Tag Archives: Fargo Review

REVIEW Fargo (S4 E4/11)

“Goodness, your mind’s a clutter of grievances”

Oreatta Mayflower’s comic comment after another eye-opening and perversely hilarious sex scene with Josto Fadda in this episode serves is as oddly funny a scene as you’re likely to see. Both clothed, she has her hands clasped around his neck and she straddles him.

There’s something primal, sadistic and yet something to very funny about this scene. It’s almost as if Oraetta actually likes him, because she only goes so far.

“Jesus Christ,” Josto gasps. “What was that?”

It symbolises the episode – titled The Pretend War – as a whole, as it’s a warm-up of sorts, a precursor to mayhem later on in the series. Everything slows down in this instalment, too, after the helter-skelter of the first three episodes – connections are made, and characters jut up against each other.

Young Etherida Sumptey is starting to fit into this. To begin with it was difficult to see how she slotted into the whole piece but now, after episode four? She accepts Oraetta’s offer of her cleaning job and gets to work on her apartment. The murdering nurse tells her not to go into a particular closet… which, of course, is red rag to a bull. Inside Ethelrida finds her stash of poison, and souvenirs from all the old men she has put to death. Before she begins work on the apartment, she bumps alsointo Josto, on his way out after having sex with Oraetta.

At the Sumptey home, Truman – in debt to a loan shark – accepts Zelmare’s bag of cash to pay off someone who loaned him some money. So Thurman heads around to Loy Cannon’s place to pay him the money he owes him. Yes, Truman borrowed money from Loy Cannon.

And, of course, this money was stolen by by his sister-in-law Zelmare from Loy Cannon himself.

Ethelrida is connected to Oraetta, who is (more than) connected to Josto Fadda. Her father Thurman is connected to Loy Cannon. Everything is slowly to come together.

Meanwhile, in the war between the Faddas and the Cannons, Josto finally finds out about the botched assassination attempt on Loy’s eldest son. He’s not happy at all, and once again steps away from the violent route – instead he orders his KCPD lackey Odis Welf – he of the OCD door knocking – to put the squeeze on the Cannons.

Quite rightly, Josto recognises that there are more ways to skin a cat. Whether Gaetano will acquiesce to what he perceives as a ‘weak’ option is another question entirely.

So we’re getting a simmering war between the two gangs, and now a simmering war between Josto and Gaetano. After the Cannon gang hijacks a truck full of guns driven by Constant Calamita, it’s clear that this could explode at any moment. The hijack scene is another bravura, with the Cannons surrounding the truck in ring of fire, and one of the gang branding Calamita with the barrel of his gun after holding it in the fire.

There’s also another great scene once again involving Doctor and Egil in the diner. This time it’s Egil’s turn to monologue, telling his rival that when he came to America it took him time to understand the American Dream – the land of the free and the home of the brave, yes, but also a land of slavery and the double-cross. “To be American is to pretend, capisce?”

It’s another explicit way in which Noah Hawley is trying to deliver the Big Theme in this series – questioning the very country that these groups jostle for power in. Opportunity, sure, but at what price? 

It’s another good episode, and yet I was still left wondering how all of these different factions will either unite or destroy each other.

Random notes…

Fargo has often dealt with the supernatural, and got our first taste of it in series four – both Ethelrida and Zelmare were beginning to see ghosts in the Sumptey household.

Everyone is quite evil in this series. Really. Take folksy Sheriff Dick ‘Deafy’ Wickware. He explained to Constant and Gaetano that back in Salt Lake City they dealt with Italians like them by stringing them up and dragging them down the road until their heads snapped off. Do not think this folksy sheriff is anything other than a mercenary bigot.

Another man who’s starting to bear his teeth is Loy Cannon – first with Rabbi and then with Thurman at the end. He also tells Doctor that if the Faddas touch his son, that the order is to kill them all. Chris Rock is acing this serious acting business.

Despite Josto’s attempts to assert his power on his gang, his chair – his father’s old chair – is still too big for him. A telling metaphor if I ever saw one.

Talk about dirty money. Even after Zelmare washed her takings, Loy Cannon smelled something distinctly ickey after Thurman left the house.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 4 out of 5.





REVIEW Fargo (S4 E3/11)

Two episodes in on series four of Fargo and there’s a real sense it’s shaping up to be the most uneven of the bunch.

Darker tonal shifts have sat uncomfortably with some of the more typical, off-kilter Fargo moments in the first two episodes, but at the end of episode three I was breathing a sigh of relief because the balance seemed to be better, there were some real bullseyes and normal service seems to have been resumed.

At the end of episode two, Sheriff Dick ‘Deafy’ Wickware (Timothy Oliphant) quite literally burst on to the scene, kicking down the door of the Smutny household looking for escaped Bonnie-and-Clyde-style convicts Swanee and Zelmare. Episode three begins with a prologue, as Dick finds the two women escaped from prison in Utah and proceeds to track them to Kansas City. Upon visiting the KC police, he reveals himself to be the kind of folksy-talking oddball that Fargo specialises in – he spews earnest lyricism and an almost old-timey language, and is polite and innocent to a fault.

“In my faith we abstain from caffeinated beverages, hot or cold,” he says when offered a cup of coffee, with the slightly sinister emphasis on the word ‘abstain’.

As the local police chief swears like a trooper, Dick also reveals himself to be a devout Mormon and doesn’t take kindly to blaspheming.

As for Swanee and Zelmare, they successfully manage to hide in the Smutny’s underground mortuary and then set about their next adventure – to rob Loy Cannon of his money.

It’s an ambitious heist and is hindered spectacularly when Swanee devours Oraetta’s drug-laced apple pie before hitting the road. She begins to fart and vomit (more flatulence-based hilarity) just at that moment inside the warehouse when the going gets tough and the bullets start flying. Despite the, ahem, mess, the runaways still manage to bag $20k even if most of the notes are covered with barf.

It’s another pure, magnificently funny and grotesque – and typically – Fargo moment.

Elsewhere, there’s another pure Fargo moment, when Angel Of Mercy Oraetta Mayflower bags a new job at the hospital where Donatello Fadda was turned away from in episode one. She spots Josto in the parking lot and jumps into the passenger seat, immediately and flirtatiously telling the Mafia boss to stop following her. She then produces a line of something and they snuffle it up.

Something to take the pain away, she says.

She then reaches over and proceeds to whip his old feller out and, to his and our open-eyed surprise, jerks him off while softly singing Battle Hymn of the Republic. And, wouldn’t you know it, just as she reaches the Glory, Hallelujah chorus, he climaxes in her hand.

And then she’s gone, smiling that he really should ask her out on a date as if they were a normal couple.

Ah, Oraetta, dangerously delusional and not afraid to be as forward as anyone you’ve ever seen. She’ll end up killing Josto, of that there is no doubt, not least because she’s obviously attracted in a warped sort of way to weak, wracked men.

These scenes with these folksier characters are what gives Fargo its charm and pathos – there’s an inherent innocence to these characters, and when they get caught up in something bad (like Lester Nygaard and Peggy Blumquist before) and emotional turmoil ensues, we begin to see them unravel, and dig into something darker.

I’m still trying to figure out pain lies in the heart of Oraetta Mayflower that makes her want to care and love someone so much that she wants to kill them.

What’s new in this series of Fargo is the heavy darkness that surrounds the Fadda and Cannon families.

Doctor Senator lays down the law to Ebal Violante during a meeting in a diner, thanks to a brilliantly delivered monologue in which he describes his experiences during the war, where he was tasked with trying to get Hermann Göring to talk in prison during the Nuremberg trials. He begins by telling his Italian counterpart about how black soldiers were promised that if they joined up that the lynchings would stop. He thought he was doing good in the army, but his race was ultimately used against him.

And that’s when the tensions began to bubble up.

Gaetano, fed up with what he saw was his brother Josto’s weakness, wanted to strike and strike now.

He instructed one of the Fadda henchman to take the Irishman (Rabbi Mulligan) and shoot Loy’s son. In an attempted drive-by, Rabbi – who had been bonding with the young Cannon boy – pulled away at the last minute and averted all-out war after sussing that it wasn’t Josto who gave the final order.

Like the Gerhardts in series two, the Faddas were beginning to crumble, with Josto – revealing himself to be far more sensitive than brutish Gaetano (to the extent he sat in his dad’s old chair and reassured himself that it wasn’t too big for him when it patently was, both literally and figuratively) – not likely to stick around too much longer. Or perhaps he will, and form a deadly husband-and-wife team with Oraetta?

With Loy alerted to the botched assassination attempt and assuming the Faddas were behind the hold-up, it’s surely only a matter of time until the roads run red with blood.

This was a good one.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 4 out of 5.



Fargo is currently being shown in the UK on Channel 4 and is available on-demand on All4

REVIEW Fargo (S4 E2/11)

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.

Gobble, gobble.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.


Fargo is currently being shown in the UK on Channel 4 and is available on-demand on All4

REVIEW Fargo (S4 E1/11)

One of the great, unlikely crime drama success stories in the past half-decade or so has been Noah Hawley’s TV version of Fargo.

A riff on the Coen brothers’ Oscar-winning film from 1996, the televisual version has fantastically and successfully retained the original’s singular sense of humour, its flashes of quirkiness and the template of a large ensemble cast full of memorable characters.

From Martin Freeman’s Lester Nygaard, Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo and Allison Tolman’s Molly Solverson in series one; Kirsten Dunst’s Peggy Blumquist, Jean Smart’s Floyd Gerhardt and Bokeem Woodbine’s Mike Milligan in series two; and Carrie Coon’s Gloria Burgle, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Nikki Swango and David Thewlis’s V.M. Varga in series three, Fargo boasts a constant procession of characters that, yah!, really do stick in the memory, ya’know?

In fact, I’ve said before and I’ll say it again – when it’s good (which it frequently is) there’s nothing quite like Fargo on television.

Unifying themes of Fargo in the past seem to be have been the existential battle between good and evil, and how ordinary people can get caught in the middle of a fast-moving situation when they least expect to. In series one and three these ordinary people made bad decisions that propelled themselves into a world they were ill-equipped to handle, and they had to reap the consequences digging deeper and deeper into a hole they couldn’t get out of. In series two, and now four, we have a gangland element.

For this highly-anticipated fourth run, Hawley transports us out of Minnesota and North Dakota and into the big mid-west city of Kansas City, which signifies not only a geographical departure but also a tonal shift.

Narrated by black high school pupil, Ethelrida Pearl Smutny (E’myri Crutchfield), she gives us a potted history of the city’s warring gangland factions. These stories of recurring themes and violence are intercut with her own struggles to be accepted at school, and her own wise-beyond-her-years understandings of what America is and how race and class plays such a huge role in its societal construction.

It’s a bravura sequence, telling the story of how the neighbourhood was first ruled by the Jewish Moskowitz Syndicate at the beginning of the 20th century, then usurped by the Irish Milligan Concern in the 1920s, and then by the Italian Fadda family in the 1930s. These exchanges have a common and interesting theme – to broker and ensure peace, each ruling gang and their rival swap youngest sons.

Each family must then raise the other’s boy as its own.

This vaguely Biblical idea has never worked and has always ends in bloodshed.

Hawley pulls out all the bells and whistles during these fabulous opening scenes – there are soft-focus filters and washed-out colour palettes to show scenes from a century ago, on-screen chyrons to introduce characters, split screens and even black-and-white mug shots of the thugs taken in police custody.

We finally work our way up to 1950, where The Cannon Limited, led by Loy Cannon (Chris Rock), now wants a piece of the Fadda action. Once again they swap boys in order to keep the peace, but there’s a greater emotional impact here as we begin to see the consequences of the exchange – Loy Cannon’s boy is in tears when he’s told he’s going to live with the Faddas, while the surviving Milligan boy who went through the same experience – Rabbi (Ben Whishaw) – is empathetic and takes him under his wing.

Fargo wouldn’t be Fargo without its quirky, memorable characters and while Jason Schwartzman is suitably volatile as Fadda’s son and heir, Josto, and Chris Rock oozes charm and charisma as Cannon, it’s Jessie Buckley that emerges as the real star of the show in the early runnings.

She plays Oraetta Mayflower – a chatterbox nurse who, by the end of the first episode, looks like she might be an ‘angel of mercy’. From Fargo itself, Oraetta feels like the only character linking the previous series to this one – she has the accent, she has the cheerful, folksy demeanour, and is that slightly grotesque caricature we’ve come to expect.

Living across the street from Ethelrida and her interracial family (including her father who’s an undertaker), she has an encounter with the teen early on and there are hints that this friendship might develop. It’s not an easy exchange between the two – Ethelrida is a forward-thinking liberal who likes to stand up for herself, while Oraetta often puts her foot in it with casual racism.

As you can tell – and as ever with Fargo – there’s a lot to get your head around in this first episode, with plenty of characters to get to know and plenty of questions you’re desperate to find the answers to – what part will Ethelrida play in all of this? Will the Faddas and Cannons manage to keep their uneasy truce going? And what is Oraetta Mayflower really up to?

One thing that’s noticeable is the darker tone in this series. It misses the skip and lightness of touch of past outings, and it seems that even the super-quirky characters have murderous intent. Make no mistake, there’s malevolence coming from all sides in this series opener, and it sends out a bleak message – despite the passage of time and whoever’s in charge, violence, greed and hatred will always prevail.

There is one scene that strives to hit that Fargo sweet spot between black comedy, cartoon violence and rancour – when Donatello Fadda and Jonto are riding in the back of a car they’re held up at a school crossing, black men start to move into position. While all this is going on Don Fadda suddenly gasps for breath and for all the world looks as though he’s having a heart attack. When the situation outside the car comes to nothing, so does Fadda’s predicament, and he lets out an almighty, elongated, trouser-splitting fart. It’s only then that an errant BB gun used by one of the kids outside accidentally hits him in the neck by accident.

It’s a strange scene that really wants to strike that beautiful Fargo equilibrium, but it doesn’t quite hit the bullseye and feels like there are too many elements to really make it flow, work and raise a laugh. This could be series four of Fargo in microcosm if this first episode is anything to go by.

All that being said, I’m thinking about these characters and this world hours I first watched it.

Welcome back Fargo, it’s good to have you back.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.


Fargo is currently being shown in the UK on Channel 4 and is available on-demand on All4

Review: Fargo (S3 E9/10), Wednesday 26th July, Channel 4

Up until now, we’ve had more or less a bit of everything in this series – the sublime (a lot of that), some unevenness and a bit of the ridiculous. With the end fast approaching there’s a lot to be tied up, but this penultimate episode felt melancholy and reflective in mood and tone; the narrative pyrotechnics that have exploded regularly throughout dialled back to focus on characters and their interactions. Characters were circling and taking stock, trying to understand their place in this world and what it all means. As Gloria Burgle ruminated: “You think the world means something, and then it means something else.”  Continue reading Review: Fargo (S3 E9/10), Wednesday 26th July, Channel 4

Review: Fargo (S3 E8/10), Wednesday 19th July, Channel 4











We’re nearing the end of series three of Fargo, and now, with the Stussy brothers’ feud now over, it’s down to the last men and women standing to wage a battle royale. For what exactly? Like series one, a plain and simple, good, old fashioned battle between good and evil, featuring the flawed but determined Nikki Swango and the verisimilitudinous embodiment of rotting secretion, VM Varga. The question remaining from last week’s stunning episode was: did Nikki Swango survive the bus crash? Continue reading Review: Fargo (S3 E8/10), Wednesday 19th July, Channel 4

Review: Fargo (S3 E7/10), Wednesday 12th July, Channel 4

I hate to say it – and I feel cruel for saying it – but ever since Ray Stussy bit the dust in last week’s episode, Fargo became excellent. Ray’s unfortunate demise has paved the way for series three’s most interesting characters – VM Varga, Nikki Swango and Gloria Burgle – to emerge, fully-formed, and wage a battle royale until the end. In this way, series three mirrors series one, and this run has got better and better as it has gone along. Now, these three characters are actually sharing screen time together, I’ve no doubt that it’ll get better still if this episode is anything to go by. Continue reading Review: Fargo (S3 E7/10), Wednesday 12th July, Channel 4

Review: Fargo (S3 E6/10), Wednesday 5th July, Channel 4

I’m using this weekend to catch up on some the things I’ve missed during the week – yes, it has been one of those weeks – and Fargo is one of the things I just will not miss. After last week’s episode, where Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Nikki Swango was hideously beaten by VM Varga’s merciless henchmen, the series turned on its head. No longer was the focus on the feud between the Stussy brothers; now it had become something more poisonous and vengeful. Episode six was extremely tense. Continue reading Review: Fargo (S3 E6/10), Wednesday 5th July, Channel 4

Review: Fargo (S3 E2/10), Wednesday 7th June, Channel 4

Last week’s opening episode of the third series of Fargo was another fine piece of storytelling, but, for me, it didn’t quite have the same impact as the openers of series one and two had. Why? It looked great and all those Fargo themes and tropes were present and correct and thrown into the mix straight away – coincidence, chance, action and consequence – but there was a sense of repeating itself. There was also the Ewan McGregor factor, too: I was watching McGregor more than I was watching Emmit and Ray Stussy simply as characters. Thankfully, things settled down a bit in episode two. Continue reading Review: Fargo (S3 E2/10), Wednesday 7th June, Channel 4

Review: Fargo (S2 E10/10), Monday 21st December, Channel 4

fargo_210_0024_cl_d_hires2It didn’t take very long for this second series of Fargo to settle down. When it did, it was evident that this was going to be something special. We’ve had it all – humour, tension, farce, suspense, extreme violence and a cast of characters that you felt truly emotionally connected to. Episode eight might have been the best hour of television this year. That’s not to say there haven’t been times along the road where you were shouting at your TV screen (PEGGY WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST CALL THE COPS WHEN YOU RAN RYE GERHARDT DOWN? WE COULD HAVE AVOIDED ALL THIS BLOODSHED), but I like dramas like that because I trust someone like Noah Hawley to deliver the answers in time. And those answers were delivered in this finale. Continue reading Review: Fargo (S2 E10/10), Monday 21st December, Channel 4