FARGO, Season 4: “Storia Americana”

Chris Rock as Loy Cannon. (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 11, “Storia Americana”

(Original air date: November 29, 2020)

Everybody pays for what they did. Maybe not all at once. Maybe not yet. But in the finale to the fourth series finale of “Fargo,” all scores are settled, except one — the one that dogs all of us, all our days. This is the throughline of the “Fargo” universe, and “Storia Americana” delivers this truth on time, if a bit hurriedly.

Which side wins the war? Well, that’s a rather small way to think of what’s happened here. The side with the most money, the most power, the farthest reach wins, of course. This is America. Everybody who thought this was a war for control of Kansas City learned the hard way that it was merely an unpleasant disruption for much bigger interests.

The program opens with a split screen reveal of the dead — the men and women who perished by violence (or tornado) in the preceding episodes. Johnny Cash’s “What is Man?” — a deep cut for Cash fans — plays behind them. 

Loy Cannon meets Ebal Violente in the same park where he once negotiated with Don Fadda, before things got out of hand. Loy tells Ebal what Ethelrida told him, returns the ring, and sets into motion a “house cleaning” by the Italians. He also returns the boy Zero Fadda, a profound gesture of good faith considering that he still believes the Faddas killed his son. Loy’s not all bad. 

Back at the Fadda complex, Josto drinks away the death of his brother Gaetano, who died strangely last week by tripping and accidentally shooting himself. But all of us watching that happen could figure out that Josto would be blamed for the twist of fate. It was too weird, too random for anyone who didn’t see it to believe.

Indeed, that’s what happens. Joe Bulo, the New York muscle brought in to help the family, wakes up Josto to tell him they shot Loy Cannon. He’s dead. The war is over.

In a clever bit of directing this scene is cut with the image of Leon approaching Loy from behind with a pistol in his hand. Maybe they did kill Loy!

But no, Loy knew it was coming. His man sneaks up behind Leon and strangles him. Meanwhile, the turncoat mercenary “Happy” is holding court at Doctor Senator’s old table in the cafe along the gangland border. A Cannon man guns him down with his whole party. 

As this cavalcade of exposition continues, we see the old prig Dr. Harvard telling his staff about the killer in their midst. And we see Oraetta Mayflower, sitting alone in a prison holding cell. Then we see Josto nab Harvard as he leaves his building. (Why didn’t he just do that nine weeks ago?) He tosses him in the back seat with the alderman who insulted Josto and called off his daughter’s wedding in the last episode. Josto apparently murders them with a machine gun off camera. We see the bullet-riddled car and their bodies on some back road. He burns the car and tosses the gun into the ditch. Not a neat job at all. Everyone will know who did this. 

Oraetta somehow makes bail. We assume it was Josto, but come to find that’s not the case. It was Ebal and the family underlings. In the coldest power grab of the whole season, Ebal quietly, efficiently lays a trap for Josto.

As Josto emerges from the office, thinking Cannon dead, he finds Ebal in the don’s chair, and the foot soldiers behind him. And Oraetta. 

“You stand accused of crimes against the family,” says Ebal. 

He prompts Oraetta to share how Don Fadda died in the hospital, and Josto’s perceived role in encouraging the sociopathic nurse to kill him. 

In one of the most understated monologues of Fargo’s “season of monologues” (and, thus, perhaps one of the best) Ebal explains what’s wrong with a crime organization run by a family. This idea of a family business comes from the old world. This is the new world, and we need a new way.

“This is why the family business doesn’t work,” says Ebal. “Because families are crazy.” 

We are reminded of Ebal’s apologetic comment after the death of Doctor Senator. “There are certain people you don’t kill, and he was one of them.” Certainly you don’t kill the head of a successful business organization because of family political drama. 

With New York’s blessing, Ebal takes over the operation and orders Josto and Oraetta killed. 

Josto and Oraetta endure a long car ride out to the country. I guess this is their first official date after a couple months of trysts in Oraetta’s apartment. Josto calls her a hag, something that clearly strikes a nerve. They squabble until Joe Bulo threatens to shoot them. Seems an empty threat given the circumstances, but they calm down.

In a sign of much more efficient management than Josto ever could muster, the grave is already dug. Two workmen wait to fill it in. Josto immediately starts working on Bulo to rise up against life as a cog in the machine. “This is a ladder!” he calls out, only there’s nothing at the top. Bulo sticks to his plan, however. He asks if they have any last requests. Oraetta pipes up first. She only wants to see Josto killed before her so she can watch him die. He obliges. 

There’s a great shot during this scene where Oraetta sees herself in the reflection of a car window. It’s a slightly distorted image, but it feels as though she was seeing something in herself she was only beginning to realize. Perhaps that she had become her abusive, delusional mother. Or perhaps just a reflection of how her life was never really hers. Anyway, Bulo shoots her too, and the shovelers get to work. 

Back in town, Loy Cannon’s family return home, apparently from church. Was it Satchel’s memorial service? Their front door is open. Though the war is supposed to be over, Loy isn’t taking chances. He draws his gun and enters the house. He finds a bowl of cereal on the dining room table. I was reminded of the reference to “Goldilocks” from a previous episode, so perhaps this was porridge. Up the stairs he finds Satchel and his dog Rabbit lying in bed, exhausted from a long journey. The family enjoys a joyful reunion. But we can still see sadness in Satchel’s eyes amid the embrace. He still knows he was traded away, that all of this was unnecessary. He’s home, but will never be completely home again.

A mournfully whistled version of “America the Beautiful” plays over a shot of the Kansas City skyline. Life is returning to normal. Guns are still entering the city in crates of oranges. Business is good. 

We find Loy Cannon meeting with the new don, Ebal, at the Fadda offices. Ebal explains that he’s amended their deal. It’s brutal for Loy. Ebal is taking half of his territory and businesses. Loy shouts, but Ebal urges calm. In another cold monologue, he explains that this was no longer a hot-headed family business, but a real organization. A national organization. 

“You are, what do they say, a big fish in a small pond,” says Ebal. “But we are the sea.” 

And Loy knows he’s right. The Faddas won the war, even if there are no more Faddas running the show. “New York” is an organization so big and well-armed that he couldn’t even imagine contesting them. He’s the local shopkeeper. They’re Wal-Mart.

Ebal explains that Loy works for them now. Joe Bulo walks over and removes Loy’s untouched drink, a rather disrespectful insinuation that he should leave. He goes quietly.

The war is over. And though Loy outlived his enemy, he still lost. He returns home and looks through the screen door window. His family is all together. A wife, two sons and two daughters. Lemuel plays his trumpet while Satchel reads. The girls play. It’s a beautiful scene. One senses that Loy might be willing to accept that he can find solace in family, even if his business prospects are denied.

But that’s not to be.

Zelmare, Ethelrida’s aunt and the bereaved lover of the late Swanee Capps, sneaks up behind Loy. She stabs him twice with a knife. Fatal strikes, they both know. Satchel hears something and goes to find out. He sees Zelmare. She drops the knife and leaves. He sits with his dying father. Loy is too shocked to say anything. He touches Satchel’s face and dies on his front porch. He almost had it. The real American Dream. 

Back at the funeral home, Ethelrida reads her essay about American history to her parents. Loy had granted them their deed back before the end of the war. 

“Who writes the books, who chooses what to remember and what is forgotten?” she pens. 

Maybe it’s because I’m writing a book about 20th Century politics, crime and cultural conflict — but that line hit hard. So much power is in the teller of stories. And this story, told from Ethelrida’s point of view, dashes the mythos of American history. 

We close on a scene from the future. About 1980 or so. Just after the events of Season 2. Mike Milligan, who we all knew was Satchel all along, practices loading and unloading his gun in the back seat of a car zipping across the winter prairies. We see the same sad eyes. Homeless. Always.

The burden of the past carries on and on. Down through generations. So far that we don’t even remember why unless someone writes it down.

Episode Grade: I’ll give it an Oh ya! for the fact that it wrapped up a seemingly impossible number of loose ends and gave us several meaningful scenes.

Season Grade: Pretty Good. The hardest thing to take was the unrealized potential of the theme. I loved the idea of a story that expressed the paradox of American history. And this thing was gorgeous, probably the best shot season of “Fargo” yet. But too many characters required too many monologues to replace dialogue and action. It was a big bite of a tough steak. Believe me, I’m a tailor-made audience member for what this show was trying to do. And I loved it for that reason. But for the general population, even the general population of “Fargo” fans, this one was just a little off mark. 

Minnesota Details:

  • What can we say? Just wasn’t a Minnesota season. Our Minnesota character Oraetta Mayflower didn’t give any big speeches at the end. She just wanted to see her lousy boyfriend die before she did. It’s that kind of Minnesota passive-aggression that earns a hearty Oh, ya!

Stray Observations:

  • I think when they announced Season 4 last year the biggest question was whether a stand-up comedian like Chris Rock could hold down such a weighty role as Loy Cannon. My answer, in short, is yes, he did. Though I think he may have restrained himself a bit more than necessary at times, he turned in genuinely great performances in the last two episodes. I could nitpick a couple times early on where he seemed to be searching for who Loy Cannon was — specifically, is he a serious person who is sometimes funny, or a funny person forced to be serious. But on the whole Rock carried the part well. 
  • The “In Memoriam” opening might have been a little cheesy, but it did reassure me that the people swept up in the tornado in “East/West” were, in fact, dead and would not burst back on the scene in some outlandish fashion. 
  • It was actually jarring to see Oraetta with the Italians in the showdown scene with Josto. Holy cats, she made it into the A-plot!
  • But in a sign of the season’s struggles, Ethelrida is left with only a couple mop-up scenes in the series finale. She gets the last word, however, so there is symmetry with the premiere.
  • When Loy gazes upon his family one last time we see Satchel reading “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” the book recommended by the salesman at the Barton Arms hotel, and one that we know he’ll deploy in his future as Mike Milligan. 
  • Speaking of Mike Milligan, the mobster who offs Josto and Oraetta is Joe Bulo. That’s the upper management gangster from the Kansas City organization in Season 2 (the one killed by the Gerhardts to start the war in that storyline). Now, we know from that season that Bulo becomes a mentor to Mike Milligan. We’re left to imagine how that happens. I picture a teenage Satchel drawn toward his father’s old haunts, who falls in with the new management there. He can’t be Satchel Cannon, that name still holds bad juju, so he fashions a new one from the man who kept him alive during the most important road trip of his life. That adds poignance to the final scene of Season 4, seeing Mike Milligan (welcome back Bokeem Woodbine!) travel across Kansas (quite possibly the same road he walked all those years ago). And it also adds new meaning to the end of Season 2, when Mike Milligan uses all his street fighting skills to rise above his station — only to find himself in a bland middle management job with instructions to cut his hair. 
  • Ethelrida does not end up in a romantic subplot with Lemuel, and all for the better. We don’t know if Lem becomes the famous jazz trumpeter he wants to be, but he won’t have to worry about following in his father’s footsteps. Maybe Season 5 could be an older “Mike Milligan” trying to recruit his world class musician brother Lemuel Cannon to play at a crooked new riverboat casino. 
  • Only two rogue characters are left at large at the end: Zelmare and the ghost of the slave ship captain, Thomas Roach. Perhaps Season 5 will feature them in a road trip comedy. 
  • One of my favorite features of this season was the cars. Not only did they find period authentic cars, but they actually got them to look factory original, or at least plausibly so. The production design was, top to bottom, near perfect. 
  • When I was a kid one of my favorite things to do was set up elaborate scenes. I might have been playing with LEGOs, green army men, or some other configuration of toys. I’d spend hours putting everything in its place. (Just like Odis Weff’s porcelain dolls). But this game can only end one way. At some point (dinner time or bed time, most often) it’s all gotta go back in the box. So in a final flurry of activity every character meets its end. Whole sagas wrap up with a sweep of an arm.

    So it feels for Season 4 of “Fargo.” What a beautiful, sprawling scene. Alas that not every green army man got his due attention.

Read more at the Fargo Review page.

Previous Episode: “Happy

Season Analysis: “Trauma in the American story” by Aaron J. Brown

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