The first episode of the third season of Fargo opens with a scene taking place in Germany in 1988. The two characters involved in that scene are never talked about again in the rest of the season.
What's the meaning of that scene?
Much like the opening of Season 2, which features a film crew waiting for the arrival of then-actor Ronald Reagan, the opening of Season 3 is a prologue that sets up the themes of the season and features a specific homage to a popular work of fiction. The Season 2 premiere opens with two people waiting on a film set for Reagan, in reference to Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. Season 3 opens with what appears to be a tribute to a similar work of fiction, which points out the absurdity of the world.
Franz Kafka's The Trial follows a man as he undergoes a confusing and difficult legal process in an attempt to clear his name. The biggest obstacle? He has no idea what he's done wrong, despite the fact that everyone tells him that he'll most certainly be found guilty of his crimes. The opening scene of Fargo's third season mirrors this, to the point of being set in Germany. (Kafka was a German-speaking citizen of Prague, located in what was then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.)
Creator Noah Hawley told the New York Times:
NYT: The previous two seasons of “Fargo” felt more insular as crime stories; from the start of this one, when the German officer says, “We’re not here to tell stories; we’re here to tell the truth,” it seems immediately more political, addressing what’s happening in the world today.
NH: It wasn’t designed to be political. When I wrote that first hour, we weren’t yet in our post-truth world. It was always my intention in this season to try to deconstruct that opening sentence, “This is a true story.” More in a metaphysical way than in a political way — the whole idea that we start each hour with a lie, and that the events that we’re depicting are purported to be true. It was never intended to be a statement on our modern conundrum here. I just ran headlong into reality.
Hawley also linked the opening scene of the season, which was set in an East German bureaucrat’s drab office, to the quest of Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) to find the truth about some unsettling deaths. The unfortunate man in the office was just as helpless as Gloria, in some ways, when it came to those who would twist the truth in pursuit of their own goals, according to the “Fargo” showrunner.
“There’s violence” to the false story that the East German interrogator was imposing on the hapless citizen in front of him, Hawley said. “It’s mental violence — irony without humor is violence.” That opening scene in that interrogation room “would be funny if it wasn’t so horrible,” he noted.
Alan Sepinwall also broached the subject in his conversation with Hawley:
AS: Finally, I want to go back to the prologue of the season. Yuri Gurka’s name is given by the East German police officer in that case of mistaken identity, and he’s also the Cossack who’s causing so much trouble here, and who then vanishes into what seems to be the past in Uman after he winds up in the bowling alley with Paul Marrane. Yuri keeps referring to himself as the Cossack of old. Is this meant to be one Yuri Gurka from all these different eras?
NH: Well, he’s pretty young, if that’s the case. At the same time, I don’t know. One of the things that Joel and Ethan Coen do often is to play with some of these more elemental figures, the lone biker of the apocalypse and Anton Chigurh and the Dybbuk in A Serious Man. There is a sense in some of their stories that some of these characters may not be literally mortal or human. Javier Bardem has been interviewed and said he didn’t feel like he was playing a human being when he was playing Anton Chigurh. That’s something that I obviously picked up on when Lorne Malvo says “I haven’t had a piece of pie like that since the Garden of Eden.” Yuri says later, “I knew a Helga once,” and Paul Marrane says, “I have a message from Helga Albrecht and the Rabbi Nachman,” and there is a sense that, yes, it’s literally the same guy. But at the same time, the logical part of your brain goes, “Well, he would need to be in his fifties, so how is that possible? Is he literally a Cossack from the 1700s who never seems to age, or has he just taken on the name or what’s the story there?”
I guess there’s a degree to which I think the not knowing is an interesting dynamic of the story. I’m not saying that the island made John Locke able to walk again, I’m just saying maybe the reason that he needed that wheelchair was psychological, I guess.