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Fargo’s Nadir Turns Apocalyptic in S4E8

“The Nadir”

Fargo S4E8 once again lets us know that this is a story about storytelling. The episode’s title, “The Nadir,” references the moment in a traditional plot structure where the characters are at the deepest pit of their struggle. The chaos of the outside world has made its way into their lives and disrupted their chosen path and from here and they must make a choice they never intended. For Oreatta Mayflower, this means discovering not only that Dr. Harvard survived her attempted poisoning, but that it was Ethelrida who wrote the anonymous letter in the first place. This also means that Ethelrida, who left her journal in Oreatta’s serial killer trophy closet when she discovered it, is in greater danger from Oreatta than ever before. 

In Fargo S4E8’s opening scene, Josto and Oreatta become more entwined as their yin-yanged color coordination of undergarments reveals. Though I’m not sure they realize yet how closely their crimes are connected, specifically attempting to murder Dr. Harvard. Josto started off this season a vulgar but honest gangster, but his lie to Loy Cannon about Satchel’s death is uncharacteristically manipulative for him. 

Josto in bed wearing white shorts and tank top with maroon socks, while Oreatta lies beside him wearing a maroon robe. There is an ashtray on Josto's chest and leather straps at their feet.

Surprisingly, his newfound ruthlessness wins him some major points with Gaetano. Gaetano first beats Josto senseless, but when Josto regains consciousness he is surprised to find out his manipulation has unintentionally earned his brother’s respect. Gaetano completely submits to him even kneeling and kissing his ring. There are a lot of great things going on this season, but Josto and Gaetano are consistently fascinating and disturbing to watch. 

In a dimly lit bar Gaetano, bloody and bruised, addresses his gang with his brother, Josto, stands behind him confused and disheveled.

One of the best lines in Fargo S4E8 is a repeat of a line from Season 2, and lends further credence to the theory that Satchel Cannon is indeed Mike Milligan from Kansas City. In Season 2, Milligan tells Lou Solverson that he doesn’t find the charm of “Minnesota nice,” all that welcoming. Here, Loy Cannon says the same to Deafy when he boldly shows up at Cannon’s door demanding information on Zelmare and Swanee. When Deafy proudly claims “we Mormons are a friendly people,” Cannon tells him the same thing Mike Milligan tells Solverson decades later. “No. Pretty unfriendly, actually. But it’s the way you’re unfriendly. How you’re so polite about it. Like you’re doing me a favor.”

Loy Cannon, played by Chris Rock, looks incredulous as he listens to Deafy (out of frame) on a red sofa. the sunset and neighboring house visible through a large window in the background.

I’ve had a theory that Deafy is sticking around in Kansas City for some kind of personal crusade. In his introduction he referenced the Mormon Extermination Order, an example of anti-immigrant sentiments in pre-Civil War Missouri. He’s also referenced the “blood atonement,” a belief among some early Mormons that some sins could only be forgiven through bloodshed. Deafy’s religious zealotry may come off as a contemporary satire of the current Mormon patriarchy or its political influence in Utah, but it has more historical significance than that, and his fate in this episode likely references a more barbaric Mormonism from a bygone era. Mormonism, like the old crime families in Kansas City, assimilated into America by fully embracing American financed-capitalism. 

Though he never comes right out and says it, it’s not unlikely Deafy believes the Mormons were expelled from the state in an ongoing spiritual war. Mormons have a millennialist view of the second coming of Jesus Christ, believing that it will not only take place after the great battle of Armageddon, but that the war itself will begin in Missouri. Deafy isn’t just on duty as a U.S. Marshal, he’s avenging the death of Joseph Smith by ridding the state of Missouri of what he sees as a scourge of crime and degeneracy. 

The problem is, Deafy refuses to acknowledge Cannon taking accountability for the lives of Zelmare and Swanee, dismissing Cannon as a mere criminal who is incapable of accountability. He’s already explained that his nickname is attributed to his refusal to acknowledge anything, or any individual person, past his preconceived notions. He cannot accept that Cannon’s actions are not different from Mormon leaders as they fought for territory a hundred years ago, or that the women he pursues did not have the same opportunities as he did.

A U.S. Marshal surveys a crowded train station looking for a pair of wanted women, the back of his hat visible in the foreground but out of focus.

Which takes us to the showdown in the train station. Audiences might mistake the rolling synths that join Deafy and the police as they search the crowd for Zelmare and Swanee as a Stranger Things rip-off, though it sounds more like a nod to Pink Floyd’s instrumental “On The Run” from Dark Side of the Moon. Like true outlaws though, the pair never assume they are in the clear and open fire on the cops as well as innocent bystanders. Odis arrives after most of the carnage is over, and finds Zelmare & Swanee cornered by Deafy. In a twist, Odis shoots Deafy first, then Swanee. Before he can fire again on Zelmare, she tackles him to the ground and escapes. I’m not sure if the conversation earlier is supposed to justify Odis’ actions here, and while it almost seems like a bigger stretch that any of these people survive, it sucks that Swanee is the latest victim of the “bury your gays” trope that treats the lives of queer women of color in particular as more expendable. Zelmare even gets another look at the ominous Snowman that keeps following them, as if foreshadowing her partner’s murder. Zelmare escapes and leaves Odis unarmed on the ground with Deafy’s lifeless but judgmental eyes gazing down on him. 

A closeup of Deafy's face looking directly into the camera as his body leans against a wall with a streak of blood running down the wall.

And yet Armageddon might still be on the way. Upon hearing that Gaetano and Josto have reconciled, Cannon goes for his last resort and calls in the cavalry from Fargo, unleashing a new terror upon the Faddas. Gaetano, no longer hindered by cowardice without a strong man to submit to, goes in guns blazing. He and Josto survive, but the bullets rain into their mother’s home, killing their sister. In the context of Fargo as a whole, S4E8 might indeed be the “nadir,” the point when one man had no more mercy to give and called in an outside criminal army to exterminate his enemies, escalating the American crime war into new dangerous territory. 

An overhead view of Gaetano standing among four dead bodies in the snow, one of them on fire.

Cody Shafer

Written by Cody Shafer

Cody Ray Shafer is a writer and artist with some thoughts on video games, music, comics, and Twin Peaks.

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