It’s been awhile, but here we are for the fourth season of Fargo. Let’s take a trip to Kansas City, shall we?
The season begins with narration of a history report in 1950. A young Black student discusses Frederick Douglass, but turns out that she’s just waiting in the principal’s office to get her paddling. This report isn’t about her history, but our, history. This young girl is Ethelrida Pearl Smutny, played by Emyri Crutchfield.
Kansas City, Missouri, to be exact. In the beginning, Hebrews ran the underworld as The Moskowitz Syndicate. After that, the Irish in 1920 with The Milligan Concern. We see two groups meet outside of Joplin’s Department Store as the leaders come to a spit-take agreement.
Inside, the families face off yet again as two young boys take center stage. To keep the peace, the bosses of each family would offer up their youngest son in a trade. The thinking was that by raising your enemy’s offspring, an understanding could be reached and peace maintained.
Ethelrida is now again in the principal’s office. Why? She punched Dolores Disfarmer with her eye, of course. Time for her to get the paddle again. But Ethelrida knows she’s an upstanding student. The only thing worse than a disreputable Negro, she says, was an upstanding one. Still, she got that ass whooped. So she endured the slings and arrows of small-minded folks who believed that they could teach her a lesson.
Back in 1928, the son of one side is acclimating well to life with his new family. However, one night, he welcomes in some mobsters who begin opening fire on the family. A shootout ensues, but one of the sons is applauded for his actions. Another lad is brought out as the son here is asked about the legend of Goldilocks.
Someone has been sitting in his chair and sleeping in his bed. As such, it’s time for the bears to be bears. The young boy is given a gun and, with help from his father, is instructed to chew up the other boy and spit him out. In other words, kill him. Peace, as you know, don’t last for long.
Now we jump forward to 1934. Same old Milligan Concern and now the Fadda Family, as the Italians are next. That’s how it worked: whoever was last off the boat, finding the doors of honest capital closed, rolled up their sleeves and got rich the old-fashioned way.
The Fadda family agrees to the same terms as the prior family, as sons are once again exchanged with the opposing family.
Continuing along, Ethelrida describes assimilation as she writes out a long math equation on the chalkboard. She even dares the teacher to fact-check it. She’s instructed to take a seat, but she prefers to stand.
We then jump to the Irish bar as one young man announces that there’s a double cross at play. Before they can do anything, men storm the bar. Another shootout ensues, but before the head is killed, he promises a curse will be placed on the opposing family.
Again, history is written by the victors, which is a fancy way of saying “winners.”
It’s 1950 as Ethelrida arrives at home, which double as a mortuary. Her mother deals with the Coloreds, while her father handles the White funerals. She heads inside and finds a weeping woman, Miss Oraetta Mayflower, played by Jessie Buckley. Ethelrida’s father, Thurman, played by Andrew Bird, introduces Ethelrida to Oraetta, who marvels at Ethelrida being the product of miscegenation.
Ethelrida’s narration continues: the thing about America is that when you relax and fatten up, someone hungry will come along and want a piece of your pie. We jump back to 1949 where the Fadda family, led by Donatello Fadda, played by Tomasso Ragno, gather again at Joplin’s to meet the next family: The Cannon Limited.
However, they don’t meet another family, but just one man: Loy Cannon, played by the man, Chris Rock. The family is surprised to see that Loy came alone, but it turns out that he’s got reinforcements.
Loy pulls out a switchblade as we get a quick who’s who of the families. He figured that being men, they should do this like men. Not a spit handshake, but a blood handshake. The Italian lead doesn’t think much of Loy, but he does agree as the two cement their deal in blood.
Later, Loy talks with his father, Doctor Senator, played by Glynn Turman, as they discuss whether they play the long game or end this, as they currently have the upper hand. Doctor figures there’s something else that they can risk besides Loy’s son.
No dice. Loy’s son, Satchel, played by Rodney Jones, steps forward and is instructed to keep his head down, swing for the balls, and then the eyes.
Satchel, naturally, doesn’t like this idea, but he’s pushed forward anyway while the Italians bring forth Don Fadda’s youngest son, Zirominu Guglielmo Fadda, or just Zero, played by Jameson Braccioforte. He’s instructed to learn everything and to be as Daniel was in the lion’s den. Zero, though, doesn’t want to go, but as we know by now, it’s not up to him.
As for these people? Obviously, none of them are White. They’re Italians and Negroes, both fighting for the right to be created equal, but equal to who? This leads Ethelrida to conclude that history is made up by the actions of individuals. But at the time we act, we can’t possibly know that we’re making history.
Ethelrida arrives home and sees her mother, Dibrell, played by Anji White, in the middle of talking business with Thurman and some men, so she’s instructed to go to her room. This is grown folk stuff, after all.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to the world of Fargo.
The year is 1950 in Kansas City, MO. As you’d expect, some names have been changed, but everything else is exactly the same. Loy and Donatello meet at a park discuss the stockyards and labor, with Loy believing that the colored labor on the east side should make it their territory.
One of the Italians, Josto, played by Jason Schwartzman, joins some Cannon members, but they’re in no mood to have him join them. Before things can escalate, Josto is pulled back.
Loy tells Donatello that Satchel’s mother wants to see him. He doesn’t like Donatello talking to him like he’s subservient when they have an alliance. Loy sees the “No Coloreds” and “No Italians” signs. They’re both in the gutter. Loy will keep growing his business and ensure that his people are safe. If they want to start murdering children, Donatello does have more than Loy. However, it’s still business.
Josto tells Donatello that they should move on the Coloreds, but Donatello believes that Josto doesn’t respect any of them. Josto calls them animals. Why should they respect those pigs? But Donatello knows that the Coloreds talk about them as well, just as the Italians do with the Coloreds. Donatello warns Josto to be careful, but Josto is just concerned about his brother.
Three years Josto was with the Irish, but Donatello has had enough. Also, Josto’s brother, Gaetano, is coming over, as he wants to see his mother. He’s coming next week, in fact, for a quick visit. So the car arrives at an intersection outside of a school. The driver notices some activity nearby as some Coloreds approach.
By the way, there are kids nearby playing with toy guns. The Italians exit their vehicles, bracing for a shootout, while Donatello begins to experience some pain. But this ends up being nothing as the Coloreds just stop for a smoke. Shootout avoided, but Boss Donatello is still suffering from…a massive gas attack. Okay, then. Then he gets a bullet in the neck. Well, that’s unfortunate. Off they go.
While Loy and Doctor Senator head to a bank, the Italians arrive at St. Thecla’s Hospital to bring in Donatello, even though the doctor informs them that there’s a line.
An administrator, Dr. David Harvard, played by Stephen Spencer, comes out and informs the men that they only serve a certain class of people. He’s also not one to be bribed. These people can go to a public hospital. Also, the police have already been called, so the Italians ought to head to St. Bartholomew’s right now.
At the bank, Loy and Doctor Senator- he’s not a doctor, by the way- discuss their Midwest region operations. Loy tells the banker, Clayton Winckle, played by William Dicke, that he’s a Futurist. Here, they extend a lot of credit. However, they don’t ask for collateral. Every average Joe wants one thing: to seem rich. Not to be rich, but just look rich. Imagine going out with your girl, but you’ve only got a few bucks, but no worry.
You’ve got a credit card! Can’t pay for a meal today? Put it on credit and pay tomorrow, plus interest. A few businesses in the Colored community are already interested. This card is a product that the bank will offer to customers. Then Winckle receives a message and responds to it before resuming the conversation. He doesn’t get it. If the Coloreds have their bank, why are they here?
Loy has a customer base, but he needs help to convince White businesses to take the card as a means of payment. From there, they can go national. Loy proposes a 60-40 partnership. Clayton refuses. It’s a hell of an idea, but he believes that people won’t spend money that they don’t have. That’s just not good banking. Sure. Loy and Doctor leave, but to Loy, this is a fucking dream come true.
Donatello recovers at St. Bartholomew’s while the Italians look over him. The bullet is out, but he’s still lost a lot of blood. Josto wants another doctor, but the doctor they’ve got informs him that Donatello needs to rest. Fair enough, so Josto wants two men watching Donatello all night.
Josto asks a nearby Oraetta for any drugs that will give him a pick-me-up, and she does, but without the written prescription, she can’t help him with that. Even still, Josto is willing to share in the goodies.
They snort up the illicit substances, with Josto noting Oraetta’s funny way of talking. Not her Minnesota accent, but her use of big words. Josto asks Oraetta if she’s got a Bunsen Burner, but she doesn’t. He talks about his father’s shooting, with Oraetta asking who shot him.
Josto opens up about how much pain his father is in right now. He asks Oraetta to take care of him, and Oraetta will faithfully take care of Donatello until the Lord arrives. For Josto, that’s just aces.
Ethelrida comes downstairs for dinner with Thurman and Dibrell, who notes that he might be able to present his pathology paper at an upcoming pathology conference that might be in Kansas City next year. Ethelrida asks about the men from earlier, but her father merely apologizes for the conversation with Ms. Mayflower, even though she’s a fine woman working at St. Barthomolew’s.
Dibrell informs her daughter that some things aren’t for her to hear. Mom and Dad deserve some privacy. Still, Ethelrida hears the whispers at night, Dibrell tells Ethelrida to sit her ass down. If there’s something that Dibrell and Thurman want her to know, then she’ll know. Now then, pass the peas.
Well, I guess that settles it.
Loy, meanwhile, heads home. His wife, Buel, played by J. Nicole Brooks, asks about Satchel. He’s thinner, which isn’t what Buel wants to hear, but as Loy notes, this is no fairy tale. However, Loy is focused on Zero. Mama called Zero “Satchel” twice. At the very least, Zero managed to eat a loaf of bread.
Back at St. Bartholomew’s, Donatello rests while his Dumini, played by Sean Fortunato, falls asleep for the night. Oraetta enters as Donatello awakens and asks where he is. Turns out that Oraetta also speaks perfect Italian, and Spanish, and German. She’s a people person, don’t you know. She fiddles with his IV tube and then just waits and waits until the leader dies.
She then removes Donatello’s ring by using her teeth, just to add insult to injury. Probably not what Josto meant by asking Oraetta to “take care” of his father.
Elsewhere, Ethelrida sits on the swinging bench outside her when a bus pulls up. Eventually, Nurse Mayflower exits as she heads to the building opposite where Ethelrida sits. She watches as a light in the building illuminates, but then Thurman exists and joins Ethelrida, beckoning her to come inside.
She asks her father what will happen to her in the world, but Thurman assures her that there’s a place for everyone on this Earth. They just have to find it. Again, she asks about the men in the kitchen from earlier, and he explains that he and Mom are having a bit of money trouble. But he doesn’t want Ethelrida to tell Dibrell that he said that. She’s a very proud woman, you know. They won’t lose the house.
Just a bad city inspection and they’ll have to go through some renovations, but they’re covered. Thurman offers to read to his 16-year-old daughter to help her go back to sleep, because that will work. She agrees to The Wizard of Oz.
As the two head inside, Oraetta watches from across the way with a menacing look in her eyes as the episode comes to a close.
Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen. It’s been three long years since the Season 3 finale of Fargo and for the longest time, there was no word, one way or another, if we’d get a fourth. Soon enough, like after Season 2 of True Detective, we got some news that indeed, a fourth season was on the way.
You already know that and how production was temporarily halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but time has passed since earlier in 2020 and, at long last, Fargo’s fourth season has arrived. It’s a strong return to form for Noah Hawley as he gives us a very different sort of take on the series and franchise as a whole.
Right off the bat, at least from what we have, this probably feels the least Fargo-like compared to both previous seasons and the movie. I don’t say that as a negative, because the tone and style here give me Season 2 vibes. But when it comes to Fargo, we’re used to seeing the typical things: the Minnesota cop, the sad sack down on their luck, and a potentially unintentional murder that kicks off things.
This season doesn’t do that, and for that, it’s a nice change of pace for Hawley to deal with organized crime. The stakes are different here because instead of focusing on one optimistic cop or hopeless chap, we focus on families. There’s a lot of emphasis on honor and tradition as we see the history of these families coming to agreements on how they will coexist.
As Ethelrida says in her narration, history is written by the victors- ergo, the winners. In these instances, the winners seem to be not merely those who win, but just survive. We see a never-ending cycle of violence with children being thrust right in the middle. The sons are stripped from their natural families in order to live with new ones, not through a fault of their own, but because that’s the way things are.
But the betrayals that we see show that despite whatever peace is maintained, someone will be made to suffer in the end. The sons either witness or participate in the bloodshed, not just scarring them for life but also changing their upbringing for the worst. Due to what they witness, they too continue this cycle of violence, even if it means having to kill their own family.
That’s the way it is and always has been and, presumably, how it always would be. It’s less about one side trying to outright dominate the other, but just survive. After all, the families in the end still agree to the same terms in the same location without even arguing over territory or a power structure. But we know they’d prefer dominance, if the private conversations are any indication.
Talking about dominance, though, it’s interesting how, between the Italians and Coloreds, they have more in common than they might care to admit. Despite Josto, for example, seeing the Coloreds as people who were born in huts, both sides are near the bottom of the totem pole as far as America is concerned.
Whether it’s Oraetta noting that Ethelrida is a product of miscegenation, or Dr. Harvard informing the Italians that his hospital only caters to a certain class of people, Coloreds and Italians have it hard- even in the 1950s. As Loy points out, both sides are in the gutter, but want to take care of their own. That’s fine and it help maintains a somewhat perfect balance, but you can’t bury your aspirations forever.
Josto sees the Italians as the Roman Empire. Loy is a Futurist who sees an opportunity to broaden his horizons through his credit card idea. Despite his intelligence and innovation, he can’t create that alternate economy solely within the confines of the Colored community. Like the Italians, he has to step outside of his comfort zone and attempt deals with those who may not see him as an equal.
Progressive, to be sure, even when he’s turned away. He doesn’t know it at the time, but he’s making history by challenging and attempting to change the established order. Even others in small ways are doing so, such as Thurman and Dibrell being a mixed couple, despite the stigma that no doubt carries in the 1950s. But again, these actions aren’t being taken to be provocative.
Well, Loy going to a White banker for assistance could be interpreted as such when, as pointed, he already has the infrastructure within the Colored community. You can only go so far within your own bubble, though. Even though Loy understands and accepts the established boundaries, such as with the Italians, he’s making moves to shift things. Bold moves, even. After all, why have a spit shake when you can have a blood bond?
Donatello, meanwhile, is part of the old guard and not interested in these bold actions. He’d rather keep the peace as is, but someone like Josto is all too eager to make sure others know to respect his family. It might be implied, but he wants to hammer that point home. Mind you, he’s no loose cannon just spouting off things that would get him killed.
We see two sides of Josto and Jason Schwartzman shows us both the mobster and softer side of the man. He maintains a tough exterior when necessary, but he still shows genuine concern for his father. It’s a good way to show that these men, while still gangsters, aren’t just one-dimensional thugs only interested in power. Josto wants that, but he still understands the importance of family.
As I said, this is very much unlike what we’d expect from Fargo, but don’t treat that as me saying it’s a complete reinvention of the series. The dark comedy we’ve come to expect is as prevalent as it’s always been, characters are still quirky, and we’re not 100 percent removed from Minnesota.
That’s where Oraetta comes in as, for my money, the wild card of the season. She sticks out not just because of her Minnesota accent, but through her actions. Whether she took it literally when Josto asked her to “take care” of Donatello or there’s something more sinister remains to be seen. There’s more than this woman than a simple nurse from Minnesota, because she knows more than we’d assume.
She’s very knowledgeable- proving that when she slips into Italian while talking to Donatello. The methodical way in which she kills him hints that this probably isn’t her first dance with murder, but because she’s so unassuming, we otherwise would never expect this from a mild-mannered nurse.
But from the manner in which she glares at Ethelrida and Thurman from her window at episode’s end shows us a character with questionable motives and reveals that she’s not one to be trusted. It’s not like Peggy accidentally hitting Rye in Season 2. No, Oraetta is fully aware and unrepentant of what she’s done and appears willing to do it again. For what purpose, though? That, my friend, is the mystery at hand.
It’s a strong start and return for Fargo. The change of setting and tone give this a different, but not completely unfamiliar feel compared to the rest of the Fargo world. In a time when there’s so much unpredictability in the real world, it’s great to have Fargo back and I’m very excited to see how this tale continues.