FARGO, Season 4: “Happy”

E’myri Crutchfield as Ethelrida Pearl Smutny. (PHOTO: 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 10: “Happy”

(Original air date: Nov. 22, 2020)

Did you ever read about the Kansas City Slaughter? The mob warfare that killed almost 100 people, including several police officers and innocent bystanders? It was in all the history books.

Oh, wait. No, it wasn’t. Because that’s fiction.

If I’m going to quibble with “Fargo” on something this season, it’s the fact that the series has always hung its hat on the “based on a true story” lie shown at the beginning of each episode. And even though we eventually figure out that it’s not really based on a true story, the facade seems entirely plausible. Reality is a lot messier and random than fiction. The “Fargo” universe plays with that fact.

In the movie, a kidnapping plot goes wrong. Plausible. Something like that has happened before.

In the first season, a ruthless hitman randomly encounters an insurance salesman and an idle conversation takes things too far. Can’t prove that never happened.

Season 2 upped the ante with a more limited gang war, but took delicate care to build the notion that the “Sioux Falls Massacre” was a real event that you may have just forgotten. The scope of the event was small enough and strange enough that perhaps we did really just forget about it.

Season 3 might have been dinged for overreach, not unlike this current season, but it ultimately began with a murder revealing a false identity and a secret past. Again, plausible.

So that’s why the opening of Season 4, Episode 10, entitled “Happy” stands out like a well-shot sore thumb. It’s a great episode, by the way. The only flaw is revealing that these events take place in an unmistakably fictional world.

We open on scenes from the raging gang war between the Fadda Family and the Cannon Limited, two rival crime gangs in 1950 Kansas City. The bodies are stacking up like cordwood, to borrow a phrase from Lou Solverson in Season 1. And it’s clear just from the expression on Loy Cannon’s face that it’s not going well for his upstart organization. He’s outgunned and outmanned. But he’s still got Odis Weff, the (recovering?) crooked OCD detective, working on his behalf. Or at least, sort of.

Today Odis marches a squad of officers into the Fadda complex and they arrest the mob leaders, Josta and Gaetano among them. They make bail, of course, but it’s an act of defiance the family can’t abide. And there are consequences to come.

Meantime, Loy Cannon is looking for a miracle. He reaches out to another crime boss, Lionel “Happy” Holloway, a well dressed country gentleman who pays a ridiculously tall guy to walk around behind him holding framed pictures of his sharecropper ancestors. Holloway is Leon’s uncle: Leon was the guy Loy slapped around a few episodes back, so this is awkward.

Happy thinks Loy has overstepped in going to war with the Faddas. In fact, Happy says he’s dragging all the Black businessmen like him into the middle of something that’s going to hurt everyone. But after a passionate plea from Loy’s wife Buel Happy agrees to offer two weeks of fighting support from his organization. That’s not much time at all, so Loy knows it won’t do much.

Odis’s captain warns him his celebrated arrest of the Faddas might cost him his head. Odis knows this better than anyone. He takes a phone call from Josto Fadda who offers him a chance back into the fold, but Odis hangs up on him, sealing his fate.

Josto consults with consigliere Ebal Violente, the remaining voice of reason in the Fadda family. Ebal tells him that “New York” wants the war over now. It’s dragging on at far too great a cost. Josto suggests replacing Loy Cannon with a more pliable leader, someone the Faddas can push around. Then they could achieve some kind of honorable peace, or at least one that allowed them to cut their losses.

We return to the Smutney’s home. Ethelrida had just spent the afternoon researching victims of their sociopathic neighbor, the Minnesota-born nurse Oraetta Mayflower. But now she wants to know about the ghost — the strange and horrifying figure who has appeared throughout the series.

And heck, so do we.

The answer is surprisingly straight-forward, according her mother Dibrell. Their ancestors were slaves. And when the slave ship crossed the Atlantic more than 100 years prior their strong-willed great-grandfather killed the evil captain, Thomas Roach. Ever since, Roach has haunted and tormented their family’s descendants. Dibrell says Roach likes “sunshine,” meaning that he seeks out the most hopeful members of the family, a fact that bodes ill for Ethelrida, who has already seen the ghost a couple times.

After her mother’s story, Lemuel Cannon stops to chat. She asks him if she can meet with his father. She might have something for him.

Oraetta storms across the street to interrupt this exposition by accusing Ethelrida of stealing a ring from her apartment. She gets mean, and her quaint racism reveals itself for a much crueler version. It’s an oddly overt action by the covert killer, and we are left thinking that this isn’t over. (It isn’t).

Back at the Fadda complex, two guests come to see Josto. Uh-oh, it’s Happy. And his nephew Leon, the former Cannon henchman turned out by an angry Loy. They negotiate to double-cross Loy, installing Leon as head of the Cannon organization. We know that fits Josto’s plan of installing a more deferential leader in his opponent’s outfit.

The meeting is interrupted by the father of Josto’s fiancee, who is calling off the wedding. There’s too much heat in the newspapers from the gang war and, besides, he never liked Josto anyway. Watching this scene I just assumed that going into the den of an organized crime family to insult the leader would result in death. As it stands, all that happens is that Gaetano decks the guy.

Loy Cannon, looking as grim as ever, learns from his spies about Happy and Leon’s visit with the Faddas. Loy does not seem surprised. He sadly recalls the day Satchel was born.

Speaking of Satchel, who is not dead, the young man is still walking home with his dog Rabbit. Two rednecks in a truck harass him. We’ve seen this movie before, but Satchel rewrites the ending. He draws Rabbi Milligan’s pistol and scares off the men. He delivers his own monologue, one that rejects the role in society that men like this demand he fill. We still don’t know where he’s headed, but he’s still walking.

The Faddas wait at Odis’s apartment. Odis has a squad car taking him to and from work, but he still has to go home eventually. Josto and Gaetano wait in a car to deliver retribution personally. We are treated to a conversation between the brothers about Gaetano’s time in Italy.

Don Fadda sent Gaetano to Italy because he killed a man at the age of 11. In Italy, his benefactors fell victim to the fascists. So he subsisted on tree bark and whatever he could find. Josto tells him that they’ve made it, and won’t have to live like that anymore. It’s a touching scene, but that’s never a good sign in a show like this.

Odis arrives home to find his apartment trashed. His ceramic dolls have been smashed to pieces. Worst of all, the goons burned out the eyes of the only remaining photograph of his late fiancee, the one whose death triggered his OCD symptoms.

He tries to bolt, but Josto and Gaetano are waiting for him. Gaetano approaches the car with gun drawn. But Odis can’t get his gun ready in time as he helplessly flails through his OCD rituals. He seems to accept his fate, maybe even with a sense of relief. Gaetano shoots him dead.

And then things get weird. On his way back to the car, Gaetano trips on the curb and accidentally shoots himself in the head, blowing his brains across the sidewalk. Josto stumbles out of the car in shock. He seems genuinely upset. He races off, leaving the two dead men behind. Odis seems to have the slightest smile on his face as he presumably greets his sweetie in the hereafter.

Did I say it was getting weird? Well, how’s this. Oraetta sneaks into the Smutney home with a syringe full of some kind of poison. She’s clearly planning to off Ethelrida in her sleep. But just as she’s about to do the deed, the ghost of Thomas Roach appears in all his terrible glory. And Oraetta senses him. In fact, he terrifies her into a blood-curdling scream.

We don’t see her flee the Smutney home (though she must have done so in a hurry). But we do see her return to her apartment in terror, only to find a host of police officers in her living room. Dr. Harvard told them who poisoned him. Oraetta is under arrest.

The episode closes with Ethelrida’s long awaited meeting with Loy Cannon. Loy’s not looking so good. Fatalistic and snippy, he assumes she’s only there to beg for her parents’ funeral home. That’s what she wants, but she’s got something to offer him. She gets him to promise to return the family’s business if she helps him win his war.


In her research of Oraetta’s victims, Ethelrida learned that the ring she found in Oraetta’s apartment belonged to Donatello Fadda, the late Don of Loy’s rival family. We don’t know exactly how this wins the war for Loy, but it does open up a few possibilities. Perhaps they use the ring as a ruse, or perhaps they pin the blame for the war’s escalation on Oraetta? Maybe if they can tie Josto to his father’s death via Oraetta, maybe “New York” will end this war right then and there.

Who knows? We’ll find out in the Season Finale. The episode has its work cut out for it, but we can hope for the best.

EPISODE GRADE: Pretty Good. The episode finally achieved the true vibe of a good “Fargo” story. However, the deaths of Odis and Gaetano only seemed to highlight the fact that those colorful characters never did advance the plot, except to kill other characters that also didn’t advance the plot.

Minnesota Details

  • As Oraetta is led away by police she lets loose an “Aw, Jeez,” completing the contract of every “Fargo” season. Oh, ya!

Stray Observations

  • Lionel “Happy” Halloway is played by venerable theater actor Edwin Lee Gibson. Something about his performance reminded me of Bernie Mac, so much that when I first saw the preview I thought, “holy crap, they CGI’ed Bernie Mac.” But Gibson is actually a decorated off-broadway actor and playwright, known for his ability to play a wide range of colorful characters. For instance, a Bernie Mac-like country mobster.
  • When Dibrell speaks of the slave ship captain, Thomas Roach, she calls him “the devil himself.” But that’s the same exact phrasing Josto used to describe the Irish crime boss Milligan. Which is it? Or is that the point, that “the devil” often takes the form of cruel authority figures?
  • The father of Josto’s fiancee continually refers to himself as a “U.S. Alderman.” Alderman is a title akin to a city councilor, and there is no such thing as a “U.S. Alderman.” It’s something you’d only say if you wanted someone to think you might be a “U.S. Congressman.” It’s a funny touch, and another reference to the false iconography of the American political system.

Read more at the Fargo Review page.

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Next Episode: “Storia Americana”

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