Film and TV

Fargo Season 4, Gives Us a Crime Story About America and Race

Chris Rock in Fargo, Season 4
Chris Rock in Fargo, Season 4 Screenshot
Fargo Season 4 is ambitious. It is a crime story that has big ideas about the American dream. Set in 1950s Kansas City, the series pits an Italian crime family the Faddas against a rival black crime family the Cannons. Both families are seeking legitimacy while consolidating their power as the simmering conflict between the two families erupts.

One side, immigrants who came to America for the opportunity they couldn’t get back home, and the other side:  descendants of kidnapped and enslaved Africans seeking the same dream. The exploration of the history of becoming American and the American dream in relation to immigrants and the black experience is interesting,  but pulling it off consistently while trying to weave a compelling and complex narrative is hard work that so far through the season has varying results.

Fargo positions these two crime families as points of comparison for the American experience. The head of the Cannon family says early on to the Head of the Faddas, “I see the signs in the windows: ‘No coloreds, no Italians.’ We’re both in the gutter together, like it or not.” The show tries to show the similarity in the collective experience of the two families (although the show might be a few decades too late for the height of Italian-American discrimination of the early 20th Century). The show describes the two sides as both being near the bottom of the social order of America. Both are trying to climb.

Both families are using crime as a way to legitimacy. Legitimacy in business as well as being seen as a legitimate American. Later on in the season the head of the Faddas explains to the Cannons that to America he’s just a hardworking white guy trying to make it, and that the Cannons will always be seen as criminals for doing the same exact thing. The show asks “who is allowed to be American, and who will be left behind.”

Fargo stars Chris Rock who plays Loy Cannon, head of the Cannon crime family. Rock delivers a compelling performance excelling at being the cool calculating boss who has ambitions of legitimacy. Rock is supplied with a heavy amount of long-winded spouts of dialog and he delivers them like the pro he is. Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore, Scott Pilgram Vs. the World), stars as Josto Fadda, the often comedic head of the Fadda family who has to navigate this conflict with the Cannons after his father suddenly dies. Schwartzman is the comedic center of the show. The show plays to Josto's Napoleon complex using his small stature to contrast his position as the head of the family.

The cast is filled with great actors including performances from Timothy Olyphant (The Mandalorian, Justified) who plays a Mormon U.S Marshall, Glyn Turner (The Wire) who plays Doctor Senator (neither a doctor nor a senator) the consigliere for the Cannon Family. With the show’s penchant for monologues and sharp dialogue, a cast filled with scene-chewers was necessary and Fargo has actors more than capable of operating in that space. But that number of actors and characters in Fargo means you are bound to have characters and subplots that are undercooked or disjointed from the main beats of the show.

For example, the subplots involving Ethelrida (played by E'myri Crutchfield), a mixed-race teen whose parents are in debt to the Cannons, and Oraetta Mayflower (played by Jessie Buckley) a psychotic nurse who has a history of killing her patients, are pushed to the outskirts of the story. Both characters are tangentially related to the story in different ways but their arc (like the others) almost seems like an afterthought due to the sheer amount the show is trying to do.

Despite its flaws, Fargo is still at its base a good crime story and worth watching. It’s an 11-hour mob movie, containing all the greatest hits you would expect in a show about gangsters. The show looks good. It's stylish and directed expertly. The recreation of 1950s Kansas city makes for a great setting. The action set pieces are well crafted and tense.

The season has three episodes left. The scope of the plot is narrowing, and the stakes are getting higher. It remains to be seen if it can bring itself to a conclusion that satisfies its own ambitions, but it is in position to satisfy the audience that has stuck with the show through eight episodes.

Fargo Season 4 is good and sometimes it is really good and comes close to the lofty goals that the series obviously has. When the blows land you can feel the weight and importance behind the punches. When they miss, you just feel the air whiffing by your face wondering what could have been. Here’s hoping that the last few swings land.

Watch Fargo season 4 on FX Sundays at 9 p.m. CT and FX on Hulu.
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Contributor Jamil David is a native Houstonian and Texas Southern University alumnus. He is interested in TV, sports and pop culture. @JMLJMLD
Contact: Jamil David