Ray Wise Returns to ‘Fargo’ For a Supernatural ‘Big Lebowski’ Reference

The return of a minor “Fargo” Season 3 character reframes the whole season, along with one of the Coen Brothers’ best movies

(Spoiler alert: Please don’t read on if you haven’t watched Wednesday’s episode of  “Fargo”)

“Fargo” Season 2 had its UFO obsession, and in Episode 8 of Season 3, the show has thrown in a “Twin Peaks”-esque supernatural element. Fitting that it coincides with the return to the show of “Twin Peaks” alum Ray Wise, who appeared in Episode 3.

The fascinating and creepy moment comes with a big reference to the Coen Brothers movie “The Big Lebowski,” too. And while “Fargo,” based on the Coens’ movie, isn’t expanding on their franchise, it does give new possible context to the 1998 comedy.

“The Big Lebowski” is narrated by Sam Elliott, decked out in his best cowboy duds, telling the story of The Dude (Jeff Bridges) as he stumbles, stoned, through a detective story. Elliott’s role of the disembodied narrator gets upended in the middle of the movie, though, when he shows up at the bowling alley bar where The Dude and his friends Walter (John Goodman) and Donnie (Steve Buscemi) play. Elliott gives The Dude a bit of existential advice: sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.

Elliott pops up again at the end of the movie, appearing as the camera widens away from The Dude with a bit of a supernatural flair. His omniscient knowledge of all that’s taken place suggests he’s more than just another regular person, but the movie only hints at that possibility.

That takes us to “Fargo,” where Ray Wise appears in the latest episode, “Who Rules the Land of Denial?” as a battered Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard) stumble into a bowling alley. Like in “The Big Lebowski,” Nikki orders a drink, only to find Ray Wise suddenly by her side in the next seat.

Wise showed up earlier in this season of “Fargo,” during “The Law of Non-Contradiction,” as Paul Marrane, another passenger on the plane to Los Angeles with Chief Burgle (Carrie Coon). He popped up again at a bar later that day, offering a story of Schrodinger’s divorce — a woman whose husband went off to war and left her a bill of divorce, which in a sense made her divorced and married at the same time.

But the version of Paul in the bowling alley seems to suggest the building is more of a purgatory than a real location. Wise’s character offers Nikki a kitten named Ray and tells her about how souls (like the one of Ray Stussy (Ewan McGregor) can find themselves in new bodies. Later, when Yuri Gurka (Goran Bogdan) shows up, Marrane offers him a “message,” seemingly from beyond the grave.

The entire scene is like a meeting with a supernatural being, one ready to spirit various “Fargo” characters away to the afterlife. Marrane even talks to Nikki as if that was one possible outcome of her arrival in the bowling alley — they’re in a crossroads between worlds. But Nikki and Mr. Wrench survive, seemingly, while Yuri faces his just desserts. It’s not unlike a dream sequence from “Twin Peaks.”

What’s most interesting about Wise’s character, apart from introducing an element of the hereafter to “Fargo” Season 3, is the way the scene calls back “The Big Lebowski,” though. “Fargo” creator Noah Hawley is adapting and being inspired by the Coen Brothers’ other works rather than actually expanding on them. The show’s take on “The Big Lebowski,” then, gives it a decidedly supernatural bent when it comes to Sam Elliott’s character. It’s an interesting interpretation of a comedy that’s otherwise pretty far from looking into the Great Beyond.

We’ll have to wait and see how Wise’s interactions with Nikki, Mr. Wrench and Yuri alter the rest of this season of “Fargo.” But after Episode 8, we’ve got a whole new frame of reference through which to interpret and judge Season 3’s ongoing criminal weirdness. So far, the show has mostly been about the way coincidence and accident can alter whole lives. But it seems that within the latest story of “Fargo,” there might be a greater plan at work.