Here’s a question: With Gaetano dead and Oraetta in handcuffs, has this season of Fargo taken the characters who’ve racked up the highest body counts off the board? Historically speaking, that is. Oraetta’s closet of trophies suggests she’s been at this Angel of Mercy business for a long, long time. And while we haven’t seen Gaetano take down that many of his enemies personally, all of his allusions to his time in Italy suggest he’s lived a dark and bloody past. Collectively these two have put together quite the body count. With them gone, Kansas City is likely to be a far more peaceful place, right?
Probably not. Based on the opening sequence, a montage of gunplay and scary headlines about mob violence set to Koko Taylor’s “Insane Asylum,” Kansas City has a long way to go before it settles down even a little bit. The conflict between the Faddas and the Cannons isn’t the sort that will just go away, even with the disappearance of one soldier, however enthusiastic. At King of Tears mortuary, the Smutnys can barely keep up with the influx of Cannon family corpses, a development that will resurface at episode’s end. It’s an intriguing glimpse at the operations of the family business. A true mom-and-pop operation, it looks like, well, mom and pop do most of the work while doing little to shield Ethelrida from all the gore and carnage. Maybe that contributes to Ethelrida being old beyond her years and able to hold her own talking to Loy Cannon about art and foreign languages.
But we’re getting ahead of the episode a bit. Across town, the Fadda family has problems of its own. Odis, seemingly unable to shake the disapproving image of Deafy’s corpse, has decided to go straight and arrest the Faddas, a development that displeases Josto, to say the least. He calls the office promising Odis a bullet with his name on it, which, weirdly, doesn’t spook Odis. He seems committed to being a good cop again, though the peaceful look on his face suggests he also knows his days are numbered. The clock is ticking for Josto, too, albeit in a different way. The bosses back east want an end to the gang war. It’s too “noisy.” Even Gaetano sees it’s bad for business, telling his brother it “can’t be personal.” (When Gaetano’s playing the part of the levelheaded partner, something has gone wrong.) Still, they come to an agreement: bring in an easier-to-control replacement for Loy, kill Odis, turn the page on this chapter of their careers.
Meanwhile, Loy has changed his base of operations to a fancy hotel, where Buel tends to his hair and dispenses advice about how to win the war. “Happy” finds Buel more directly involved in the Cannon business, perhaps in part because much of it involves asking a favor from Lionel “Happy” Halloway (Edwin Lee Gibson), an out-of-town “country boy” whose mother is like a sister to Buel. But Happy’s not, well, happy about Loy beating up his young cousin, the overeager Leon. Buel appeals to his sense of solidarity, and preservation, by pointing out that the Faddas won’t stop after eliminating the Cannons. The Faddas, and the larger organization to which they belong, will come after all the Black competition, Happy included. After seeming to consult with a pair of photographs of his elders held by his assistant, presumably pictures of the elders Happy speaks of reverently, he agrees to provide some muscle for two weeks. “It’ll be enough,” Buel says. The Cannons are saved!
No, the Cannons are screwed. Despite his promise — and his talk about how important promises are — Happy takes a meeting with Josto, who believes he’s found the Loy replacement he’s been looking for when Happy puts forth Leon to take over Loy’s territory (plus a cut of trucking). It seems to be going well until Josto’s future father-in-law shows up to call off the wedding. He insults Italians in the process, too, prompting Gaetano to punch him in the face. “You hit him for me?” Josto asks his brother. “I’m touched.”
And, in its own perverse way, it is kind of touching. Josto and Gaetano putting aside their differences and bonding as brothers has provided recent episodes with some of their best moments. “Happy” provides just one more, a reminiscence of the young love and act of violence that sent Gaetano overseas and a few words about how tough it was for him as a kid in Mussolini’s Italy. Then, after watching Odis return to his wrecked apartment, it’s time to put the disloyal cop down. Odis dies with a smile on his face, thinking about his dead sweetheart and happier times. Gaetano dies without knowing what hit him after tripping on his way back to Josto’s car. It’s an undignified, but probably inevitable, end for the big guy, who loved to hurt and kill his enemies and rarely gave a thought to anything else.
It’s a busy week at the King of Tears for reasons beyond the gang war, too. Talking to her mother, Ethelrida finally gets the full story on the ghost haunting their family, who turns out to be the restless spirit of a slave ship captain killed by her great-great grandfather during a storm at sea. He’s been with the family ever since, sometimes making an appearance, sometimes making his presence known via low-tide smells and sea sounds. If the ghost weren’t trouble enough, Oraetta shows up looking for the ring Ethelrida has stolen. When Oraetta threatens to go to the police Ethelrida threatens the same, pointing out that Oraetta has a closet full of evidence and poison. It’s a stalemate. And though Lemuel isn’t that much help in driving Ethelrida off, it’s still nice that he’s there. When Oraetta refers to him as Ethelrida’s boyfriend, he replies “I’m more of a suitor.” Standing up for Ethelrida will no doubt aid his courtship.
But Ethelrida’s real hero, weirdly enough, turns out to be the Ghost Slaver, who shows up and scares off Oraetta shortly before Oraetta can poison her teenage nemesis. Who saw that coming? No, seriously, could anyone have seen that coming? The ghost has been hanging around this season for a while, but it always seemed more like a magical realist metaphor than an active player in the events of the narrative. Now season four isn’t just a mid-century gangster tale, it’s a ghost story. This kind of left-field development isn’t unprecedented in Fargo history, however. The second season was filled with UFO sightings that seemed marginal until they were suddenly not marginal at all. And like the UFOs, which connected season two to the end of the Coens’ The Man Who Wasn’t There, the ghost has a precursor in the dybbuk of A Serious Man. But why does he scare Oraetta off? Is it an act of kindness or does he want Ethelrida all to himself?
Loy’s not one to let himself seem vulnerable, but this episode gives him a rare tender moment as he recounts the story of Satchel’s death to Opal after Opal tells him of Leon and Happy’s seeming betrayal. It’s a nicely played moment by Rock. Loy’s been consistently on-task even after his son’s disappearance (and likely death). We haven’t even seen him let himself be this open with Buel and it’s the first time he’s admitted out loud how much he misses his son. Fortunately, Satchel’s doing okay, or as okay as a boy with only his wits, a dog, and a gun to protect him from starvation and harassment as he wanders down a country road can be. For now, at least, it’s enough and when he scares off the rednecks in the truck he looks tough in a way we’ve never seen him be tough before. There’s more of Loy in Satchel than has been apparent up until now, just as there’s more of the sensitive Satchel in Loy than he usually lets on.
The episode concludes with a meeting between Ethelrida and Loy. She’s businesslike and confident when arguing why her parents’ debt should be forgiven. If anything, Loy now owes them thanks to all the bodies they’ve taken care of over the course of the gang war. “That’s not how it works,” he tells her. But, beyond impressing Loy by recognizing the painting on his wall as a customized rendition of Henri Regnault’s “Execution Without Hearing Under the Moorish Kings,” Ethelrida’s got a trump card in the form of Donatello Fadda’s ring. When she slides the ring across the desk, she already knows it will be the key in winning Loy’s war with the Faddas. When Loy recognizes it, he knows it too. In this chess match for control of Kansas City, the endgame has begun.
• But how will the ring help Loy? While Ethelrida and Loy know the answer, we don’t yet. Does it control the Nazgul? Now that ghosts have entered the picture in a major way, you can’t rule it out.
• Edwin Lee Gibson, who memorably plays Happy, is a Chicago-based actor and playwright with extensive credits. In addition to standing in for Kansas City, Chicago has provided this season of Fargo with a wealth of acting talent.
• R.I.P. Odis. On the page, the OCD police detective might have seemed too quirky to work, but Jack Huston gave him heart (and a lot of convincing tics).
• R.I.P. Gaetano. What a big, memorable performance from Salvatore Esposito, whose expressive eyes alone would have made him a star in the silent era. Sadly, the last bit of him we get to see is his brains as they spill out on the pavement after his stumble.
• Is this the last we’ll see of Oraetta? Narratively, she probably doesn’t have that much left to do, but it would be odd for her to disappear given how much time the season has invested in her. And surely Josto must miss her.
• Was anyone else reminded of Elmira Gulch in the scene where Oraetta confronts Ethelrida? One last Wizard of Oz reference left over from the ninth episode, maybe?