Review: Built on quirky characters 'Fargo' season 4 finds its groove
Courtesy of FX Networks
Ever since its inception, the “Fargo” anthology series, inspired by the Coen Brothers classic, has always been a consistently engaging draw for cable TV and now finds a new home with streaming. Like the film, the series is built upon quirky characters getting thrown in quirkier situations. The new season of FX’s beloved drama is no different, and assembles one of the finest casts you’ll see this season, anchored by a head turning performance from comedian Chris Rock.
But “Fargo” has always been a tale of good vs evil, and season 4 is a crime story that’s rich with flavor. As usual, if you failed to catch on the “Fargo” train in the previous three seasons, fear not, as you can hop on board anytime. This installment picks up in Kansas City, MO circa 1950, during an all out turf war between two families. One - the Faddas, an Italian clan - strike a deal with the local Black run mafia, headed by Loy Cannon (Rock). The youngest sons of each family must swap for the other, so that Loy is left to raise a young Fadda, and the Faddas will assume guardianship of Loy’s boy Satchel (Rodney L Jones III). This is a tradition, we learn, that dates back centuries.
One that apparently doesn’t hold water because, soon thereafter, the gangsters end up breaking their oath and going after the other. Likely due to the resurgence of the hot headed Gaetano Fadda (Salvatore Espostio) - whose younger brother (Jason Schwartzman) doesn’t want blood on his hands - because he loves and obsesses over power.
It’s an ambitious and sprawling season that, over the course of the nine (of 12) episodes provided in advance to critics, really finds its groove and earns its keep in the “Fargo” canon. But the season would be nothing if we didn’t have other characters and subplots taking shape in the wings. In addition to the blood war, we meet two lesbian convicts (Karen Aldridge and Kelsey Asbille) who managed to escape from prison and start their own ponzey scheme; a crooked cop with a nervous twitch (Jack Huston) and his racists Mormon U.S. Marshal boss Dick “Deafy” Wickware (Timothy Olyphant); and why not throw in a serial killer nurse (Jessie Buckley - terrific) who loves to poison her patients and watch them squirm for good measure!
Oh, and lest we forget Rabbi Milligan (Ben Whishaw) - who was once traded by his own father in that long standing “tradition” - and is tasked with looking after Loy’s offspring. And finally, a teenage girl (E’Myri Crutchfield) narrates the tale and throws a wrench in the narrative from time to time.
Got all that?
If you end up missing the simplicity of the original “Fargo” - the film and the first season - you’re not alone. But each actor and performer brings an edge to their characters - especially Buckley who's dutifully turning into a household name - that elevates an overstuffed plot that should have no problem keeping audiences full until its finale around Thanksgiving.
Each of these characters amp up the stakes considerably and are going for broke no matter the cause. Olyphant - God love him - is borderline plagiarizing himself channeling his Marshal status from “Justified” but it’s still oodles of fun. Same for Rock who chews up scenery and monologues like his life depends on it. It’s refreshing to see a well known comic push their boundaries and strive for something better than low grade Adam Sandler comedies. Rest assured, there are more than several moments throughout “Fargo” which allow for Rock’s impeccable comic timing to shine despite the harsher elements of the script. Needless to say, it’s the best thing he’s done since 2007’s “I Think I Love My Wife” (bold statement, I know).
But the gold star of subplots belongs to the serial killer nurse, and that’s because Buckely - fresh off turns in “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” “Judy”, and “Wild Rose” - aces the part. Seeing Buckley blend the niceness of her polished Minnosota accent with the vile acts she performs on her patients makes for some good television. You might question where or how the character fits into the overall plot, but there’s more than enough juicy elements for the actress to sink her teeth into. Literally.
If you’ve stuck with “Fargo” this long and haven’t been turned away by the wild, almost, freewheeling nature of its story than season 4 should prove no different. Sure, it unspools rather quickly and doubles back on itself more often than not, but these characters are a total hoot and despite the messiness in which creator Noah Hawley tries to explain it all, there’s something to be said about the brand’s foundation that, for all its obvious blemishes, can still manage to stick the landing.
FARGO premieres Sunday September 27th on FX and then streams the following day on Hulu.