TV: Fargo: Season Four: The Pretend War (2020) - Reviewed

“To be an American is to pretend… we pretend we’re at peace when really we’re at war.” This line – spoken to Doctor Senator (Glynn Turman) by Ebal Violante (Francesco Acquaroli) after members of Cannon Limited attack one of the Fadda Family’s trucks in retaliation for the events in the last episode – is a nice way to summarize Season 4 of Fargo up to this point. Everything appears to be one way, but below the surface pretty much the exact opposite is happening. 

The Fadda Family is being given conflicting orders from Gaetano (Salvatore Esposito) and Josto (Jason Schwartzman) about what to do to the Cannon Limited, which last week resulted in an attempted assassination being made on Loy’s (Chris Rock) eldest son. Meanwhile, things between Josto and Oraetta (Jessie Buckley) are moving towards a kinkier relationship, while Josto also continues to take cocaine from her, making him increasingly more of a loose cannon. 

As with last week, there is not a lot of Loy in this episode, however, his confrontation with Rabbi Milligan (Ben Whishaw) outside of a grocery store is one of the highlights of the season overall, with Rock showing off his acting chops and coming across as truly threatening. 

Several reviews have panned -- or at the very least questioned -- Rock’s abilities as a performer, but he’s made a believer out of me. I still have issues with Schwartzman feeling out of place (once again feeling like he’s just plucked from a Wes Anderson movie) and Esposito’s performance is just downright bad. He has a thing for making his eyes big to convey how crazy he is, I assume? 

Think of the scene in Tim Burton’s original Batman when the Joker (Jack Nicholson) is speaking to Bob (Tracey Walter) about how Bob is his “number one guy.” Nicholson’s mannerisms and his big eyes are pretty much the entirety of what Esposito has done each week on the show. I hope I’m proven wrong but so far, he and Schwartzman feel the most out of place. 

On the other side of the performances, the scene stealer for The Pretend War is, unsurprisingly, Timothy Olyphant. As Deafy, he decides to confront Gaetano and Calamita (Gaetano Bruno) outside of Joplin’s and, after being threatened by both men, reaches into his pocked to reveal neither his badge nor his gun, but instead a bag of carrots that he snacks on while telling them about what happened to the Italians that moved into his town in Utah. 

Deafy is not the typical marshal we’re used to seeing – he’s by no means an angel here – but the way he carries himself and how he couldn’t care less about anyone threatening him makes Deafy a welcome addition to the proceedings this season. 

I’m also beginning to see why other reviewers have felt that this season doesn’t feel like Fargo. It’s still great to watch but feels like something different. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing since each season, while under the umbrella of Fargo, can be its own thing. The seasons all have connective tissue and take place in the same universe (or region, rather) but Noah Hawley has the freedom to do whatever he wants. 

I don’t mind this change and, again, I trust Hawley as a storyteller. I do, however, miss certain elements of what make the show Fargo. One such element is the almost comedic death that surrounds one or several of the main characters; usually the major event that sets everything into motion, spiraling toward its bloody conclusion. In Season 1, it was Lester (Martin Freeman) killing his wife in the first episode; Season 2 started with Peggy (Kirsten Dunst) running over Rye Gerhardt (Kieran Culkin) after Rye stops in the middle of the road to look at a UFO; and Season 3 has Ray (Ewan McGregor) and Nikki (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) dropping an air conditioner on the head of Maurice (Scoot McNairy). 

Maybe that’s the point of this year. This episode is called The Pretend War, and this season might be pretending to be one thing – a straightforward gangster rivalry – and later reveal itself to be another. The American (or Fargo) way, as it were. 

I would hope that’s the case, but all we can do is wait to see how the season plays out. In whatever way we end up defining this season of Fargo -- whether it’s pretending to be another show or not -- it remains one of the best shows on television. Even when some elements don’t work, the seasons usually tie together quite nicely. 

I hope I’m still right about that. 

--Matt Giles