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Fargo S4E11 Wraps Up The Beginning of A New American Crime History

“Storia Americana”

Fargo S4E11 wrapped up the prequel season of the crime anthology series. Season 4 sought to retell the fictional history of the Kansas City mob by subverting imagery and tropes from Hollywood. First, Loy Cannon managed to fend off Josto’s alliance with Happy and Leon by striking a deal with Violante based on Ethelrida’s information about Nurse Mayflower. Something I’d actually forgotten was that Oreatta mistakenly believed Josto asked her to kill his father when he asked her to “take care of him.” Little did he know he was talking to someone with a history of murdering her elderly patients, and even the audience wasn’t clear on Oreatta’s homicial streak at that point. Josto does get one last mad gangster scene though, as he takes out both Dr. Harvard and his former future father-in-law in a gruesome blaze of glory. Oreatta has fully rubbed off on him at this point, but this does not work out in Josto’s favor.

The Kansas City mafia headed by Ebil Violante from Fargo S4E11, joined by Nurse Mayflower

When Josto returns to his gang, he finds that Oreatta has told the remaining Fadda clan that Josto indeed ordered the hit on his own father. Ebal Violante has taken the reins of the gang now, and orders Joe Bollo to take Josto and Oreatta out to a field for their execution, and Oreatta asks them to shoot Josto first so she can watch. It’s demented, hilarious, and a perfect wrap for these two performances. Unfortunately for Loy Cannon, Violante alters their deal at the last minute, effectively taking half of Cannon’s old business. Organized crime families have been replaced one by one over the generations in Kansas City, but Violante is tired of this old system and apparently he’s not alone. The new mob is national, inclusive, and has branches all over the country, and yet Cannon is not offered an equal seat at the table.

As for Satchel, he does return home for what appears to briefly be a happy ending. Loy surveys the scene through his window, accepting the peace of having an intact family despite losing his business empire. In an instantly ominous nod to The Godfather, he is holding a grocery bag full of oranges. He does not see Zelmare approach, and she stabs him repeatedly in the back. Satchel is the only one who sees her as she leaves, and soberly finds his father dying of knife wounds on their front porch. Cannon was a brilliant and surprisingly compassionate crime boss, and yet his actions led to Swanee’s death. Chris Rock’s final scene as Loy is a punch to the gut, and Zelmare’s loss and vengeance is felt as viscerally.  

Loy Cannon finds his son Satchel sleeping, baseball cards are on the bed and a revolver on the nightstand.

The final scene is Ethelrida once again giving her history report. Notably, Ethelrida is wearing a blue dress in a dark blue room, and a framed painting is behind her. Whatever really happened in Kansas City in 1950, we are to understand that this is her version of the story. She then picks up a couple of bags and exits the frame, presumably to begin the next stage of her life somewhere far away from Kansas City. After the credits, we are treated to an epilogue with Mike Milligan driven across the countryside by one of the Kitchen brothers from Season 2, confirming that he is indeed a grownup Satchel Cannon.

Close up of Loy Cannon smiling while holding a grocery bag of oranges.

Fargo is an examination of the dark side of American folk mythology and the ugly reality it erases. Season 4 set out to tell the origins of the alternate economy that develops over Fargo‘s chronology, a series of stories that center around crime and capital and the blurry, sometimes non-existent distinctions between them.

And so Ethelrida, as Season 4’s narrator, is our only source on this story. Maybe she’s throwing in details here and there to reframe our preconceived notions about American history and its shared pop culture into a more accurate portrayal. For instance, the romanticized idea of American organized crime has been dominated by The Godfather, and here Fargo gives Loy Cannon a farewell worthy of that kind of cultural impact. But the empty look on Loy’s face brings home how much more tragic and grim the story is for Black Americans. The Cannon family is eradicated from the narrative later on. Cannon’s name is lost, and when his son does ascend through the ranks of the new mob, we already know that it’s just a dead end. 

It’s not just crime stories, either; Fargo Season 4 experimented with all sorts of different American cultural icons. Previous seasons have solely referenced the Coen bros. film or their extended universe, but this season clearly sought references from the wider Hollywood landscape, reaching back all the way to The Wizard of Oz with this season’s most beautifully executed episode, “East/West” S4E9. In this version, Satchel replaces Dorothy and the new world he finds himself in is a brutal one. 

Ethelrida Pearl Smutny smiling at the camera in front of an out of focus painting.

Early on in the season I pointed out a few similarities to Twin Peaks, which at the time even I thought was maybe a stretch, after all, this was Fargo which historically has limited its overt visual references to Coen bros. But since the rest of the season has leaned into the aesthetic of remixing Americana, I think it might be worth considering the patterns that show up in both Fargo and Twin Peaks. The Snowman turns out to be a curse that follows the women in Ethelrida’s family, much like BOB is a curse that haunts Laura through her own parentage. There’s also the recurring image of a cursed ring, the one that Oreatta steals from Don Fadda, that despite lacking any markings bears a resemblance to the owl cave ring. There’s also the imagery of the convenience store in “East/West.” These connections to Lynch’s work are likely more coincidental, but again, this story is meant to be a pastiche of different mythologies that overlap with symbols and themes in order to communicate directly to the American psyche. Hawley didn’t have to borrow from Lynch to dream up a haunting black and white convenience store; it’s already there, with its explicit ties to the oil industry, while also serving as a source of food and the central hub of our automobile-obsessed society. 

A car at a gas pump in Fargo, black and white.

Underneath it all is the consistent retelling of the alternate economy, meaning the deep-rooted division and blood-fuel that the country depends on for wealth. Fargo, chronologically, mirrors the evolution of late-stage capitalism through a phase of globalization and mergers, where the organizations and empires built by working immigrants are bought and traded like commodities themselves, often at the expense of the human beings swallowed up by the system. In the end, it’s all represented by V. M. Varga, a disgusting, predatory capitalist who absorbs the money and livelihoods of decent people like a black hole. But the currency that drives the events is storytelling, mythmaking, and lies. Or, Hollywood, money, and advertising. Or, even more explicitly, the corrupt practices of big banks like Wells Fargo, who rely on a baseless, folksy aesthetic to distort their relationship with the communities they devastate. 

Would it be too much to hope that Mike Milligan and V. M. Varga might end up in a final confrontation at some point? S4E10 brought forth a lot of religious allegories by mirroring the conflicts between Cannon, his Black forefathers, and the Italians with the New Testament tension between Jesus, the Pharisees and the Roman Empire, and I suspected that with Satchel’s family believing he is dead for a time only for him to return would set him up as a sort of antichrist figure. Mike Milligan does end up with a disappointing victory, but is still alive at the end of Season 2. 

Hawley said in a recent interview that he doesn’t want to overstay his welcome with Fargo, but if there is a Season 5 it would be more contemporary. As much as the show works as an anthology, it would be worthwhile to see the various threads wind together somehow in the end. But who’s to say? Fargo Season 4 is a dark, hilarious, and surprisingly heartfelt reimagining of some of the best parts of gothic American storytelling.  

Mike Milligan watches the sunset out of the rear passenger window of a 1970s era car while his driver keeps his eyes forward.

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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