What Happened To Nikki On 'Fargo'? This Criminal Subverts A Sexist Storytelling Device
For as long as crime stories have existed, a popular plot features a complicated man discovering that his wife has been killed and using that anger to take action. It's not just crime stories either. "Fridging" is one of the most popular tropes in all of storytelling, and a trap that the great Fargo appears to fall for in the May 17 episode when Vargas' hoodlums drag career criminal and bridge enthusiast Nikki Swango off-screen and mercilessly beat her. It's an obvious cliché in a typically un-cliché series, leaving the audience to wonder for a few moments if Nikki Swango is really dead while heavily implying that she won't be able to recover from what happened to her.
Which is why it's an absolute blessing that instead of leaving it on a cliffhanger or showing Ray hearing that his fiancé has died, the writers of Fargo twist the rules of television and show Nikki crawl back into her vehicle — despite not being able to use her legs as they've seemingly been broken — and somehow manage to drive herself to Ray's home where she climbs into his tub and waits for him to find her. She's weakened, bruised, and it seems as though she's come close to death, but Nikki Swango is not one to be underestimated.
The entire framing of the sequence — Nikki being dragged off-screen, the brutal sound effects of her beating, Sy's horrified reaction, the lingering shot on the parking lot as she's left there alone — attempts to communicate that Nikki Swango is dead. Even a scene earlier in the episode, when Ray proposes to Nikki, falls into television's classic trick of allowing a character to have on last big, happy moment before they are killed off. All of this context and trickery make Nikki's climb back into her car after having been beaten surprising, engaging, and powerful in a way that no other violent moment in Fargo has managed to be up until now.
But it also raises a lot of questions. How did Nikki, with possibly broken legs, manage to drive herself home? Why did she wait until Ray got home to reveal what happened to her? Why is she lying in the tub? How did she get from the car to the tub? How exactly did Vargas' henchmen injure her? Nikki had already managed to wreck havoc on Ennis Stussy's life before she had any inkling that Vargas and others were involved but now Nikki is poised to lay waste to anyone that stands in between her and happily-ever-after with Ray, and may be the only person that could stand up to Vargas and manage to survive.
It's almost cruel that Fargo would make its audience mourn Nikki's death only to bring her back a few moments later, but by not wasting time and doing a long, multi-episode fake-out (I'm lookin' your way, The Walking Dead) the show manages to remind audiences that she is far stronger than her reputation as a two-bit criminal may imply. Nikki's next move is anyone's guess, but it seems as though getting her involved in the conflict between Vargas and Emmet Stussy could be a huge mistake for both parties.