It’s always a treat when Noah Hawley brings us a new Fargo series.
The last was in 2017 when Ewan McGregor played dual roles in Minnesota with Carrie Coon and David Thewlis.
Now we find ourselves in Kansas City, Missouri in 1950. Loy Cannon (Chris Rock) leads a black crime syndicate at war with the Italian Fadda Family syndicate. But this town has a history of maintaining peace by literally trading sons: much to the disappointment of their mothers, Loy’s son goes to live with the Faddas, and vice versa. But it’s no guarantee of a truce either, with previous arrangements ending in bloodshed for some gangs.
Violence is a hallmark of the ‘Minnesota nice’ Fargo, going back to its origins as a Coen Bros. movie with Frances McDormand, William H. Macy & Steve Buscemi, but it is always complemented by dark humour and quirky characters.
The truest of those this time around is Nurse Oraetta Mayflower (Jessie Buckley) who plays a pivotal role when Fadda boss Donatello (Tommaso Ragno) becomes her patient in a local hospital. She has the “you betcha” twang in her voice, but darker deeds in her mind, which will impact on Donatello’s ambitious son Josto (Jason Schwartzman).
The other key player in these proceedings, if somewhat unclear, is Ethelrida (E’myri Crutchfield), a mixed-race teenager whose parents run a local funeral home. In Kansas City of 1950 race looms large, just a few years and 600 miles short of Rosa Parks refusing to sit in the coloured section at the back of the bus. Fargo may be remembering Black Lives Matter in Season 4 but it is to considerable effect.
Ben Whishaw also plays one of the Fadda clan, having been traded in an earlier peace offering as a boy and Timothy Olyphant appears as lawman “Deafy” Wickware.
Chris Rock in a dramatic role holds up rather well, though I particularly enjoyed a scene where he pitches the idea of a credit card concept to a bewildered bank manager. But for whatever amusement is offered, unease, inequality and malevolence ripple throughout.
“We live with the choices we make, consequences,” says Whishaw’s ‘Rabbi’ Milligan.
Amid the shiny Cadillacs and autumnal streetscapes, there is also Hawley’s great eye for staging, and synchronising, elaborate set pieces.
Quite how everything intersects in the opening double episode is not readily apparent, but the brand curries much favour and it is easy to enjoy the sum of the parts without yet appreciating the bigger picture.
It also wouldn’t be Fargo without the suggestion that this is a True Story and “at the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.” Don’t believe it, you betcha.
Fargo double episode screens 8:30pm Thursday on SBS.