Roush Review: The Stars (Including Chris Rock) Align for 'Fargo'
"You know why America loves a crime story? Because America is a crime story," opines a Kansas City gangster midway through the thrillingly unpredictable fourth installment of Fargo. In a medium overrun with formulaic franchises of law and order, Noah Hawley's brilliant anthology of bizarre morality tales rises above, on a dark tide of inventive quirkiness.
Observing much of this year's racially charged mayhem with cool curiosity is teenage student Ethelrida Pearl Smutny (an impressive E'myri Crutchfield), the only child of mixed-race undertakers who are in hock to Black organized-crime boss Loy Cannon — the season's most fascinating character, played by Chris Rock in a career-high performance of emotionally conflicted, controlled cockiness.
Fargo opens in 1950, as Ethelrida presents a dazzling report on the
Missouri city's long and violent history of ethnic outsiders in a criminal underworld — first the Jews, then the Irish, the Italians and now Blacks- — forever clashing for power and survival. In a ritual dating back decades, the leading families — currently the Cannons and the Italian Fadda clan — broker a tentative peace by swapping their youngest sons, a strategy that has rarely ended well. Just ask "Rabbi" Milligan (a mournful Ben Whishaw), born to the Irish and now a Fadda soldier.
The latest détente is threatened when a power struggle erupts within the Fadda family: Vengeful punk Josto (Jason Schwartzman) ascends to a throne that's too big for him — he seems less Godfather than Godbaby — just in time for his hulkish brute of a brother, Gaetano (a wild-eyed Salvatore Esposito), to arrive from Italy. The more Josto tries to restrain Gaetano, who believes he's participating in some mad vengeful opera, the more mayhem inevitably erupts.
"Once we start shooting back, it's to the death," warns Loy's most senior adviser, Doctor Senator (the great Glynn Turman), as each side inches closer to war.
Into this volatile situation, Fargo delights by adding even more intrigue with a gallery of eccentric characters, including two outrageous female outlaws (Karen Aldridge and Kelsey Asbille) who've just escaped from prison; a compromised cop (Jack Huston) with OCD, twitchy from war trauma; and a folksy Mormon marshal (Timothy Olyphant) with a penchant for munching carrots.
And who's bringing that perky Fargo vibe? The sensational Jessie Buckley (of Netflix's recent I'm Thinking of Ending Things), adding a chirpily perverse and deadly undercurrent as Oraetta Mayflower (these names!), a morally unmoored nurse from Minnesota whose sense of self-preservation puts everyone at risk — including her neighbor, Ethelrida. Oraetta may seem as all-American as apple pie, but you wouldn't want to eat what she's baking.
As these swirling storylines come together, am I worried how it's going to end? You betcha.
Fargo, 2-Hour Season Premiere, Sunday, Sept. 27, 9/8c, FX