TV: Fargo Season 4: Episodes 1&2 - Reviewed

Finally, Fargo is back. Season 3 concluded its run in June of 2017 and since then Fargo’s future seemed uncertain, with creator Noah Hawley stating that there would be another season if and when he lands on a good story. Thankfully he did, and he decided to set this one in the 1950s, going further into the past than any previous season. 

To briefly refresh your memory, Season 1 was set in 2006, Season 2 in 1979 and Season 3 in 2010. While I’ve loved every season of the show, Season 2 is, without question, one of the best seasons of television ever made. It managed to show where Fargo could go and what Fargo could be, in all the best ways. While Seasons 1 and 3 were great, it seemed as though the further back in time the show went, the better it got. Season 4 seems to already be proving that point. 

Hawley wrote and directed the first two episodes, which aired on Sunday night. Episode 1, entitled Welcome to the Alternate Economy, begins by introducing us to Ethelrida Pearl Smutney (Emyri Crutchfield), a 16-year-old biracial girl who is constantly and unfairly sent to the principal’s office for arguably being the smartest person in the room, which includes her teachers. The year is 1950 and the place is Kansas City, MO.

Ethelrida begins to tell the audience, in voiceover and in book report style, about the history of rival gangs in Kansas City. We then jump back to 1900 and begin to learn how, over various decades, history tends to repeat itself. Whether the rivalry exists between Jewish and Irish gangs, Irish and Italian gangs, or – bringing us to 1950 – Italian and African American gangs, the story always ends the same. The difference this time, it seems, is that Loy Cannon (Chris Rock) is smarter than anyone who has come before him, which may mean that things won’t go exactly as expected. This being Fargo, however, I’m suspicious of anything resembling a happy ending. 

Loy leads the Cannon Limited, while the Italians – the Fadda Family – are led by Donatella Fadda (Tommaso Ragno) and later (for reasons I won’t spoil here) by Josto (Jason Schwartzman). As established by Ethelrida, every previous family has traded their youngest son to the other in an effort to keep the peace, which Loy and Donatella uphold. 

One of the fun elements of Fargo is that, in being an anthology series, it reinvents itself with each season, not only in terms of story, characters and setting, but stylistically as well. As we’re introduced to these various characters and families over the decades, each character’s name is written over them along with brief blurbs about their individual histories. The transitions from one scene to the next echo Hawley’s feature film directorial debut, Lucy in the Sky, with various squares being “cut out” to draw our focus and slowly fade into the next moment. I couldn’t tell if Hawley was once again playing with aspect ratios – as he did in Lucy – but this editing effect achieves a similar goal. 

The overall style this year echoes, at least for me, Todd Haynes’s Carol, from 2015, which is set around the same time and has a very similar color palette. With both stories being set in the 1950s, it should come as no surprise that the costume design is very similar in both, but I have to say I really love the overall look, feel and texture that Season 4 of Fargo is offering so far. 

Hawley is a pro in terms of using specific mediums to tell specific stories. As an author, his characters feel complete, as if he’s written a whole backstory and history from birth to present before ever even writing the novel. He’s taken that same approach in television, and it is especially apparent in Fargo, with so many characters from various backgrounds. Every single one of them feels complete, even if we haven’t gotten to know them that well yet. 

In the case of using the television medium to his advantage, every choice made – especially during this season – serves to enhance the story. The time, the place, the setting, the style, and the overall look and feel to everything. This is a different Fargo than we’re used to, but it’s also thrilling, offering the best of what the show has done in seasons past. 

Casting also plays a crucial role, especially in Fargo, and while I usually trust Hawley’s ability to find actors, I must admit that I have mixed feelings about Schwartzman’s performance. This may or may not be my own bias creeping in, as generally no matter what he’s in, he always feels like a character in a Wes Anderson movie in non-Anderson projects. The same is true here. Honestly, it’s my only complaint, and I hope that I’m proven wrong as the season moves along.

Every other actor is just about perfect. We do not know much about Loy yet, but Rock plays him with expert level restraint, and is clearly having a ball. I’m more than curious to see where he takes this performance and I hope that it continues to show his already immeasurable talent. 

The surprise performance, at least for me, is Jessie Buckley as Oraetta Mayflower. She is both charming and sadistic in all the best ways and given that this is a Coen Brothers-inspired story, she could be more sinister than even Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men.

Episode 2, The Land of Taking and Killing, deals with the transition of power from Donatella and Josto, as well as the arrival of Josto’s brother Gaetano Fadda (Salvatore Esposito), who may end up being the big heavy this year, but still pales in comparison to Buckley’s unnerving Oraetta. Fargo has always been a comedic tragedy, where one or more characters make one bad decision that snowballs into major bloodshed. It is unclear (at least now) whether or not Loy’s decision to lie to the Faddas about an agreement that was never made between he and Donatella will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, or the arrival of Gaetano will bring chaos. Maybe both, maybe neither, but Hawley knows what he’s doing. Whatever the outcome, the journey there will be a fascinating ride. 

Welcome back, Fargo. You’ve been deeply missed. 

--Matt Giles