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Fargo ends season four with no alarms and few surprises

Illustration for article titled iFargo /iends season four with no alarms and few surprises
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“Storia Americana” is the shortest episode of Fargo’s fourth season. More than that, it’s unusually short, with the screener (including credits) topping out at a scant 39 minutes. Watching it, it becomes eminently clear why. Despite season four’s large and sprawling ensemble, despite the seemingly endless collection of subplots and side missions, when it comes time to close the shop and head for home, Fargo seems to have run out of things to say. Of it’s less-than-40-minutes, “Americana” finds time for a montage of the season’s casualties, and several long, slow scenes full of swelling music of people looking at things. The plot is wrapped up, more or less, and most of the conclusions are definitive. One or two of them is even unexpected. But very little in this finale is surprising or edifying. It might clear the bar on “satisfying,” if all you really wanted were a few more corpses.

I expected Josto would end up in a ditch before the end. Points to the show: I did not expect that Loy telling Ebal about who really killed Donatello Fadda would lead to Ebal pinning the crime on Josto himself. Once again, Fargo has a point to make about organized crime becoming a business, one where family loyalty is less important than meeting the margins. Which is fine, and there’s some drama in seeing Josto’s hot-tempered irritation finally running into a brick wall he can’t power through. Schwartzman gave one of the season’s better performances, and he goes all out here, showing first Josto’s post-Gaetano decline (he gets real drunk, then murders the hell out of his former potential father-in-law and Doctor Harvard), and then the light gradually dawning on him when he realizes he’s screwed.

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It’s just, did we need a season to get to this point? Josto was obviously unstable and ill-equipped for leadership from the first episode. Stretching his fate out over 11 episodes didn’t clarify his situation or edify our understanding of him. Putting a character usually relegated to side-kick or secondary status in the center of his own tragic arc has some novelty, and I thought his exit (an annoyed “What?” to Oraetta right before he’s shot in the head) was appropriately sudden and funny. But knowing how much time we spent watching him be in over his head, only to see him finally be in over his head, feels way too pat and easy.

And god, his death takes forever. Not the actual shooting, which is over in a second, but the initial scene where Ebal confronts him with Oraettsa’s confession feels endless; there’s some power in the awkward, squirming discomfort of it, as it’s clear from the moment Josto walks out to see Ebal surrounded by his men what’s going to happen, and the longer that drags on, the harder it gets to watch. But at a certain point, the drag feels less like a way to build tension or to show Josto for what he really is, and more just a way of getting the most out of one of the episode’s handful of sequences that’s not a montage. Once you start wanting them to just shoot the guy so you can move on, the drama is lost.

As for Oraetta getting hers, well, I guess it had to happen, and the fact that she was closer to Josto than any other character means there’s some justice in them going out at the same time. But despite Jessie Buckley’s best efforts, I don’t think Miss Mayflower was anything more than a sum of her twitchy, overwritten parts. She was never a force to be reckoned with like previous wildcards on the show, and she never expressed a coherent enough perspective on events to be compelling as anything more than an oddity. It’s fun having a character like this around, because they have a tendency to throw off carefully made plans, but in the end, Oraetta was just a sad disturbed woman who got away with murdering people for a while, and then one day, stopping getting away with it. The fact that she would’ve ended up in jail thanks to the stupid misstep with Doctor Harvard just makes her seem too inept to really be scared of; and if she’s not scary, and if she’s not tragic or really funny, well, why introduce her in the first place?

I mentioned last week how happy I was seeing Ethelrida in the mix. I probably should’ve watched this episode before I said it. After bringing Loy her plan in the previous episode, Ethelrida is once again back on the sidelines here. We see Lemuel and the others carrying Loy’s property out of the Smutny home, showing that Loy, at least, is as good as his word. Near the end of the season, we see her reading paper she wrote to her parents, before cutting to show her sitting in a room somewhere with a pair of suitcases; the implication being, I guess, that Ethelrida is going places. Which is lovely. It just would’ve been nice if she’d been more of a walk on here. I’m not even sure she has a character arc—she’s smart and resourceful in the beginning, then she solves the case of the Murder Nurse, and finds a way to pay off her family’s financial obligations to Loy’s mob. She didn’t learn anything because she already mostly knew it; maybe we saw so little of her because she was too good at her job for a show about fuck-ups.

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As for Loy, he sort of gets what he wants before losing it forever. I wondered how that ring was going to solve everyone’s problems; somehow Ethelrida and Loy knew that giving Oraetta’s identity over to Ebal and the people he represented would be the end of the gang war, and what’s more or less what happens. Did Loy know that Josto and Oraetta were hooking up? I didn’t think so, but that would’ve made this make a lot more sense. As is, it’s as if the characters read the finale script before we did, and made their decisions accordingly.

So, Ebal takes over the Fadda organization, making some “minor” adjustments to the deal with Loy that ends with Loy losing about half of what he thought he owned. Like Josto getting kicked out in favor of a more organized version of organized crime, this twist isn’t much of a twist; it’s odd Loy is even surprised about it. If the season had spent more time letting us get to know Loy and his family, if there had been more of an effort made to underline the challenges facing a Black mob in the 50s (and just Black life in general), there could’ve been some sting to this, but as is, it’s a shrug.

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It was lovely to see Satchel and his family reunited, and there was some painful dramatic irony in Satchel having to see his actual father die so soon on the heels of losing his surrogate father. But Loy’s fate didn’t have much pathos in it. Zelmare was so clearly a Chekov’s gun figure that even though I’d briefly forgotten about her, I wasn’t surprised to see her show up at the end; and given that, as far as we know, Loy absolutely ordered Odis to shoot her and Swanee both, it’s hard to feel that sad for him. He didn’t get screwed over by fate. He made ruthless choices, and he paid for them.

This is all very pretty to watch, and the soundtrack is impeccable, but it’s not much more besides that. While several characters made bold statements about America (Josto’s “This is a ladder. But there’s nowhere to go.” was pretty good), there was never any sense that this season was actually saying anything more than the obvious. Hell, even the final post-credits sequence, which brings Bokeem Woodbine back for a brief cameo, just serves to tell us something we already knew. In a better season, that would’ve been a fine grace note, a brief nod towards the future. Here, it just feels like yet another redundancy. I’d wondered if Fargo was done after its third season, and I’d hoped the messiness of that season was going to lead into something new. But season four was just reheated leftovers at best, and nothing at all at worse.

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Stray observations

  • Oh hey, remember the Roach? No sign of him this week. What was the point of that? And why did he save Ethelrida from Oraetta?
  • They spent a lot of time reinforcing the importance of the exchange of sons between crime families; Satchel’s story was one of the better ones of the season, but the exchange itself always played more like the idea of something thematically weighty and the actual thing itself. A lot of that going around, unfortunately.
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