I still can’t quite get over the name “Dr. Harvard.” Obviously the names on this season of Fargo were chosen with intent, to underline certain ideas about what it means to be American, how cultures are gentrified over time, how all these fighting crime families have spent as much time correcting people on the spelling of their first-and-last as they have on actually thieving. But I can’t decide if Dr. Harvard is one step too obvious for me. It feels like a first draft kind of name, and while it’s always possible there’s a story behind it (as there was with Odis’ twitching), I’m not holding my breath. He’s still relevant to the main storyline because Josto most likely still wants him dead; also, the good doctor is still Oraetta’s boss despite Ethelrida’s best efforts, and Oraetta still has a part to play in all of this. But he’s more a stand-in for the idea of a person than he is a fleshed out character. You could say that explains the name without exactly justifying it.
Anyhoo. It’s funny—Oraetta is clearly the latest in Fargo’s long line of intense outsider figures, but while Lorne Malvo and V.M. Vargo spent their time directing the course of the action, Oraetta is just as muddled as everyone else. She’s slept with Josto, got herself hired on by Doctor Harvard, and inadvertently revealed a part of her true self to Ethelrida, but in none of this is there any sense of a plan or larger intentions. I suspect her true place in the narrative won’t be clear until the end of the season; as for right now, she’s an ominous shoe waiting to drop. This week, she manages to defuse the power of Ethelrida’s anonymous warning letter to Dr. Harvard, even as said letter clearly puts her on edge. Still, she remains on the periphery of the hour, popping in a few times to remind us of her existence, and then, at the end, smiling in a silent hospital, suggesting she’s just made the ill-advised decision to murder another of her patients.
The real focus in “Camp Elegance” is the fallout from the death of Doctor Senator. Loy pays Odis a visit, informing the double-dealing cop he’s now working for the Cannons. Odis tells him where Gaetano and his men are hiding out, and Loy sends Swanee and Zelmare to grab Gaetano, which they manage with a minimum of fuss. (“minimum” being “A bunch of people get killed and Swanee shoots Gaetano in the back.”) Loy then sets one of his boys to beating the shit out of a tied down Gaetano, although not before delivering a short speech about Sugar Ray, and you know, I think I’m about done with characters delivering monologues before they inflict physical violence. I think I get the idea at this point. Loy has two of them this week, and Rock delivers them all right, but the format is so predictable that it robs both speeches of their dramatic impact. This is just the thing that happens before the other thing happens.
Josto learns his brother has been kidnapped by the Cannons while also hearing back from his messenger to New York: the order is, Josto has two weeks to settle things with the Cannons and he has to find some way to make peace with his brother. The latter suggestion doesn’t really work for Josto, so instead of trying to arrange a prisoner exchange, he sends one of his men, Antoon Dumini, to take Loy’s son Satchel out and, well, you know. Josto’s intentions are clear: He wants Gaetano dead, and he’s not afraid of all-out war. It’s not a bad shift for the character, who had been largely comic relief till now—he’s a lot less amusing when he’s ordering the death of a child.
That sets up the climax of the episode, as Antoon drives Satchel out to where he was brought after the war (the Camp Elegance Relocation Center that gave the episode its name), talking about what it was like to get saved by the Americans, and all his future plans; Rabbi Milligan, meanwhile, has found out Josto’s intentions from Josto himself, and has decided to once and for all through caution to the wind and save the child. The sequence plays out more or less as you’d expect, with a long, slow build up as Antoon and Satchel walk through the snow, Satchel nervous but not really understanding what’s going, Antoon clearly trying to build up the will to pull the trigger. He ultimately decides he can’t shoot a child, but his decision doesn’t spare him from getting a bullet in the back from Rabbi, who then tells Satchel they’re going to hide until all of this blows over.
It’s predictable, in its way, but predictability isn’t always a detriment—while I was almost positive that Satchel wasn’t going to get shot, I wasn’t completely positive, and the scene does a good job of dragging out the moment just long enough. As well, the sad irony of Antoon dying after making the right decision fits in well with the season’s questions about what it means to become an American—Antoon decided to be a citizen after the war, but circumstances enmeshed him in a situation beyond his control, so that even when he does try and push back, it’s too late to do anything meaningful about it. He’s a small cog in a big machine (we even hear part of a conversation between Rabbi and Antoon’s wife, with the wife complaining that her husband hasn’t been given his own territory), and his fate was likely inevitable. Being an American didn’t save him from this moment. It’s what made this moment possible.
Out of everything, Rabbi’s desperate efforts to save Satchel from the hell of his own life is the easiest relationship for me to get emotionally invested in. Right now, a lot of Fargo is interesting, in that I’m curious how things will end up, and it was certainly a bummer when Doctor Senator got shot; but outside of intellectual satisfaction, I don’t really care that much what happens to Josto or Loy or almost anyone outside of Ethelrida, Rabbi, and Satchel. I wouldn’t say the show is boring at this point—there are quite a few moving pieces, and I can appreciate the craft that keeps them all juggling in the air at once. But a lot of what’s going on has a detached quality, a certain roteness that keeps it from feeling specific beyond the names. Rabbi’s desperation, though, and the very high odds that he’s not going to survive this, make him stand out. Most likely they’re all screwed, but he seems to be the only one aware of it without being in any position to stop it, and that’s what makes this a tragedy.
- Has Oraetta seen Ethelrida’s handwriting before? I can’t remember. She had a long, very intent look at that letter, though, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Ethelrida’s “perfect” plan doesn’t backfire on her. (If I had to guess, I’d say the season is building to war between the Faddas and the Cannons while Oraetta goes after Ethelrida, but I’m always wrong about this stuff.)
- Deafy’s still keeping an eye on things.