The latest season of Noah Hawley’s dark anthology series, inspired by the Coen Brothers movie, doesn’t actually take place in Fargo, North Dakota. The town has often functioned more as a purgatorial metaphor: a place entrenched in winter, with blood staining the snow and the ice. Hawley has previously described his Fargo as a 'state of mind', a 'frozen hinterland'.
Season four is less wintry, based further south in Kansas City, Missouri. But it's still in that Midwest region of the US, and the cold violence and existential absurdity remain. Along with that Coen Brothers black humour, of course. This time around, the story follows marginalised gangs in 1950: looking at the schism between the Italian Fadda Family and the Black-led Cannon Ltd group.
Chris Rock stars as Cannon Ltd leader Loy Cannon. Photo: Channel 4/Elizabeth Morris/FX
Hawley continues to impress in his immersive screenwriting skills, elegantly guiding you through his strange American worlds and their complex populations. He moves through the genealogy of gangs in Kansas City – so quickly but with such precision.
We start in 1900 with the Hebrew Moskowitz Syndicate, taken over by the Irish Milligan
Concern in 1928, who are then taken over by the Italian Fadda Family in ’34. Each
conflict is resolved via spittle handshakes and an exchange of children from each
gang – before inevitably erupting in violence. All
of this unfolds within the first ten minutes, narrated by a 16-year-old Black
schoolgirl (E'myri Crutchfield) who’s constantly oppressed by her white
Hawley creates such unforgettable characters, inside a rich visual style, that it’s easy to absorb the dense background. You love and recognise the gang members who’ve emerged from a lethally rivalrous history, growing into idiosyncratic curiosities. Maybe that’s why there are so many episodes (11 in total): because the build-up is as gripping as the punchline.
The entrepreneurial Cannon Ltd is now on the scene. The Cannons and the Faddas seem to be heading towards a familiar destiny, filled with gunfire, but the Cannon leader Loy (brilliantly pulled off by comic Chris Rock) is more reasonable than most. His intelligent presence resembles Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather, ironic considering the Italians on the other side.
Ben Whishaw as Rabbi Milligan. Photo: Channel 4/Matthias Clamer/FX
The Faddas suffer the same racism in a stiff and segregated America. And yet, their racial hatred for the Cannons reflects how intricate prejudice can be. The vindictive Josto (Jason Schwartzman), the heir of the Faddas, reflects that aggravation. The frustrated ties between the gangs begin to fray, but slowly. It might be too slow for some, but to dwell in this atmosphere with these characters feels like a cinematic privilege.
Ben Whishaw (David Copperfield, Little Joe) also makes an outwardly vulnerable but inwardly furious appearance as Rabbi Milligan, the only Irish member of the Fadda family. You don’t see much of him in the first two episodes, but he will likely have a stronger part to play.
The same can be said for Nurse Oraetta Mayflower. She's funnily and frighteningly played by Jessie Buckley (Romeo & Juliet), who gives the most outstanding performance in the season so far. Oraetta’s all smiles and cherry pies, grazing the edges of the main story, but with a contradictory fug of death around her.
It’s hard to judge the journey before leaving the driveway, but the first two episodes introduce a Fargo that's far more politically resonant. You have all the familiar high-pitched greetings and pitch-black comedy, but the truth hangs closer than ever before. When Loy says to the Fadda patriarch Donatello (Tommaso Ragno) that ‘you think part of being an American is standing on my neck’, the line – delivered so simply – feels like a stabbing indictment.
Fargo season 4 airs on Sunday 9 May at 9pm on Channel 4. All episodes will be available on All4 after broadcast.
|What||Fargo, season 4, Channel 4 first look review|
09 May 21 – 09 May 22, ON CHANNEL 4
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