This review contains spoilers.
3.6 The Lord Of No Mercy
I’ve been trying to work out what V.M. Varga is all about. It’s a challenging prospect, for two reasons in particular. Firstly, he’s a decidedly slippery customer, prone to deflection, dissemblance and downright dishonesty. It’s near impossible to draw a bead on him. Secondly, he’s an utter grotesque and it’s not all that pleasant to stare too long at him. Seriously. His staring also into you would be the least of your concerns.
Still, this episode is a good one for which to don the protective clothing and take a peek at the mysterious Mr. V. It’s this week that the season’s storylines converge in a meaningful way and Varga’s greasy fingers have slipped in every pie. He is everywhere and nowhere, all at once.
There’s something decidedly 20th century about him. His beige rainmac and horrid teeth give him the appearance of a slimy spiv, conniving his way through an austere postwar London, a look that is compounded by his grey puddle of an accent. His reference pool, which includes Gavrilo Princip, Hitler, the supposedly fake moon landings and a cherished portrait of Stalin, only serve to further the suggestion that he is a man out of time, arrived in 2010 like a figure from the renegade past.
He’s not completely alien and correctly identifies that Stussy Lots’ financial problems are the product of a 21st century event, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the resultant fall of financial dominoes. When he needs information on a person he resorts to a 21st century solution and Googles them (interestingly, Gloria appears as invisible to the internet as she does to motion sensors and indeed, to Varga himself). Still, there is something creepy and unsettling to Varga that suggests that he does not belong. David Thewlis is fantastic at portraying this and oozes into each scene with uncanny queasiness.
Varga would probably claim that he is a pragmatist (and would chew on each syllable as he did so). He performs this routine simply because it works. We’ve spent the past few weeks observing him slip into Emmit’s life and business and take control through a mixture of coercion and persuasion. It has been like a grooming; at first Emmit found him repulsive and frightening but has slowly been convinced that Varga’s interests align with his own. It has been stunningly effective; having learned that Varga’s power lies in knowing his target’s grubby secrets, Emmit nonetheless calls him when he needs to deal with the messy situation of Ray’s death. This was the moment when his fate was sealed. There is no way back from this now and the takeover is so complete that it could almost have been entirely planned by Varga.
As it stands, Varga’s only pre-mortem role was to place Emmit under sufficient pressure that he lost his tendency towards even-handedness. The brothers’ argument was a personal and ultimately inconsequential as to barely matter. What counted was their respective hardening of attitudes, in both cases the result of recent difficulties. It may have once been possible for them to talk it out and to find some common ground (even if only to keep the feud going at a manageable level) such opportunities had gone.
It was striking to see how the two storylines converged in that single dark moment at Ray’s place. Emmit is now locked in, all the way, with Varga. Ray spent his last days on earth jobless and bent on revenge for the beating that his beloved Nikki had suffered. For once, she was the one who had to restrain him, talking him out of a reckless attempt on Varga and his goons in broad daylight. Robbed of agency in their respective battles, the brothers took it out on each other, parlaying the pathetic argument about the stamp into a tragic shoving match, two grown men fighting in the manner of children. The misadventure with the shard of glass was only, could only, have been an accident -Emmit had no intention of playing Cain, and yet there was something in his pause, in the way he froze to the spot and watched his brother die. That plaintive ‘don’t’ cannot absolve him. It was, like so much else in his personal tragedy, a sin of omission, he condemns himself because of what he fails to do. He has nowhere to go from here. Nowhere but the dank embrace of a man out of time.