"Fargo" — the FX anthology series about life and murder small-town Minnesota based on the Coen Brothers film of the same name — has cultivated a moderate, though devoted, viewership across the U.S., and, as it turns out, Russia.
The show's sly references to that country's current administration, however, are receiving a somewhat different reception there.
On Saturday, Russian newspaper Meduza pointed out the original versions of two episodes airing on the state-owned network Pervyi Kanal contained a few digs against Russian President Vladimir Putin. In Pervyi Kanal's edit, the references to the Russian president were cut, replaced with more generic lines.
The two episodes aired were from the shows third season. Episode two, the first one to be censored on the network, referenced Putin's certain particulars about doing business in Russia.
In the original version, character V.M. Varga describes the things he enjoys about Minnesota. It's “sublimely bland,” he says, compared to the “anarchy” of other parts of the world.
“And yes,” he says, “you can still find some relative stability in the brutal nation states: North Korea, Putinʼs done some great things with Russia. You just have to know which palms to grease.”
In the Russian-language captions for the episode, the line reads, “Relative stability exists only in totalitarian states . . . In North Korea, for example, where you just have to know whom to grease.”
The second edit is more substantial.
In episode 4 of season 3, a criminal Yuri Gurka discusses the nature of truth, using Putin for his allegory.
“When Putin was a boy, he already knew he wanted to be FSB. He lived in the well [sic], kept a photo of Berzin by his bed. Berzin, who squats in 1920 dirt, gives birth of GRU, later KGB. Godfather. And this boy, Putin, he learns sambo, rules the yard school by his fist. You see, in Russia, there are two words for truth. ‘Pravda’ is manʼs truth. ‘Istina’ is Godʼs truth. But there is also ‘nepravda’ — untruth. And this is the weapon the leader uses. Because he knows what they donʼt. The truth is whatever he says it is.”
Pervyi Kanal again cut all mention of Putin, changing the entire meaning of Gurka's speech in the process.
“Ever since he was a kid, there was this boy who dreamed about working in intelligence. He lived in communal housing, and kept by his bed a photo of Berzin, who in 1923 created the GRU, and later the KGB. [He was their] Godfather. This boy soon learns sambo, and becomes king of the schoolyard. You see, in every language, there are two words for ‘truth.’ 'Pravda' is man’s truth, and 'istina' is God’s truth. But there’s also 'nepravda' — lies. And this is a weapon, because someone knows, and you don’t. Truth is only what exists in reality.”
The original version explicitly calls Putin a liar and — in practice — master of what truth becomes in his Russia. The revised text comes approaches the same point, but so subtly that only those looking for resonances with the current Russian power structure would find them. Outside of that, it's almost a non sequitur.
Certainly, this is far from the first television show — domestic or foreign — edited to appease Russia's president. It is, however, the applied to a show as notably, purposely odd (and American) as "Fargo" to our knowledge.