Fargo (2014) s04e1 – Welcome to the Alternate Economy

“Fargo,” season four, is firmly planted in traditional American literature. Sure, it’s got a female, Black teenage narrator (E'myri Crutchfield), but… female, Black teenage narrators are traditional American literature too. The episode opens with Crutchfield giving a history lesson, though most of the history plays out onscreen and not specifically in her narration. Her narration is more about being a Black, sixteen year-old girl in 1950 Kansas City but the history is about the gangs of Kansas City over the last sixty or so years.

It starts with the Irish versus the Jewish, then the Italians versus the Irish, and now it’s going to be the Black against the Italians. Chris Rock is the head of the Black gang. It’s a really weird, good performance from Rock. Show creator, episode writer and director Noah Hawley gets this restrained but also not performance from Rock. He’s a lot better than anyone else in the gang story.

Obviously there will be an intersection—or collision—between Crutchfield’s storyline and Rock’s, but it’s separate so far. Crutchfield has enough to deal with, being the child of a white dad (Andrew Bird) and a Black mom (Anji White) in Missouri. Her parents run a funeral home, which gives Hawley a chance to introduce weird neighbor nurse lady Jessie Buckley, who is not Linda Cardellini but don’t put the two of them in the same space because the space time continuum can’t have it. Buckley’s at one of the funerals when Crutchfield gets home—Dad does the white funerals through the front door, Mom does the Black funerals through the back—and they have an awkward, memorable encounter.

Buckley’s going to be important later, in the Italian mob story, which is Jason Schwartzman’s side of the Chris Rock story.

Now, despite Hawley doing a great job with Rock, not to mention the supporting cast in general—Glynn Turman’s prominent as Rock’s money guy—Schwartzman is an abject fail. We’re finally getting to see the Jason Schwartzman-Coppola do his mob movie (sure, it’s Miller’s Crossing—a lot—not The Godfather, but close enough) and Schwartzman is terrible. Is he going to be so bad he’s going to ruin the show?

I mean, when he and Buckley get together and Buckley, who’s just doing peculiar here, there’s no depth to it, she’s still able to act circles around him because Buckley’s at least got some kind of performance going. Schwartzman’s not quite levels of Sofia Coppola bad but he’s uncomfortably close to it. A stunt cast gone wrong.

A lot of it is excellent. Hawley’s direction is outstanding. His Miller’s Crossing homages are solid. Crutchfield’s great (though Hawley’s way more comfortable writing her opposite white dad Bird than Black mom White and it’s a problem), Rock’s excellent, Turman’s awesome. Thanks to the technicals and Hawley’s ability, it’d be hard for “Fargo” to flop, so it’s a safe bet the season will work out. But will it ever excel?

It’s going to take a lot to counter Schwartzman sucking the life out of every one of his scenes; it’s unclear Hawley’s got that much ability as writer, director, or showrunner.

Maybe stop casting Coppola kids as gangsters?

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