Season 4, Episode 10: ‘Happy’
“You’re always losing until you win,” says Loy Cannon. “That’s why they call it ‘underdog’.”
For the entire season, Loy has been playing a weak hand masterfully, and the Faddas have been playing a strong hand incompetently. Loy hasn’t had the manpower or firepower to move against the Faddas directly, and his race will always deny him institutional support. He doesn’t have the luxury to act impulsively like Josto and Gaetano. In fact, his most violent act on the show so far was to thrash Leon Bittle (Jeremie Harris) for suggesting that he should act more violently.
He’s been doing everything possible to avoid an all-out war with the Faddas, choosing instead to foment tension between the brothers, manipulate others into fighting for him and seize whatever territory becomes available to him.
Now the inevitable blood bath is finally playing out, and Loy is in a position of uncharacteristic vulnerability. He’s the underdog, having lost 27 men and counting in the war, and in his desperation, seeking a lifeline from Happy Halloway (Edwin Lee Gibson), whom he rightfully does not trust. Loy needs “muscle from the country” to keep him afloat for two weeks, which we later learn is also the timeline the Faddas envision for ending the war.
Sensing weakness, Happy immediately turns around and offers a deal to Josto to install Leon, take over Loy’s territory and get a piece of trucking in exchange for betraying Loy. While Loy seems to anticipate this twist of the knife, there may not be much he can do about it.
After pausing for a much-needed stand-alone episode far outside Kansas City last week, “Fargo” hustles frantically to make up for lost time. While the show misses the thematic and conceptual cohesion of its “Wizard of Oz” homage, there was hardly a wasted moment this week. Yes, there are a few monologues — Loy reflecting on Satchel’s birth, Gaetano talking about the girlfriend he had at 11, Ethelrida’s mother telling her about the family curse — but none of them stall momentum for the sake of navel-gazing, and most have immediate payoffs. For all its pretensions, the show still works most reliably as a relentless narrative machine.
The season also starts to come full circle by returning to Ethelrida, who introduced us to the gangland of early ’50s Kansas City in the first episode and has popped up only periodically since. The Smutny family side of this story has been a little undernourished; they’re the one example of what it’s like to be a normal (or relatively normal) family caught up in all this lethal intrigue. All the Smutnys want is to make their home-based mortuary viable, but because of a bad loan and ill fortune, they’re at the mercy of the wicked. The one silver lining to all the violence exploding around them is that business is booming.
Now finally, at long last, the conflict between Ethelrida and Oraetta gets pulled into the gang wars raging around them. Oraetta seemed to have the drop on Ethelrida after the anonymous letter to her boss at the hospital didn’t have the intended effect. But Ethelrida has the son of a mob kingpin on her side and a poise she inherited from her mother. Ethelrida is up front about all the discoveries she has made about Oraetta — the tokens, the “bottles of death,” the poison pies — but it’s not enough to shake the nurse, who has the confidence of a white woman who knows her story will be believed over a young Black woman’s. (“What’s it like to be so sure you’re right and know that nobody cares?”)
The story about the Smutny family curse is too much even before an actual supernatural presence foils Oraetta’s attempt to kill Ethelrida in her sleep. “Fargo” already has enough quirks without cracking open the spectral dimension to tie up loose ends. It’s better off just allowing Ethelrida to use her powers of research to get the information she needs to save her family from peril. A few nimble twists of the microfilm reader leads to her to discover that a pinkie ring Oraetta lifted off a patient happened to belong to Donatello Fadda — a revelation that Loy can use to end the war. The “how” part is unclear.
Two major characters won’t be around to find out. After wriggling out from under Deafy Wickware and the machinations of both mob outfits, Odis decides to act like an honest cop and arrest the Fadda brothers. (His captain is hilariously incredulous .) It immediately seals his fate. And after a season of watching Gaetano antagonize friends and enemies alike, his accidental death is a testament to his essential oafishness. He may have been able to snuff out Loy’s attempt to turn him against his brother, but he was always dumb lug, destined to die how he lived.
The table is set for a finale stripped down to two major rivals, Loy and Josto, and a few others who might intervene. Will Happy’s alignment with the Faddas backfire now that Loy knows about it and Gaetano is dead? What will happen when Zelmare inevitably returns to the scene? And after a tornado last week and the ghost of a slave ship captain this week, what crazy deus ex machina will wrap things up?
3 Cent Stamps:
Not many Coen references to be found this episode, but the manner of Gaetano’s death does resemble a joke in Steven Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight,” in which another oaf with a gun trips trying to run up a flight of stairs and shoots himself in the head.
“Antecedently on ‘Fargo’ … ” There are so many simple ways “Fargo” would be improved by dialing back on the quirk a little. Using “Previously on” is fine.
The scene in which Satchel defies the two white men harassing him on the road gives more credence to the popular fan theory that Loy’s youngest son will grow up to be Mike Milligan, the stylish hit man played by Bokeem Woodbine in the second season.
OK, one very minor Coen detail: The way the camera whooshes toward the Smutnys’ front door as Oraetta breaks in at night is reminiscent of a signature move by Barry Sonnenfeld, who shot the first three Coen films. It also recalls the camerawork in “Evil Dead II,” which was directed by the Coen buddy Sam Raimi.
By Scott Tobias
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