‘Fargo’ Season 4 Finale: Debts Are Paid in Blood
The fourth season of “Fargo” has been about history on various levels. Nations have histories and so do individual people. In this latest tale of the FX anthology series, both collided in a baroque saga of warring crime families in 1950s Kansas City. After a whole barrage of killings, double crosses and domestic tensions, the season ends in the only sensible way possible: Through cold, hard retribution. Showrunner Noah Hawley continues to combine the demands of television with the style of the show’s original inspiration, the Coen Brothers’ 1996 classic if not their entire body of work. While the outcomes of the story are clear, they are also not conventional or easy.
After a recap of all the deaths during the crime war that has plagued Kansas City, and a few new whacks, the final chapter opens on Loy Cannon (Chris Rock) handing the ring of the deceased don Donatello to Fadda clan consigliere Ebal Violante (Francesco Acquaroli), warning him to get his house in order so this wretched war can end. That’s just what Ebal does when a drunk Josto (Jason Schwartzman) is lured into a final judgement in front of the entire clan, who have also captured Oraetta (Jessie Buckley), the nurse who poisoned Donatello in order to help Josto ascend. Josto tries to make it all seem like Oraetta’s fault as the result of a clumsy misunderstanding, but Ebal will have none of it and also accuses Josto of killing his brother Gaetano, who we saw die accidentally earlier in the season, in order to take over the Faddas. This leads to the first great climax of the episode as Josto and Oraetta are taken to a field by Fadda goons who proceed to shoot them. Josto gets a bullet first after Oraetta asks to watch. The Fadda situation now closed, Loy returns home to happily find his son Satchel (Rodney L Jones III) safe and sound. It seems peace has returned, to a point. When Loy meets with Ebal to make the peace solid, the Italian imposes a harsh deal on Loy’s crew, essentially taking over half of his own gang’s business. Loy has no choice but to accept. But as he returns home, Loy meets his own, sudden end when escaped convict Zelamare Roulette (Karen Aldridge) plunges a knife into his back.
Thus ends what has been another “Fargo” entry both evocative and quirky. Season 4 was another slow burner where at its worst style would overtake substance yet at its best, the themes of history and the underbelly of the immigrant experience would make it stand out. Loy Cannon, played with unique seriousness by Chris Rock, represented the Black underground experience in 20th century America, when crime seemed like an open avenue to maneuver around a racist system. The same was true for Italians and Irish, whose own histories were recapped in the season premiere as forming an organized crime tradition in the U.S. when they were ostracized by the WASP dominant class. Yet this syndicates could also be oppressive towards their own communities, as in the storyline involving our narrator Ethelrida (Emyri Crutchfield) and her family nearly losing their home to Loy’s gang.
Sometimes the show became a big killing spree, since it is a gangster drama after all, but with that Coen brothers’ touch, like the accidental death of Gaetano when he tripped while walking back to Josto’s car. Their powerful sense of metaphor was also present throughout, like the slave ship captain ghost that haunted Ethelrida’s house. The spirit of a slave killed by Ethelrida’s great grandfather, the ghost even saves her when Oraetta nearly poisons her in the penultimate episode. But it is in the finale that a Coens touch truly flowers. Think of “No Country for Old Men,” where few are spared dramatic, yet realistic fates. Josto, who started the season as a rabid racist refusing to share power with Loy’s Black gang, is reduced to a pathetic, mumbling fool in his last standoff with Ebal. He doesn’t even get to say any last words with Oraetta asks the goons if she can watch him get shot (she was always a demented nurse). Her own demise doesn’t even get a close-up, It’s done on a wide angle where her corpse looks like a spec falling into an unmarked grave. Loy’s death is more poignant when Zelamare knifes him and utters, “For Swanee,” meaning her lover killed by Loy’s men following a whole loan deal involving her sister and Loy. Satchel witnesses the murder and runs to his father who lets out his last, dying breaths. Crime always pays in its own ways.
Yet despite all the killing, “Fargo” season four’s great strength was in the bigger idea: Personal and broader histories. The final moments of the finale encompass wonderfully everything the show ever tried to say. Ethelrida reads the essay she has been composing all season, using Kansas City’s crime history as a panorama of the immigrant experience, with flashbacks to all the Italian, Irish, Jewish and Black crime families that have passed through. She emphasizes how we are all descended from migration and yet how we all carry different stories, but then some threads actually make them quite similar. And then comes the big shocker for longtime fans of “Fargo,” as the screen fades to black and then opens forward in time to the 1970s. In a car hitman Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) from season two stares out a window and we see his thoughts are going back to Satchel, meaning Satchel grows up to become Milligan. Thus the “Fargo” TV universe interconnects.
Noah Hawley was always wise in making “Fargo” an anthology series. Anthologies give a certain freedom to explore an endless ocean of themes, eras and ideas. This fourth season tapped into our ongoing debates about immigration and ethnic tensions in America, but with its own brand of surreal drama. Even when the body count could get confusing, the performances were always first rate, with Chris Rock proving he should do more serious crime roles. But it also worked best as a twisted kind of nostalgic trip, reminding us that history is not always romantic, not always clean, but no matter where you come from, we are all a part of it.
“Fargo” season four finale airs Nov. 29 at 10 p.m. ET on FX.