Fargo S4E7 opens with a visit from the Angel of Death and ends with an act of mercy. Nurse Mayflower brings poisoned macaroons to Dr. Harvard, showing her willingness to resort to murder as a solution to nearly every problem. She can barely wait for him to take his last breath before diving into his desk to search for the anonymous letter that could expose her homicidal tendencies. In his final vision of her, Dr. Harvard sees Oreatta Mayflower as the unholy entity she truly is.
Fargo works when it’s as honest as possible about what it means, and if I’ve said before that Ethelrida Smutny is this season’s moral center, S4E7 makes it clear that the opposition of good and evil is between Nurse Mayflower and Loy Cannon. Mayflower is supposed to heal people, but she is actually a serial killer. Cannon, on the other hand, is a gangster, and though he is by no means nonviolent, he defaults to acts of mercy in every decision. As if the Christ allegories weren’t strong enough, Cannon even makes a habit of teaching through parables. That’s not to say every decision isn’t strategic and self-serving, but he has offered a token of forgiveness to everyone who has wronged him, so long as they commit themselves to his cause.
Deafy offers a different interpretation of biblical justice to Odis when he describes the “blood atonement,” a dark part of Mormon theology that insists that some sins require bloodshed for eternal forgiveness. The language Deafy uses makes it sound a little like dark magic, though, and Odis even responds by calling him a “f*cking curse.” Like most of the beliefs Deafy seems attracted to, this doctrine was archaic even by 1950, but it was taught by Joseph Smith as a justification for capital punishment. After the Mormon extermination order issued by Governor Boggs mentioned back in S4E2, Smith and his brother Hyrum were assassinated in Carthage, Illinois. In response, Brigham Young incorporated an “oath of vengeance” into their temple rituals, where Mormons would swear to “never cease to pray to Almighty God to avenge the blood of the prophets upon this nation,” echoing the wild west justice that Mormon settlers would adopt as a means of survival as they made their way west to Salt Lake City. The mainstream Mormon church abandoned the oath and the doctrine of “blood atonement” by the 1930s, although it infamously inspired Gary Gilmore’s request to be executed by firing squad in Utah in the 1970s, the basis for Norman Mailer’s true crime novel The Executioner’s Song.
What plays out this episode is like a curse, a spell born out of Josto’s hatred for his brother. Ebal tries to apologize to Cannon about Doctor Senator and put an end to the war, but Josto still attempts to kill Gaetano by manipulating Cannon. Josto even brings up Cain and Abel, on the nose yet again, but his callousness is more of a subconscious admission of his intention. He lies and tells Cannon his son, Satchel, is dead, and then suggests that Loy should kill Gaetano in retribution and spare Zero.
Josto slips into the Jerry Lundegaard kind of Fargo lie, even stuttering out “that’s what I’m sayin,’” as several Fargo characters have when they need to make something up on the fly and throw in a phrase that invites the listener to fill in the gaps. The Coen Brothers’ clearest intention with the film Fargo was to explore the dark intentions behind “Minnesota nice.” Josto’s lie is meant to do a specific kind of violence, but the side effect was fracturing Loy’s heart on the spot. Loy goes home broken, and descends into his own dark abyss where he contemplates retaliating against Zero, but does not give in to Josto’s temptation.
This whole season has been hitting us over the head with its themes about the myths behind American crime, even emphasizing a vibrant noir cinematography. The influence of the gritty pre-Hays Code era of filmmaking is apparent all throughout this season, taking place at the zenith of noir cinema and depicting similar costumes and underworld settings. The big difference is Fargo’s liberal use of color throughout this season, from the lighting when Calamita searches Rabbi and Satchel’s loft apartment for clues, or Odis’ orange zoot suit along with Zelmare and Swanee’s vibrant green clothes, all more alive once offered salvation by Cannon.
S4E7’s title “Lay Away” could refer to several things. Gaetano being held captive by the Cannons. Rabbi and Satchel away in hiding. Doctor Senator’s body lying in a coffin. But it could also simply refer to a line of credit. Back in S4E1 Loy and Doctor Senator are shown shopping around credit accounts as an investment idea to a banker. They show a metal prototype for a credit card, but the banker is dismissive of the idea altogether. “Hardworking people…well, they’re just not gonna spend money they don’t have,” he tells them. Now that Doctor Senator is gone and his empire is crumbling, Cannon is already on the edge. He snaps on one of his men, and the composure Rock’s held in every scene thus far pays off as Cannon’s emotional stoicism breaks down more than once this episode. Later on, after Josto tells him that Satchel is dead, Cannon sees a billboard for a new Diners Club credit card, adding insult to injury. And yet, this development only resolves Cannon to follow his mantra of “elevate, don’t denigrate.” He then very nearly quotes Christ himself when he denounces the methods of “eye for an eye,” and proceeds to let Gaetano go free instead of killing him. Cannon has no idea that his decision is based on a lie and that Satchel is likely alive and well, but his enlightenment nevertheless gives him power against temptation, while Josto’s curse is set to backfire.