Season 4, Episode 4: “The Pretend War”
Beneath the expected mix of fun names, regional dialects, Coen references, and gnarly orchestrated chaos, this season of “Fargo” has sought to make a big statement about America. This was evident in the opening sequences in Kansas City, which portray the succession of immigrant groups who turned to crime as a path to legitimacy. Becoming a true American, the series suggests, involves surviving a cycle of discrimination and conquest – and no one group of people will willingly cede power to another.
In other words, you have to pretend until you do.
This is the message sent by Ebal Violante (Francesco Acquaroli), adviser to the Faddas, when he takes another meeting with Doctor Senator, his counterpart from the Cannon crime syndicate, about the recent violence that has threatened their fragile arrangement.
“To be American is to pretend, capisce? ”he tells the senator, in the kind of curvy preamble that starts a lot of conversation on the show. The founding of America – and who can tell this story and how – is a topic of fierce political debate right now, but Ebal is enlightened enough to recognize the hypocrisy in the heart of “the land of the free and the house of the brave. “
And so, while some Americans find ways to talk about the basic evils of slavery and land theft to their indigenous peoples – though not that enlightened consigliere – they cling to a rosier fiction about who they really are. For the Faddas and Cannons, the pink fiction is that they are conforming to a power-sharing agreement – the same genre that has collapsed between clans in the past. And what Ebal wants to know is whether Cannon’s armed takeover of the slaughterhouse, which was answered by the attempted coup on Loy Cannon’s son, can be called “war.” Because even in America, you can’t pretend everything.
Or can he? Tensions are mounting between the Faddas and the Cannons, but there are still a few questions that Loy must resolve. Who ordered the hit on his college-aged son? And who was behind the Spring Street robbery? Loy seems to have a good read on both situations, but it might not be worth opening a front against the Faddas when they appear to be heading into Civil War. And it may be worth holding back retaliation for the Spring Street heist until the parties involved can be squeezed to their fairness. When poor Thurman Smutny (played by musician Andrew Bird) inadvertently settles his debts by handing Loy a bag of his own money, Loy seems to sniff out the ridiculous story of this nervous man before a literal whiff confirms it. He could chase him away immediately, but he doesn’t. The strike time is later.
This week’s episode plays out like an effective series of cliffhangers, raising tension in all areas without resolving it. It becomes perfectly obvious, for example, that Deafy knows that his devious partner, Odis, has ties to the Italian Mafia. Watching Odis train a witness to say nonsense about Swanee and Zelmare’s whereabouts is the first clue; Deafy’s conversation with thugs outside the building where Odis is having a meeting is the second. The seeds are also planted for a conflict between Oraetta and Ethelrida, which stumbles upon obituaries and knick-knacks from former hospital patients. Ethelrida takes a few memories and leaves her notebook behind, so a situation she-knows-she-knows-she-knows-is inevitable.
“It’s time for a sigh of relief here at Old Smutny House” is the line of the night. One Smutny repaid a murderous loan shark with his own stolen money, and another Smutny uncovered evidence of another murderer. Additionally, the cops are sniffing around the Smutny house looking for Dibrell’s runaway sister and her partner in crime, who is still reeling from the poison Oraetta wanted the whole family to endure for Thanksgiving. It’s only a matter of time before any of these parts try to boost Smutny’s mortuary activity by adding their bodies to it.
This is the type of pulp entertainment that “Fargo” does well, and the episode’s director Dearbhla Walsh keeps the camera active as the stakes rise. Walsh pushes the characters on as they face some consequential decisions – Loy as he sniffs the money Thurman gave him, Dibrell as she realizes it’s certainly not an hour of relief for the Smutnys – but let the tension hang. This is the first episode of the season to make you want to move on to the next.
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Did we just see an episode without any reference to Coen? The sheet music quotes Carter Burwell’s original “Fargo” music at the end, but this is not uncommon. Otherwise, I am lost.
Okay, if we really push it, the ring of fire that engulfs the hijacking that opens the episode is reminiscent of the final act of “Barton Fink”, when John Goodman’s insurance salesman goes wild in the streets. corridors of a burning hotel. It’s also a strong streak, and further proof that the war between the Faddas and the Cannons is not faking.