FARGO, Season 4: “Camp Elegance”

Jason Schwartzman as Josto Fadda. (PHOTO: Elizabeth Morris/FX)

Northern Minnesota author Aaron J. Brown reviews each episode of “Fargo” with an eye for unique details from the place where the show is set. The ratings range from INTERESTING  (bad), to COULD BE WORSE (not so good) to PRETTY GOOD (not so bad), and OH, YA! (real good then).

Beware the spoilers.

Episode 6: Camp Elegance

(Original air date: October 25, 2020)

A sound echoes through Fargo’s sixth episode of season four, the unsettling, cloying groaning of a middle aged man confined by gout to a hospital bed.

You might just see another sickly patient that sociopathic nurse Oraetta Mayflower wants to kills (but can’t because she just got a new job and they might be on to her). But there’s more there. For much of the 19th and early 20th Century gout marked the rich from the poor. To get gout, you had to afford the kind of foods and sedentary lifestyle that creates gout. Rich, powerful men were depicted in political cartoons with canes and wrapped feet to indicate gout. 

How does that matter to “Fargo?” Well, this season is about hungry criminals who want to reach the top. They’re willing to kill each other just for the chance to reach something currently outside their reach: wealth and legitimacy in an exclusive American society. 

We see another example when Satchel is practicing reading with his surrogate father, Rabbi Milligan. He’s reading a passage about prisons. Some prisons are the kind you are locked up inside. But some prisons are the kind you are locked outside as you seek to enter. I tried to find where this passage came from but came up empty in a few quick searches. In this context we can also read it as the Cannons and Faddas dueling to the death, just to climb inside a different kind of prison: the one where we find the man with gout yowling in the hospital. 

“Camp Elegance” opens with a reminder of one of the consequences of the last episode. Ethelrida finds her family waiting to celebrate her 17th birthday, unaware that they’ve lost everything to Loy Cannon. 

For his part, Cannon is on the move. He and some henchmen jump the Fadda’s dirty cop, Odis, in his own apartment. Warns him that he’s dead if he doesn’t help him. Odis has no choice but to agree. 

The enraged man-mountain Gaetano Fadda apparently enjoys stabbing department store mannequins while waiting for the plot to develop. He sees two women arrive at the house and thinks little of it. But then gunshots ring out downstairs. For all his bluster, he appears genuinely nervous as he loads his pistol, so much so that he shoots the door when he hears someone approaching, killing one of his men. Zelmare approaches with a gun drawn. Gaetano prepares to shoot but is shot point blank in the head by Swanee, who snuck into the room through a window.

I don’t quite understand how Gaetano survives, but he lives somehow and the ladies bring him to Loy Cannon. Loy has a fellow in his employ who’s a pretty good boxer, so he works over Gaetano pretty well for some time. 

Dr. Harvard, the priggish WASP doctor who played a role in the death of Don Fadda, received Ethelrida’s letter about Oraetta’s record of killing patients and keeping their stuff. Oraetta deflects the charge perfectly, as she clearly knows how to do. But Harvard also makes it clear that he’s watching her. Oraetta wants to know who sent the letter, but he won’t give that up. She’s not going to give up on that, though, as she notes the drawer where he stashes the letter. 

Back at the Fadda mansion outside town, Josto receives his consigliere Ebal, back from New York with some new gunmen on loan from the higher level mob. Ebal Violente reports back to Josto on the two things that New York expects in exchange for help. The first is to wrap up the war with the Cannons within two weeks. Right then Constant Calamiti, the man who shot Doctor Senator, informs him that Gaetano was captured by the Cannons. That’s when Ebal tells Josto the second thing New York wants: for him to patch up his differences with Gaetano, who may be dead already. 

Oops. One of the best parts of this scene is the moment when Ebal learns that Doctor Senator, his equal on the Cannon side, was killed. Wordlessly, Violente conveys Senator’s sentiment right before he died. This is just some big mess the older men are going to have to clean up. 

Loy orders Odis to go get his son back from the Faddas. Here Odis sees Gaetano beat to a pulp, but still alive. It’s tantamount to a suicide mission as the Faddas will know the score as soon as he tries to retrieve Satchel. Odis gets to the Fadda house, but is quickly ordered somewhere else by Constant Calamiti. He is effectively a man with two masters, each of whom will cause him harm if he disobeys. His unwanted partner Deafy is watching carefully from a distance. He sees Odis’s predicament. 

Josto calls out Constant Calamiti’s disloyalty, telling him to stick with him or else. This rings hollow, though. We’ve already seen Calamiti’s cold and murderous abilities. Josto’s aptitude for this business remains theoretical. Josto does order the murder of Satchel, however, so this is getting real.

One of the Fadda men, Antone, gets the unpleasant task of killing the Cannon boy. He tells Rabbi Milligan to go meet the boss. Then he takes Satchel “for a drive.” He tells of his time in an American POW camp on the edge of town, “Camp Elegance.” That’s how he got here. He was starving and America fed him. He was proud to be an American now. He sends Satchel down to read the graffiti he left during that time, considers and then decides against shooting the boy. As he puts away his gun Rabbi Milligan shoots him dead from behind. He leaves with the boy, a fugitive from both gangs. He wants to give Satchel what he never got. 

“I never got to choose,” says Milligan. “I was a child soldier.” 

Again we hear the groaning. The closing scene shows Oraetta leaving a hospital room with crazy eyes. Did she kill the gout man? Did she find the letter to realize its author? She’s been hovering just outside the central narrative for a few episodes. Will she now make her move? 

EPISODE GRADE: This one may have taken the story from “too slow” to “too fast” too soon. And yet, we finally get a little more action. PRETTY GOOD

Minnesota Details

Yeah, some desolate winter landscapes, I guess. More brown that white. I don’t know. Not much this time.

Stray Observations

  • Loy’s speech about Odis’s ceramic dolls gaining freedom and rights might have been a little over the top. But the scene taps into feelings I have all the time about household objects eventually overthrowing my rule and establishing a new order. You might think the appliances are the biggest threat, but I know it’s the pillows. What brings me peace of mind is the knowledge that true power comes from the empowerment of others. 
  • Ethelrida comes home for her birthday dinner to the same kitchen where her parents had just learned that Loy Cannon was taking over their business. He also had them serve a piece of cake to Zero Fadda, his rival gang’s kid in his custody. But when Ethelrida sits down we see that her mother Dibrell had somehow fixed the cake. She may have baked another and patched the two together. A sweet gesture, given how much strain they are under. Just one of the things parents do to hide their troubles from the children. 

Read more at the Fargo Review page.

Previous Episode: “The Birthplace of Civilization

Next Episode: “Lay Away

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