The 1950s. Kansas City crime bosses Josto Fadda (Jason Schwartzman) and Loy Cannon (Chris Rock) look set for gang warfare, nurse Oraetta Mayflower (Jessie Buckley) goes on a killing spree, and lawmen Dick Wickware (Timothy Olyphant) and Odis Weff (Jack Huston) chase two escaped cons.
Episodes viewed: 11 of 11
*Streaming on: All 4
Welcome back, Fargo. Three years after Season 3, Noah Hawley’s fourth amplification of the 1996 Coen Brothers classic sings with the eccentric ne’er-do-wells, stylised dialogue, twisty-turny narratives, hyped-up filmmaking and call-backs to both previous series and the CCU (Coens Cinematic Universe). It has so many characters and through-lines, you need an incident room to keep track, but it’s a rich tapestry of crime lore brought to life by a terrific cast.
Starting with a nifty potted history of organised crime in 20th-century Kansas, the overriding season arc concerns gang warfare between the Italian Fadda family and an on-the-rise African-American outfit. In the blue corner, the Faddas are led by Josto Fadda (Jason Schwartzman), a crime-boss too small for his office chair; in the red corner, Loy Cannon (Chris Rock), a smart, visionary family man.
It’s a dense, complex, Godfather-like affair, but the rewards are bountiful.
Weaving in and out of this A-story are a clutch of colourful characters who collide with the main narrative in numerous ways: polite, articulate nurse Oraetta Mayflower (Jessie Buckley), who has a penchant for strange sex and even darker secrets; resourceful schoolgirl Ethelrida Pearl Smutny (E’myri Crutchfield), whose family’s funeral parlour becomes a focal point for the action; plus her aunt, escaped con Zelmare Roulette (Karen Aldridge), and her girlfriend Swanee Capp (Kelsey Asbille). Then there’s Mormon lawman Dick Wickware (Timothy Olyphant) — nicknamed ‘Deafy’ because he only hears what he wants to — who is teamed with local OCD-afflicted cop Odis Weff (Jack Huston), to track down Zelmare and Swannee. Throw in Loy’s right-hand man Doctor Senator (the excellent Glynn Turman) and you can see Hawley has retained his skill for exotic nomenclature straight out of the Coens’ playbook.
It’s a dense, complex, Godfather-like affair (the final episode’s recap — “Antecedently on Fargo” — takes a near five minutes), but the rewards are bountiful. Schwartzman has a ball grandstanding as an Italian Mob boss and Buckley plays Oraetta’s eccentricities to the hilt. But it is Rock who is the revelation, giving a controlled, detailed performance as Loy that keeps all the outlandishness in check.
There’s also a delight and poetry in both the language and the filmmaking; there are split screens, Road To Perdition-level shootouts, stunning slow-mo, gorgeous imagery, all held together by Jeff Russo’s powerful, Carter Burwell-esque score. Episode nine does its own thing, a delicious two-hander as Rabbi Milligan (an under-used Ben Whishaw, perhaps playing a link to Season 2’s Mike Milligan), an Irishman taken in by the Fadda family, takes Loy’s son Satchel (Rodney L. Jones III) on a road trip, shot in beautiful black and white with more than a nod to The Wizard Of Oz. Yet it is not style over substance. Its subject is the very nature of the USA itself (“If America’s a nation of immigrants, then how does one ‘become’ American?”), a sharp-as-a-stabbing examination of cultural identity and assimilation. If anything, Fargo bites off more than it can chew, but how many TV shows do that?
Four seasons in and Fargo is still as strong as ever, a sprawling gangland feud delivered with bravura filmmaking. It’s a lot to get your head round but, skilfully played by a pitch-perfect cast, it’s well worth the effort.