A review of the Fargo Season Four finale, “Storia Americana,” coming up just as soon as I tell you I’m a demented hag…
“The old way for the old world. Brothers, uncles, cousins. We live in the new world now. We need a new way.” —Ebal
“Storia Americana” opens with glimpses of the many characters who have died over the course of this latest chapter of the Fargo saga, accompanied by the mournful sounds of Johnny Cash singing “What Is Man.” Some of the deceased were extremely memorable, like Doctor Senator or Swanee Capps. Others barely registered, like Antoon Dumini or Omie Sparkman. But the body count has been terribly high, and you can’t blame Josto Fadda for invoking it as a way to talk Joe Bulo out of executing him. “Hasn’t there been enough killing?” he asks.
Joe answers no, gunning down Josto and Oraetta Mayflower, whose corpses will lie in an unmarked grave on the outskirts of the city. (He does at least grant Oraetta’s cruel but fitting final request: to kill Josto first so she can watch.) The finale sides with Joe on this point. Beyond Josto and Oraetta, who are sentenced to death by Ebal Violante(*) for allegedly conspiring to murder Donatello (one of the few crimes this season for which Josto isn’t guilty), the episode’s casualties include Dr. Harvard and Alderman Gillis (both shot and then lit on fire by a vengeful Josto), Leon and Happy and several of Happy’s soldiers (killed by Loy’s forces after he cuts a deal with Ebal), and finally Loy Cannon himself (stabbed to death by Zelmare Roulette as revenge for telling the cops where to find her and Swanee).
(*) Both children involved in the hostage exchange survive. Zero Fadda smiles at Loy from the back of Ebal’s car as they leave the park, while Satchel later returns home (and starts reading Dale Carnegie, as Hunk the salesman inspired him to).
But by the time Zelmare plunged the knife into Loy, I couldn’t help agreeing with Josto. This has always been a violent show (remember Lorne Malvo shooting Moses Tripoli and the entire Fargo mob back in Season One?), and while I haven’t done the math, Season Two is probably in the ballpark in terms of murdering significant players. But that year had stronger characters overall (and in the young Lou Solverson, a center of gravity that this tale lacked) and distinguished itself more from episode to episode. The three hours leading up to “Storia Americana” were among this year’s strongest (with “East/West” as a highlight of the whole series), but the carnage here felt mechanical and numbing.
Loy gets his “today I settle all family business” montage, just because that’s what the genre demands, and it feels lacking with Happy and Leon as such minor antagonists. Joe takes so long to get Josto and Oraetta out to the country that it seems as if there may be a twist that allows one or both to survive; instead, you get the sense that Noah Hawley wanted to give us one more amusing glimpse of Oraetta driving Josto crazy.
Loy’s death at least feels meaningful, with Zelmare stabbing him while he’s witnessing a blissfully peaceful moment for his reunited family, as if they have come to embody the “Future Is Now” billboard that Satchel passed on the way out of Liberal, Kansas. Chris Rock was hired in part because his verbal gifts seemed to make him a good match for this material, but Loy doesn’t get to say anything before he dies, simply staring in shock and grief at the son who improbably returned from the dead only a few scenes earlier. We knew what the future would hold for Satchel even before Bokeem Woodbine arrives for a mid-credits scene as the adult Mike Milligan, still riding around with Gale Kitchen, brooding on the boy he used to be, and reloading his gun the way he saw Rabbi do it. And in that respect, Loy’s death was one of this season’s most inevitable. But there’s still a poignancy to it because of how Rock plays it, how the sequence is staged, and how the scene just before with Ebal killed Loy’s dreams even before Zelmare got a chance to kill the man himself.
The idea of Ebal modernizing the Family not only fits with what we saw of the Kansas City syndicate in Season Two, but with this season’s larger arguments about America as a country built to grind down the dreams of individuals and certain groups. Ebal is able to thrive by moving away from old-world attitudes about valuing family above all else, and running things more like a conglomerate. And small businessman Loy can’t possibly survive against the larger corporate machine. Had Zelmare had never darkened his doorway, it was still clear that Loy would have lived a diminished life from the one he thought he was building, and that felt potent even at the end of this bumpy, overstuffed season.
Still, one can’t help looking at the 39-minute run time (the shortest of the season, with only a couple of middle chapters coming close to its brevity) as the story running out of steam before it ended. Spectacle-wise, it’s hard to top the one-two punch of the train station shootout and a twister killing Rabbi and Calamita, but the emotional end of things felt hollow by this point. Loy’s death hit hard, but Josto and Oraetta were bickering cartoons to the end, while Ethelrida barely appeared at all, even after her renewed prominence gave a big spark to the season’s penultimate episode.
There were gaps of about 18 months between each of the first three seasons of Fargo, a length driven by the desire to film each one in the dead of Calgary winter. Three years then passed, in part because Hawley was busy with other TV and film projects, in part because he was waiting for the inspiration to return to this world. This season offered moments that felt as inspired as anything the show did in the past, but they felt more infrequent, and also couldn’t overcome choices in casting and narrative focus that were wobblier than the earlier seasons. Season Three stumbled in those areas at times, too, especially with the two characters played by Ewan MacGregor, but it closed as strongly as the first two years. This one ended with a whimper, followed by a reminder of Fargo at its best with the Bokeem Woodbine cameo.
The anthological nature of Fargo means there’s no real baggage for a hypothetical fifth season, which could still be excellent if Hawley has the right inspiration, and executes more strongly than he did here. TV is better when Fargo is great. Season Four unfortunately only offered periodic glimpses of what the show can be. Hawley doesn’t need a new way; he just needs to figure out how to get the old way working like it did before.