In Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 film Yojimbo, Toshiro Mifune plays a masterless samurai who arrives at a town torn apart by warring gangs and skillfully plays one off the other by making each side believe he works for them. Clint Eastwood pulled off the same trick a few years later in Sergio Leone’s western remake A Fistful of Dollars. Mifune and Eastwood’s characters use a combination of skill and daring to use their twisting loyalties to their advantage, but apparently those aren’t necessarily requirements to engage in such acts of deception. This week, Odis Weff demonstrates that fear and incompetence don’t always keep a man from serving two masters without their knowledge. Or at least without one of them knowing.
While we’ve known Odis was in the pocket of the Faddas since the episode that introduced him, this week we learn that the Cannons think he ultimately works for them, whatever favors he might perform for the Faddas. Not that they treat their employee kindly, roughing him up as punishment for allowing the raid that led to mass arrests, then making him sit for a lecture from Loy, who worries he’s losing the war, in part for reasons that go beyond the Faddas. “I’m fighting 400 years of history,” Loy tells him. “I’m fighting a mindset.” He sees Odis as a tool in achieving racial equality in the Kansas City underworld, whether Odis wants to play that part or not.
Loy likes to monologue, but he’s not just talk. Angry, and knowing he has to make a point after the murder of Doctor Senator, he sends the scantily clad Zelmare and Swanee to nab Gaetano, who’s spending the afternoon engaging in his favorite leisure activities: listening to opera and stabbing a dressmaker’s dummy. Their raid ends with Gaetano’s homesick right-hand man dead — thanks to Gaetano’s over-eager trigger finger — and Gaetano captured as Loy takes a powerful, if unpredictable, piece off the board. That lets Loy deliver another lecture, this one about Sugar Ray Robinson and the anxieties that come with being the champ. But the real point is this: he knows Gaetano’s responsible for Doctor Senator’s death and tells him he’ll pay for it with his life.
But not just yet. First he has to get beaten up a bit, then Josto has to at least believe he needs to make some sacrifices if he wants to get his brother back.
Thing is, Josto’s not that sure it’s to his advantage to rescue his brother. While Ebal brings him news from the bosses in New York, Constant shows up with the bad (?) news that Gaetano has been taken hostage. Josto can barely hide his relief, but Ebal’s message from New York makes one thing clear: If he wants to run Kansas City he must first solve the Cannon problem, one way or another, and “make nice” with Gaetano. Later he’ll explain his thinking to Ebal, saying, “My brother’s a tornado. A tornado crashes by you, don’t go after it.” Logical as that sounds, however, it seems like Gaetano is his tornado to chase. And since Loy believes he only needs to wait until he has Satchel back before killing Gaetano and claiming Kansas City as his own, he’ll need to catch it soon.
So what does all this mean to Odis? A lot of trouble. Loy charges him with retrieving Satchel from the Fadda home, but counts on Odis to come up with any plan more sophisticated than, “Just walk in there and grab him.” Would that it were so simple. Odis shows up while Satchel reads a bit of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle to Rabbi, then — after exchanging a meaningful, nervous glance with Rabbi — he gets whisked away by Calamita to meet with Josto. Mifune and Eastwood never had this kind of trouble (or at least never looked so scared if they did). Even in the thick of it, he can see that war is coming and that, unlike the World War II minesweeping assignment, he may not survive this one.
It’s a war not everybody wants. Ebal, the New York capos’ instructions to restore order still ringing in his ear, proposes a swap of territory or money to win back Gaetano, but Josto’s not having it. And Calamita suggests Gaetano would rather die than be traded. But just because Calamita and Josto both want a war, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily on the same side. “Am I your boss, or are you his boy?,” Josto asks of his fiercest, if least reliable, lieutenant. Say what you will of Loy’s methods, at least he seems to maintain a clear chain of command.
Loy also seems unlikely to kill Josto’s son as a tactical maneuver, wanting to blame Gaetano for the death and solve two problems at once. He entrusts that duty to Antoon Domini (Sean Fortunato), a character who’s mostly been in the background until now. Josto may not have chosen his child killer wisely. Antoon wants to follow orders, but he has a tender heart. He sends Rabbi back to HQ, but rouses his suspicions in the process. And though he takes Satchel out to a remote, woodsy location to kill him, he ultimately can’t bring himself to pull the trigger. It doesn’t matter, though. Rabbi can pull the trigger. After shirking Josto’s orders, he takes out the would-be assassin, rescues Satchel, and lams it. Always a misfit — not really Italian, Jewish, or Irish — he’s now a true outcast with no place to call home. Of course, whether there will be much of a Kansas City left after the war remains an unanswered question.
• RIP Antoon, we truly hardly knew ye. Sean Fortunato, a veteran of Chicago’s Goodman Theater, makes the most of his time, however, delivering a memorable reminiscence of his stint in a POW camp dreaming of the “big, yellow, American sun” he hoped someday to live beneath. He got there, only to die on a cloudy day.
• With so many characters playing major parts this season, it makes sense that a few would end up on the margins in some episodes. We only see Ethelrida and her parents in the opening during a birthday celebration that plays like a dream sequence (in part because the ghost Ethelrida keeps seeing shows up). About that: a reader on Twitter suggested the figure might actually be Death, which makes a certain amount of sense (especially given that Ethelrida lives in a funeral home). Discuss.
• Ethelrida doesn’t get that much to do, but her past actions play a major role. Oraetta meets with Dr. Harvard, who reads her the anonymous letter Ethelrida sent hoping it would out her as a killer. It doesn’t work. Oraetta is able to play it off as the work of a jealous former co-worker, but she knows its origins. As the episode ends, she puts the moaning gout patient out of his misery and, presumably, plots move to make next against her teenage nemesis.
• Deafy doesn’t get that much to do either. But he’s waiting, and watching, and he has Odis’ number even if the Jostos don’t.
• Satchel’s aborted assassination clearly echoes Miller’s Crossing but there’s a (slightly) subtler homage to the original Fargo when Odis’ attacker tackles him from behind a shower curtain.
• Will we ever see downstairs at Joplin’s?