Fargo Season 4 Episode 5 Review: The Birthplace of Civilization

Fargo excites in a new episode on FX whenever its characters stop monologuing for a moment.

Glynn Turman as Doctor Senator in Fargo Season 4 Episode is 5
Photo: FX

This Fargo review contains spoilers.

Fargo Season 4 Episode 5

A war has officially broken out on Fargo, and Loy Cannon cannot get any respect. Whether from his enemies, those that are in his debt, the police, or his own wife, Loy is catching grief, lip, guff — pick your favorite from Swanee’s dictionary — from all angles. Last week’s episode found the Faddas attempting to get their house in order, but “The Birthplace of Civilization” finds the Cannon house falling apart. The episode’s concluding gut-punch, the death of Doctor Senator, will likely push Loy to the brink and inspire a righteously indignant retaliation, but can Loy afford to lose anyone else that is this important to him?

Though the death of Doctor Senator is the last event to transpire in the episode, it’s fairly representative of the hour — and the season, really – at large. Doctor Senator arrives for his usual meeting with Ebal to find Constant Calamita, backed by Gaetano, in the consigliere’s place. I haven’t mentioned it much before, but the production and costume design this season has been top-notch, and it’s evident in this tense, beautifully staged showdown. With each side trying their best to straddle the line between witty and intimidating, the simmering bad blood is palpable, building until…we hear another monologue about the American experience and respect.

Between Josto’s “America is a Crime Story” monologue, Gaetano’s rant about American inferiority after a slip on the ice, and all of the speeches that have come before tonight, I’m just exhausted by the constant speechifying. The episode’s best scene is completely derailed by another American origin story, breaking the suspense and leading to an ultimately anticlimactic gun-down of one of the series’ most compelling characters. Occasionally one of the actors make a meal out of their limelight moments (Gaetano dancing to his symphony comes to mind), but these are coming too frequently and at the detriment of pace.

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“The Birthplace of Civilization” begins with Odis fulfilling Josto’s orders and putting the squeeze on Cannon and his men. He rounds up the Cannon gang at their headquarters as another squad pinches Lemuel and Leon at a banned jazz club. Throughout the shakedown, Loy remains cool, mocking Odis with a, you guessed it, long speech about his past in WWII. Odis has been somewhat of a weak spot, a too-cute-by-half attempt at Coen quirkiness, but this episode tries to give the character more shading by informing us of his history as a minesweeper and the tragic demise of his bride-to-be. It will be interesting to see if this background information will inform any of Odis’ actions moving forward.

Buel immediately voices her displeasure at Lemuel being locked up to Loy, and her pressure finally cracks the boss’ cool demeanor. He explodes on his wife in typical anti-hero fashion, stripping away a bit of the sympathy we feel for Loy as he experiences added hiccups in his criminal lifestyle simply for being black. It may not be a pretty moment, but Rock is better playing annoyed and ragged, like he does later when he visits the Smutny’s to confront them over being paid off with his own stolen money.

Loy’s visit to the Smutny household, with Zero in tow, is an episode highlight. He’s barely holding his composure as he handles a frankly audacious move. With no patience left, he lets the Smutnys know that he now owns their business and pushes them to reveal the details about Zelmare’s whereabouts. At the same time, Deafy visits Ethelrida at school to try and coax the same information out of the Smutny’s daughter. Deafy drops some thinly coded racism, which causes the budding outlaw Ethelrida to stand up for herself, but Deafy isn’t playing around; he threatens expulsion if Ethelrida doesn’t comply and she gives the officer the information.

Unfortunately for Deafy, the Cannon gang beat him to the punch. Loy tells Zelmare and Swanee that instead of killing them, he’s going to put them to work. As anonymous outlaws, the pair could be beneficial in the budding war against the Fadda Family. Unfortunately, the Faddas, or at least Gaetano, is already escalating things with the Cannon’s. Josto tried to flex his muscle by getting the Cannon men locked up, but Constant and Gaetano’s move against Doctor Senator is a completely different level. Rabbi warns Josto that if he doesn’t do something about Gaetano soon, backup from Italy is going to arrive to assist in the coup. But before that even happens, Josto finds himself in the dark about the latest shot in the fully kickstarted war.

While Fargo shows bright spots, it’s constantly weighed down by endless gabbing. However, while the series is going to miss Glynn Turman’s Doctor Senator, his death could be the fuel that ignites a full-on explosion of action. Loy may have lost his righthand man, but he now has two wild cards at his disposal. And Gaetano helped strike back against his family’s enemies, but it’s likely to cause more strife between the Fadda brothers. There’s good and bad all across the board, onscreen and in quality too.


3.5 out of 5