This Fargo review contains spoilers.
Fargo Season 4 Episode 4
Up until this point, Fargo has been moving at a breakneck pace. It was inevitable that a slower episode would come, and “The Pretend War” feels less like a war, and more like a slow preamble to one. That’s the danger of dumping so much plot into early episodes; whenever you take a mid-season breath, it will feel more noticeable.
Much of the episode deals with the fallout from the two separate, unsanctioned attacks on the Cannon family. Loy’s men up the ante considerably by stealing a vehicle full of Fadda guns and ammunition, lighting an anonymous Fadda lackey on fire, and branding Constant Calamita on the cheek for his involvement in the failed hit on Lemuel. This retaliation props the second meeting between the two consiglieres.
While Doctor Senator’s WWII monologue at least gave us more background about one of the season’s most interesting characters, Ebal’s speech on “American Values” doesn’t capture the attention in the same way. At this point, it’s just another heavy-handed speech about what it means to be an American, and these are getting exhausting. Still, it’s interesting that Doctor Senator and Ebal’s mutual respect still shine through even when they’re fighting. Doctor Senator alerts Ebal to the failed hit on Lemuel, then accuses the Fadda’s of the heist pulled by Zelmare. Ebal remains steadfast that they did not sanction any heist, but if he didn’t have any knowledge about the hit, how can Senator take his word?
Josto finds out about the hit from Rabbi, who approaches the boss as he’s leaving Oraetta’s apartment after another sexual encounter. Predictably, Josto is furious that Gaetano is giving orders behind his back. Josto immediately comes in hot at Gaetano, pointing a gun at his crotch and challenging his brother to make a move. Against character, Gaetano swallows his pride and lets his brother grandstand. Afterward Josto meets with Odis and Ebal and orders his mole within the KCPD to put a squeeze on the Cannons and his counselor to go smooth things over with the NYC family over the loss shipment of weapons. The Fadda household is in order for the moment, but Josto isn’t going to keep his lionlike brother caged for long.
The final fallout from the failed hit on Lemuel finds Loy confronting Rabbi. Loy is aware that Rabbi is the Fadda charged with watching over his son Satchel, which makes the information that he attempted to kill Lemuel all the more distressing. Loy uses physical intimidation to scare Rabbi into sneaking Satchel away, and when that doesn’t work, reminds Rabbi that the Faddas are not his family. I’ve complained about Chris Rock not utilizing his natural charisma enough in the early episodes, but between this scene and Thurman repaying Loy the money that he owed with an obvious lie, Rock is credibly scary.
Speaking of Thurman, it seems like some misfortune is bound to befall the Smutny household. Previous seasons of Fargo have hinted at supernatural elements, like the extraterrestrials in Season 2 and the mystic bowling alley in Season 3, but this season’s flirtation with the supernatural is decidedly spookier. Last week, Zelmare spoke of the devil following her and her sister out of Mississippi, and here we get evidence that she may be speaking literally. A ghoulish figure haunts Ethelrida at night and same figure appears to hover over Zelmare as she tries to clean the money that she stole from the Cannons and that Swanee threw up on.
However, there are earthly dangers to be cautious of as well. Knowing that her family is tight on money, Ethelrida crosses the road and decides to take up Oraetta on her offer to clean her apartment. While cleaning, Ethelrida’s natural curiosity causes her to enter a room that Oraetta designated as off limits. Inside of the room, she discovers poisons, obituaries, and souvenirs that hints at her many killings. Putting the pieces together, Ethelrida flees the room, taking Donatello Fadda’s ring with her, but leaving her notebook behind.
Meanwhile, Zelmare gives her stolen, tainted bills to Thurman to pay off his debts to Loy. Call it a gangster’s intuition, then credit a keen sense of smell, because Loy is able to deduce that Thurman is paying him with his own money. We don’t know how this will be resolved, but we get to see the dramatic irony of Thurman celebrating as if the Smutny family’s troubles are all over as Dibrell knows that Zelmare’s crime will come back to bite them.
A war may be brewing, and comeuppances are bound to occur, but they don’t happen here. “A Pretend War” mainly sets the table for larger conflict ahead. Some of the moving parts still seem out of place from the rest of the proceedings, and the waxing about America has grown more than tired, but Fargo is building tension effectively. Now to see whether the fireworks will be worth the wait.