In episode one of this new fourth series of Fargo, we were introduced to the Kansas City of 1950 and its recurring gangland culture, and, currently, the two warring organised crime families that are jostling for power – the Italian Faddas and the African-American Cannons.
We were also introduced to a nutcase angel of mercy nurse Oraetta Mayflower and liberal, activist-in-the-making teen Ethelrida Pearl Smutney, all characters that are currently dancing around each other like bluebottles around a carcass.
In episode one, Donatello Fadda died at the hands of Oraetta, and now the Fadda family are grieving – or, like in any organised crime family, trying to carefully negotiate the power vacuum created by the death of a patriarch.
Josto Fadda (Jason Schwartzman) is now in charge and the deal his father made with the Cannon’s weighs heavily on his shoulders.
We also get introduced to his younger brother Gaetano Fadda (Gomorrah’s excellent Salvatore Esposito), a brutish, heavy-breathing psycho who makes the trip over from Italy in order to attend the funeral and subsequently boasts of foul deeds in the mother country.
For instance, he’s keen to tell people he carries around Mussolini’s extracted teeth in a tin. Just because he can.
When the current truce with the family’s rivals is explained to him, Gaetano is all for obliterating the Cannons with all the tact of a ten-tonne truck, while Josto is intent on keeping the entente cordiale going – it’s what his father wanted, after all.
The truce threatens to break more than once in some tense exchanges between the two gangs, not least when Loy Cannon’s right-hand man Doctor Senator (the always great Glynn Turman) takes over a Fadda-run slaughterhouse.
Elsewhere, Oraetta is up to her old tricks again on the ward. She’s about to end the life of another elderly patient (“It’s a cold autumn day… gobble, gobble,” she cheerily chirrups as she prepares a cocktail of euthanising drugs) when she’s caught red-handed and summarily fired.
Thanks to her sneaky ways and a very weak hospital administrator she somehow manages to negotiate severance pay and a reference. That frees her up to spend more time in the neighbourhood, and nurture her friendship with Ethelrida.
She decides to bake her neighbour and family an apple pie, and promptly laces it with some sort of, ahem, medicinal syrup.
(The baking scene is pure Fargo: she bakes her potentially deadly apple pie with an old-fashioned record player spinning Bing Crosby’s Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive in the background… not only a brilliant scene that depicts the madness that often lay beneath post-war domesticity and strict gender roles of the 1950s, but also the first time I’ve heard Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive onscreen since Dennis Potter’s masterful The Singing Detective.)
Oraetta’s an interesting (and great) character, alright. She’s sociopathically perky, walks in small, quick steps – like a bird – and is superficially friendly. What lies beneath is… well, something quite clearly very dark. But I’m not sure how she’s fitting into this whole piece. While the Faddas and the Cannons are in constant war mode and the mood darkens whenever they’re onscreen, Oraetta often comes shuffling along and provides an uneasy juxtaposition.
In fact, if the previous three series pay homage to and do a fine job of keeping the tone of the Coen’s original Fargo movie intact, this series feels much more like another of the Coen brothers’ stories – Miller’s Crossing.
Whereas the gang member characters and storylines have been kept simmering away in the background, here the far more interesting and quirky characters take a back seat. Whenever they come onscreen it feels like a bit of a jolt.
The Smutney family, meanwhile, gets an unwanted visitor when Ethelrida’s ne’er-do-well auntie turns up out of the blue with a young friend – the all-female Bonnie and Clyde have just busted out of jail. That’s when, in the closing shots, we see Timothy Oliphant’s Sheriff Dick ‘Deafy’ Wickware make a dramatic appearance.
The production design is gorgeous, and the performances are great (I’m really enjoying Chris Rock in a serious role, and even though he dials back his stand-up persona back considerably, he still shimmers with (a quieter) charisma), but at the end of episode two I’m still getting a sense that, although entertaining and occasionally dazzling, all the pieces aren’t quite fitting together.
Still, this is only episode two, and we’ve got a long way to go.
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE ONE REVIEW
Fargo is currently being shown in the UK on Channel 4 and is available on-demand on All4