in Season 1 of Fargo. That turned out to be some good fortune for Nikki, as Wrench immediately sees a chance to escape.

At first, it seems as if Wrench senses that the thugs are after Nikki. That’s not an outrageous conclusion to draw, since she was a late addition to the bus and is the only woman on board. But later on, Wrench asks Nikki if the men are after her, to which she apologizes for getting him into this.

Fargo does have a tendency to steer into grisly, gory territory, going back to feeding poor Carl’s body parts into a wood chipper in the original movie. It gets bloody. So maybe the showdown at the tree stump was an inevitable moment. Yet the confrontation was still surprisingly nasty.

Wrench and Nikki take crossbow arrows from Yuri (courtesy of stealing the weapon from some hunters who picked the wrong wolf mask to fire at). Qualls gets in a couple of stabs with a knife, but is eventually tripped by a chain — and then choked to death with it. Oh, wait — he was decapitated! Gross, but perhaps possible, considering how hard Wrench and Nikki must have been pulling. Wrench also shows some great aim (he’s a hitman, after all), throwing an axe where those crossbow arrows are coming from and slicing off Yuri’s ear. What a shot!

 

Their trip through the snowy Minnesota forest eventually takes Wrench and Nikki to a bowling alley. In a series with plenty of nods to the Coen brothers, this might be the best tribute to their work of all. Presuming that it’s early morning, or the bowling alley just doesn’t attract a bunch of customers, they find sanctuary — despite their bloody conditions — at the bar.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, Nikki encounters Paul, the same character played by Ray Wise who Gloria meets during her trip to Los Angeles. (Had she met Sam Elliott’s stranger from The Big Lebowski, that probably would’ve been too spot-on.) What the hell is he doing in a Minnesota bowling alley?

But is this really a bowling alley? (“Is that what you see?” Paul asks.) Paul’s biblically-tinged wisdom sure seems to apply to Nikki, though that could probably be said for anybody who takes a seat next to him. Then he shows her a little kitten that he’s named Ray, which is either one hell of a coincidence or a brief opportunity for Nikki to grieve over her dead fiancé. (During their trip through the forest, Nikki’s mind turns to the last time she saw Ray, perhaps thinking he’d still be alive if she’d gone back to his place to get the money.) Just give him some beer during the Gophers game. (For Ray’s sake, hopefully he’s a hockey fan.)

Fargo and Noah Hawley get a bit metaphysical here, which is further demonstrated when a bloody Yuri — now missing a left ear — stumbles into the bowling alley. Paul knows all about him and the terrible things he’s done throughout his life. Yuri then sees Helga Albrecht (his first victim mentioned at the very beginning of this season), along with all of the other people he’s killed.

Is the bowling alley some nexus of the universe, a different version of the Black Lodge on Twin Peaks? Why does Paul decide to help Nikki, yet make Yuri face his sins? Somehow, the universe has judged her and Wrench to be on a better path and more capable of giving a message to the wicked. So she gets the green Volkswagen to escape and possibly bring vengeance and furious anger upon V.M. Varga and Emmit Stussy. As for Yuri, maybe he’s stuck in purgatory.

While Nikki and Wrench are on the run, the story returns to St. Cloud where Sy and Emmit are supposed to meet with the police, presumably regarding Ray’s homicide. But Varga and Meemo are now squatting in the Stussy mansion, keeping Emmit on a very tight leash and at a distance from Sy. Poor Sy is just heartbroken. Emmit has sold his soul to the devil and lost his friend and business partner. A $5 million bonus is small consolation.

As it turns out, unfortunately, Sy and his family may need that money to cover his medical expenses after making the mistake of accepting a cup of tea from Varga. His mother’s secret recipe is apparently poison. Being staunchly Midwestern, Sy wasn’t going to be rude and turn down the offer. But don’t ever drink tea from the evil British guy, folks. Sy found that out the hard way, as did whomever had to clean up his vomit from the Stussy Lots office lobby.

When Sy fell backwards, it looked as if he might be dead. Is that how it was going to end for Emmit’s loyal right-hand man, maybe the last guy who can convince him that he’s gone down a terribly wrong path? But a quick dissolve revealed that Sy was taken to the emergency room and presumably still alive. Yet one more transition showed that Sy’s magnificent mustache was now a beard. He’s been in the hospital for a long time. Emmit is sitting at his bedside. Does he regret what’s happened?

Perhaps the most interesting thing about that hospital scene is a glimpse of the whiteboard in Sy’s hospital room. It’s now March. Nearly three months have passed since the Christmastime setting the show was in. Are we really taking that kind of time jump? What could have possibly happened in that amount of time? Not much, apparently. Nikki Swango is still on the run, believed to be in Canada. (Is Wrench still with her?) Gloria Burgle is now officially a deputy in the Eden Valley police department, and she’s officially signing divorce papers.

What about Emmit and Varga? Varga was drugging Emmit, leading to hallucinations such as seeing Ray’s smashed Corvette in his parking space. Did he also paste a mustache on his face, thinking of Sy? Maybe Emmit had an epiphany over the past 10 weeks while visiting Sy in the hospital. Or maybe he’s tired of lying and running. He walks into the Eden Valley police department and says he’s ready to confess. Hopefully, there won’t be any more trips to metaphysical bowling alleys and time jumps to slow down this ride.

You can read all of our Fargo coverage here.

About Ian Casselberry

Ian is an editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has covered baseball for Yahoo! Sports, MLive.com, Bleacher Report and SB Nation, and provides analysis for several sports talk radio shows each week. He currently lives in Asheville, NC.