November 30, 2020

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Fargo”


For 3 seasons, Noah Hawley’s FX anthology series FARGO displayed an uncanny ability to channel the unique sensibilities of Joel and Ethan Coen, even while telling original stories with their own idiosyncratic characters.  In Season 4, Hawley seemed to tire of exercising that muscle, and while the season was clearly intended as his nod to Miller’s Crossing, with scattered references to other films by the Brothers including The Man Who Wasn’t There, Barton Fink and A Serious Man, this year more closely followed the line of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather saga with its overarching vision of gangsterism as a way to understand America.  (There was also an entire episode devoted to a Wizard of Oz salute, complete with black & white photography transforming to color.)

There was plenty to recommend in Season 4, from its standout cast to its rich visuals, but the Godfather lode has been pretty well mined out in the nearly fifty years since Coppola’s first installment, and for all Hawley’s skill, this Fargo had neither the precision nor the scale of its forebears.  Hawley’s contribution was to add race to his gang war, pitting the Italian Fadda family against the Black Cannons.  He had little to say on the subject, however, other than that racism was as hard on Black mobsters as on civilians.

Tonight’s season finale, written by Hawley and directed by Dana Gonzales, was the shortest episode of the season, and it wrapped up the complicated plot with a brevity that would have been welcome in some of the earlier, windier chapters.  The side story about the cheerfully creepy homicidal nurse Oraetta Mayflower (Jessie Buckley, as bright a highlight as she’s invariably been in the last few years, and playing the only character who seemed truly Coen-like) finally justified its presence, as the season’s putative heroine Ethelrida Smutny (Emyri Crutchfield) was able to bring Loy Cannon (Chris Rock) evidence that Oraetta had killed the godfather father of Loy’s foe Josto Fadda (Jason Schwartzman), possibly at Josto’s behest.  Loy parlayed that into provoking Josto’s New York bosses to bump off both Josto and Oraetta–she got a particularly satisfying send-off–ending the gang war apparently in Loy’s favor and probably saving Elthelrida’s life from the crazy nurse.  Things turned fatally against Loy, though, as the white gang bosses welched on their deal with him, and he was slain by the girlfriend of a killer he had previously set up.

Fargo‘s Season 4 boasted not just the actors already named, but such luminaries as Ben Whishaw (as an Irish gangster raised by the Italians per a complicated arrangement each pair of ethnic groups adopted to forestall wars, apparently inspired by ancient tribal customs), Jack Huston and Timothy Olyphant (as cops, Huston’s equipped with a full roster of OCD tics), and Glynn Turman and Salvatore Esposito as part of, respectively, the Cannon and Fadda families.  Despite their often colorful flourishes, though, few of them made much impact (Turman was an exception).  That was even true for lead actors Rock and Schwartzman, whose good performances were limited by the scripts.  Hawley seemed to lose track of Crutchfield, introduced as the observer through whose eyes viewers would see the show’s world, for entire episodes.  He relied too much on gangster movie tropes like the lengthy, apparently good-humored monologue that culminates in a violent outburst and the montage of shootouts.  Instead of character development, we got Wizard of Oz and Hawley’s self-homage in a mid-credits finale sequence that explicitly tied Loy’s young son to the character played in Season 2 (set years later) by Bokeem Woodbine, who showed up for a cameo.

Like Hawley’s Legion, if Fargo Season 4 was a failure, it was one on a high level, unfailingly smart and distinctive even if it lacked the mastery that would have brought its many pieces together.  Although promos for this week used the foreboding phrase “Final Episode,” Hawley has been hinting that he has an idea for Season 5, and perhaps there he’ll rediscover the inspiration that made previous seasons so special.  Even the Coens have their off cycles (let’s hope Hawley never does a season based on The Ladykillers), and as with their films, there’s every reason to hope next time will hit closer to the mark.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."