If you asked me on the spot to name one of my favourite TV series ever, it is certain that one of the names which would come up would be Fargo. Before the first season came out, many people were skeptical as to whether or not Noah Hawley could successfully take the essence and flavour from the classic Coen brothers film bearing the same name, and mold it into something just as memorable. However, season after season, Fargo managed to deliver crazy stories, incredibly well fleshed out characters, and a masterclass in cinematography, use of music and symbols. That’s why I was very excited to watch Season 4 – and my disappointment was great when the initial April airing date was delayed due to the corona pandemic. Since then, we got out of lockdown once, the producers managed to wrap up work on the final couple of episodes, and Fargo started to roll out, one episode at a time, for almost three months. Now that it’s all over, I wanted to discuss how everything went.
First of all, let me talk a little bit about the previous three seasons, and why I struggle to find a clear winner between them. Season 1 perhaps had the best antagonist in Lorne Malvo, and featured some of the most unexpected twists, as well as laughs. Season 2 had some amazing cinematography, put forward one of the most Fargo-esque characters in Mike Milligan, and used a semi-paranormal alien sub-plot to great effect. Season 3 felt equally adventurous, exploring deeper philosophical debates about what it means to be human, the diverging nature of truth, and the notion of purgatory, all of them epitomised in the idiosyncratic personality of VM Varga – plus, it had one of the best endings of anything, ever. All of them featured an amazing selection of sometimes complementary, often times contrapuntal music that served as a clear reinforcement of the sheer lunacy of the plot and/or visuals. At the very least, I expected something along these lines from the most recent season of Fargo.
❝When Fargo does that, it is truly a pity.❞
To be frank, Fargo Season 4 does not deliver. The first episode drags on a little, but it does offer two key elements: a very Fargo-esque character in nurse Mayflower, and a very Fargo-esque random set of coincidences which trigger the course of events across the following 10 episodes. And, once the wheels are set in motion, we do get doses of the show’s substance – Josto Fadda whose comedic apport to the action is remarkable, Gaetano Fadda – who provides one of the most memorable moments in the entire series’ history, and Deafy – whose unorthodox temperament is an absolute delight. And while sparks of brilliance are still here, they are quite few and far in-between, at least compared to the previous standards. For most of the time, gone are the tailor-made credit sequences, which were always made with the plot in mind, rather than just pressing play after the first couple of shots in each episode. Gone as well are moments of contrapuntal musical brilliance, such as Season 2’s Yamasuki song accompanying a Native American hunting rabbits in the snow, or Kalinka in Season 3, blaring after a man is thrown off the roof of a car park. The original score also fails to stand out, and when Fargo does that, it is truly a pity.
Perhaps the most impactful change was the shift of emphasis from an individual perspective to a family perspective. Of course, we had the Gerhardt family in Season 2, and we had Varga’s organisation in Season 3, but in Season 4, family takes centre stage and takes away some flourishing potential from the individuals. In the end, it feels like the only ones non-affected by this are those who do not take actively participate in the family bustle and the dichotomy this stems – nurse Mayflower and Deafy, who are in my opinions the strongest characters of the season. In a way, it is a great thing that we do not have a per-se antagonist, and that none of the two sides is more moral than the other. But the emphasis on family, while providing a catalyst for much of the better moments, also lowers the bar on individual brilliance. It’s a much more structured approach, assigning (almost) clear belonging and agendas to most of the characters depending on their respective camp, and makes for a much more linear approach to storytelling. Combined with main characters who stay within their own confines and do not manage to deviate much from the expectations initially set to them – as well as the great but not brilliant acting bits from Chris Rock and Jason Schwartzman – the Fargo world seems populated by far less interesting characters this time around.
And the plot itself seems to suffer from the limitations of this narrative, at least at times. There are certain characters who are thrown in just to tie the plot together, but are disposed of until the moment when they are needed in order to make another contribution. The season really gets going much later, around episode 6-7, and then has its send-off with a very predictable ending that somewhat lazily mirrors an exact moment from the final episode of Season 3. And there seems to be a discrepancy between some of the characters – some obviously not taking themselves too seriously, but the ones that do, do it with a sort of unnatural rigidity, perhaps required in order to make the point of the social issues alluded to in the series. But this ultimately does not reconcile the season’s diverging tendencies, weaving them into a seamless whole like the seasons before, but rather split it into two distinct parts.
❝I now at least know which one my least favourite of the bunch is.❞
Don’t get me wrong; I think the fourth season of Fargo is still miles ahead of most drama series of 2020. But as a 2020 show, it’s the polar opposite of 2020 – tame and structured, rather than crazy and unpredictable. Yes, its supernatural arc takes one step further, and the Wizard of Oz episode brings some much needed intertextuality into the mix. It radiates an intense Lynchian vibe, just like the purgatory section in Season 3, but fails to build upon these moments of brilliance, whereas the previous seasons not only sustain it, but constantly top it up. While I still enjoyed watching Season 4, I now at least know which one my least favourite of the bunch is. One of my favourite bits from the season was when one of the characters stumbles upon a billboard, reading only ‘The Future Is’. As long as it remains blank, everything is possible – let’s see if that holds up for Season 5.