Now in its fourth season, Noah Hawley’s black-comedy crime anthology returns to British screens this week – six months after its US debut – with a typically off-kilter tale of vengeful siblings and rival mob bosses.
Headlined by Chris Rock in a rare dramatic role, as well as Jessie Buckley (I’m Thinking of Ending Things) and Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore), these 11 episodes take us to Kansas City in the winter of 1949. Two criminal enterprises traditionally rule the area. At the moment, it’s the Italian Fadda family and African American outfit the Cannon Limited, whose leader Loy Cannon (Rock) must sustain a truce by exchanging his son Satchel for Don Donatello’s boy Zero. It’s a long-held agreement that keeps each side honest. At the trade, Loy warns his boy: “If there’s trouble, swing for the balls… then the eyes.” Meanwhile, Donatello whispers to Zero: “Learn everything, sleep with one eye open”. Clearly, peace cannot last long.
Threats involving tins of cat food and sliced throats are thrown back and forth between the families. There’s still room for humour in this fractious world though – and during one early scene, a monstrous fart breaks the tension. It’s not just Joel and Ethan Coen’s quirky wit that Hawley borrows either. Inspired by the brothers’ 1989 Oscar winner, Fargo the TV show remembers to pay sufficient homage to its inspiration – cleverly referencing Nic Cage comedy Raising Arizona with a grimy night-time jailbreak. No Country for Old Men also gets a nod when an unfortunate character is strangled in a floor-level tussle. Elsewhere, the split-screen editing and snazzy soundtrack add cinematic heft, while the show’s penchant for eloquent villains is continued with an array of violent and eccentric mobsters.
As ensemble pieces go, you’ll do well to find a more perfectly matched group of actors (short of rewatching Succession). Boardwalk Empire’s Jack Huston stands out as a twitchy policeman who has to knock on a door at least five times before opening it; while The Mandalorian’s Timothy Olyphant, Ben Whishaw aka Paddington, The Wire’s Glynn Turman and Gomorrah actor Salvatore Esposito round out an impressive cast. Buckley’s sinister nurse Oraetta Mayflower steals the show though. She’s a self-described “angel of mercy” who ill-advisedly strikes up a relationship (partly romantic and partly business) with Schwartzman’s brutal gangster Josto Fadda – you’ll have to watch yourself to see who that illicit tryst turns out best for.
But in terms of how Fargo season four compares to previous chapters, it’s tricky. There’s a midseason lull just when things really get going, yet its mostly frenetic pace, big-screen production values and likeable characters mean long-term viewers won’t be left wanting. More of the (very good) same, then.