Welcome to the Alternate Economy
Fargo has always been a show that’s had a cult-like impact on the small screen. From the intriguing characters and well written stories, season 1 is still the best for me but the show has undoubtedly had some strong episodes across the years.
Back for season 4, Fargo returns with a true-story tale set deep in the heart of the 1950’s. Episode 1 begins with narration from a young girl called Ethelrida, fleshing out the background of this volatile world.
The Irish and Jewish gangs formed an uneasy alliance in the 1920’s. The terms of this saw the youngest child of each family switched as a sign of peace and personifying the whole “keep your friends close” adage. This peace lasts 14 years, as we jump to 1934 and see he Irish double crossing their enemies and seizing control.
Violence begets violence and now the Irish have to contend with the Italian Mafia. Just as before the families exchange children but this time the double cross comes from the Italians.
In 1949, African-American Loy Cannon stands before the Irish Mafia but this time there’s a swagger and confidence with Loy that’s different from the earlier gangs. He refuses to shake Ebal’s hand and instead, signs off their agreement with blood.
Just before exchanging children, Loy tells his son to keep his head down and be vigilant. In exchange, Loy takes Zirominu under his wing.
This catches us up to 1950 where we’re introduced to our narrator properly, an intelligent girl called Ethelrida. It’s here we’re introduced to the atrocities of racism as she’s beaten at school and Miss Mayflower refers to her as a “dark-skinned animal.”
Back home, she finds her Mother discussing business with the gangs which explains Ethelrida’s ties to all of this. As we soon see, the peace between these two gangs is very fragile and could break at any moment. It’s not helped that Donatello acts like Loy is is employee rather than a partner. Loy sets him straight though, leaving him with food for thought.
Alone, Donatello speaks to his right-hand man Josto. He wants to move on the African-Americans but the Don is having none of it. As the two engage in a heated debate, the Irish are stopped on their way home. Eyeing the neighbourhood nervously, Don starts having a heart attack… until it turns out to be trapped wind.
As the group breathe a sigh of relief, the Don is hit by a freak bullet to the neck from a young boy playing in the street. After being turned away from a private hospital, the Italians race up to the public establishment. The Don’s lost a lot of blood and he’s forced to stay overnight.
This happens to be just the opportunity Josto needs as he convinces one of the nurses, Oraetta, to sedate the Don. As the poison is injected into the man’s IV, he sputters and calls her a murderess before fading. As he does, Oraetta hums a melody to him.
Elsewhere, Doctor Senator and Loy head to a bank to pitch their idea for a credit card. He wants to team with them and strike a 60/40 partnership. Wink is having none of it though, calling it a poor investment and sending the men on their way.
Defeated but not dispirited, Loy returns home to his family. There’s clearly tensions here though, especially given they gave their youngest over to the Irish. Loy promises to get their son back though no matter what.
Back home, Ethelrida watches as Oraetta gets off the bus and walks to the apartment complex across the street. As she enters the 2nd floor room, the woman looks out the window and stares with murderous intent at Ethelrida’s house.
The Episode Review
Based on a true story, this fourth season of Fargo gets off to a decidedly slow start. There’s certainly some intrigue with this one though and the racism angle is certainly topical given the current climate.
However, some of the humour is completely misplaced. I’m not sure whose idea it was to put a fart joke in the middle of this but it undermines some of the stronger themes this one’s playing with.
Despite the slow start though, the story is intriguing and some of the camera work and production design is excellent. The expository text showing up under character faces is a little on-the-nose though but that’s a minor gripe in what’s otherwise a decent enough start.
Whether this one can ascend to the heights of the previous seasons though remains to be seen. For now though, the first episode serves as a foundation setter for what’s to come.