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Photo: Elizabeth Morris / FX
By the end of the previous episode, it was pretty clear what was going to happen. Loy released Gaetano after letting him know that Josto let him die. If you’re a hot-tempered Italian gangster, you can’t get over this, can you? And when “The Nadir” opens, it looks like Gaetano is following the obvious path. Josto returns to Joplin and finds a bloody Gaetano surrounded by the rest of the Fadda gang. He attacks Josto and hits him hard. The lights go out for the KC Kapodaster and maybe worse. And then Gaetano lets Josto know how proud he is of his big (but much smaller) brother. A man who could allow his own brother to be killed in order to maintain power and who could arrange that Murder of a child to ensure this death? This is a real man.
It’s a surprising development, or it would be Fargo has not yet established Gaetano’s values. He loves his family, but if someone in that family doesn’t put business first, are they family at all? Josto’s willingness to shed blood – both Gaetanos and Satchels – to retain power impressed Gaetano so much that he swears his eternal loyalty to Josto. They make a great team: Gaetano can be the powerful bull and Josto can be the clever python (or the chameleon or whatever). It’s really cute in its perverted, criminal way and makes the faddas a force to be reckoned with again. Loy had a plan. That part didn’t go after that. His next step only needs a description in one word: “Fargo”.
Josto needed a win. In the opening scene we learn that he and Oraetta are not just very much, their relationship has intensified considerably. Her bedroom games have become even more dangerous and Josto thinks he could fall in love with the woman he playfully calls “Minnesota”. Oraetta doesn’t have it. She doesn’t like that he is planning to marry Dessie, Milvin, the town councilor’s daughter. (In case you’ve forgotten, that’s still a plan, though Milvin and Josto can’t seem to agree on when the marriage will take place.) And she doesn’t seem too interested in the whole love thing in first place.
Maybe it explains their background. She tells Josto that she was a sick child, inside and outside the hospital, with a kind of “malaise” that doctors called “failure to thrive”. She could hardly eat anything and who knows what could have happened if her holy mother hadn’t been there with her “special juice”? (If this goes where it seems to be going, her backstory would do Fargo Another series with Munchausen Syndrome as a proxy. But does Oraetta know that?) Josto tells its own story. The Irish boss, with whom he lived for three years as part of a power-sharing scheme, was “the devil”, a man who did things to Josto that no one should do to a child.
Oraetta interrupts him, confused by the news that Dr. Harvard, for all appearances to the contrary, did not die from its poisoned pastries. But Josto and Oraetta aren’t the only ones who provide this episode as a backstory. Although the action dominates the second half, in the first half we get a seemingly heartfelt explanation from Odis about how he became the man he is. He has been ridiculed his entire life for his tics and OCD (although he cannot use that second term) and discovered that they worsen when he feels out of control. But as a cop, he feels under control. Except for the compromises he made with the faddas and the cannons, he feels that he has given up much of that control and that his symptoms have worsened again. It’s complicated, but he tells Deafy that he wants to make it less complicated by going straight. And as he puts it, there is little evidence of his obsessive-compulsive tendencies. He appears to have seen the light, which justifies Deafy’s belief that goodness and justice can outweigh evil.
Stay tuned to see how that works out. But first we get Another Where do I come from a conversation between Anji Smutny and Buel Cannon? Buel explains that no matter what Anji thinks she can do, she cannot help Anji. But Anji suspects otherwise and tells the story of the King of Tears morgue and how it fits with her thoughts on Ethelrida, the daughter who, she says, “has dreams that take my breath away.” The conversation doesn’t resolve anything between them, but they seem to understand each other at the end of the conversation when Buel asks Anji to hold the service for Satchel, Buel’s still suspected dead son. Elsewhere, other members of the Smutny and Cannon families begin to bond as Lemuel and Ethelrida talk coquettishly about their jazz preferences. “He’s your kidnapper,” warns her mother. “Not your friend.”
However, Ethelrida may soon need all the friends she can find. Oraetta discovers that she is about to get into big trouble. Dr. Not only did Harvard survive, he recovered and was taken out of the state for his own safety. This can happen if strychnine shows up in blood tests and since Josto is already Dr. Threatened Harvard’s life, taking him away must have been a good idea. But it’s not good for Oraetta, who tries to pack her bags and get out of there before she finds out. In the process, she finds the notebook Ethelrida left behind and assigns the handwriting to the anonymous letter that suggests she might be a murderer. That can’t be good for Ethelrida.
Loy is having a tough day too. Deafy’s investigation brings him to Loy’s front door and after Deafy gives him some critical words about alcohol and says it’s like “your friend with a knife,” he follows them with some thoughts about the criminal mind. Your identity is based on getting away with things. And instead of morality, they use a code, some kind of bad substitute according to Deafy’s calculations. In an episode full of origin stories, Deafy offers some kind of overarching theory about what drives the various factions of the Kansas City underworld, one that is less concerned with the individual identities of its members than with how they function as type. It’s an unflattering description, yet Loy hardly refutes it when he sells Zelmare and Swanee to save his own skin.
And so we make our way to Union Station in Kansas City to have a big shootout. And if it looks a little familiar, that’s because Fargo filmed the scene at Union Station in Chicago. Even if you’ve never been there if you’ve seen Brian De Palmas The untouchablesYou’ll recognize it as the scene of a gunfight that gives the film its most famous set piece. It’s no coincidence that the battle in this episode evokes this famous scene, from its lengthy build to its exaggerated soundtrack to its strategically deployed slow motion. (No stroller rolls down the stairs Battleship Potemkin-Style however.) When the scene doesn’t nearly surpass her inspiration, it gives the episode another moment that complicates our feelings about its colorful criminals.
Zelmare and Swanee are some of the most charismatic characters of the season, but their attempt to escape leaves many innocent victims, as Odis finds out when he finally gets the nerve to join the robbery. When you see all of these bodies, which include women and children, it feels extremely uncomfortable to root them. Not that the following provides a clearer root concern. Though Odis is late, he can kill Swanee and Deafy, who dies with an accusing expression on his face but can’t stop Zelmare from getting away. There are no good guys here.
And while it’s fun to see Josto and Gaetano make up for lost time by behaving like boys again, there aren’t any good guys on the Fadda grounds who turn into a battlefield in the final moments of the episode whom the Fadda Matriarch stays dead when the men Loy called from Fargo appear. Is that the nadir of the title? Because it looks like things are going to get worse.
• RIP deaf. At least thanks The Mandalorians, one of the marshals who played Timothy Olyphant that fall, survived. Olyphant put on a fun performance and made a prig seem kind of charming and sly.
• RIP Swanee, who ran out of guns just as hoped – but not before sharing how much fun she was having killing Italians with Zelmare. These are not nice people either.
• Where is it all going? FargoIt was traditionally good with driving action scenes and dialog-driven character moments, but much of “The Nadir” plays out like an informal collection of the latter covered by the former. It’s not a bad episode at all, although familiarity with the shooting is a bit big. (Where much of the show is an act of creative inference, the scene feels a little too close to the original.) But we’re getting to the home stretch and it’s hard to see how the many strands of his season are connected. Not that she to have to. The season offered many joys in the form of atmosphere, strong performances and colorful characters. However, it’s unclear whether it will form a cohesive story or whether the 1950s Kansas City will simply serve as a playground for some new variations of the familiar Fargo Subjects.
• Oraetta speaks of strong performances and spends much of the episode in a state of panic. But her face, as she suffocates Josto while she pleases him, is eerily peaceful.
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