So, it looks like we’re in the “shit meets fan” portion of the season. Last week, I commented on how Fargo’s bold storytelling decisions didn’t always pay the dividends they need to in order to work. This week, we get some more big swings. Thankfully, I’m at a point where I’ve largely given up on this being a coherent season (Hawley has apparently lost the knack and/or interest for that sort of thing), so I can more readily appreciate the style. Not everything really works in “The Nadir,” and even twists that do work feel like they were dropped in from another, better structured season of television. But there are some stylish action set pieces, some unexpected moments, and a general welcome vibe of creepiness and tension. The episode is called “The Nadir,” after all. Some bad news is going to go down. It’s just a shame it has to feel so disjoined when it does.
Let’s start with Gaetano’s return to the Fadda fold. This is a good bit: after beating up on Josto for a while, Gaetano reveals that he knows exactly what his brother did (kill Satchel to drive Loy to murder him), and that he’s proud of him. Once Josto recovers from the punches, Josto swears fealty, calling himself the bull and Josto the chameleon, expressing his admiration for his brother’s tactics and basically ending the feud between them. It’s the most I’ve liked Gaetano all season, not because I have a deep need for sibling affection, but because it’s the first time his character has been more than an obvious cliche. Sure, “strong man who is won over by a show of strength” isn’t a new idea, but it’s interesting to see part of Loy’s plan to destroy the Faddas fall apart in an unexpected way, and it’s a nice resolution to the feud.
That’s one thing “The Nadir” does do right, and fairly consistently: we’re giving several resolutions, or shifts, that alter the status quo throughout. The Faddas are reunited to show a strong front, just as Loy continues his assault (the attack which ends the episode, leaving Josto and Gaetano alive but killing their mother, which I’m sure both boys will take just fine); so no more talk about whether or not this is all out war between the gangs. It’s still unfortunate that the least original and interesting element of the season—the fight between the Cannons and the Faddas—has taken up so much screentime, but at least now we won’t have to waste time on characters pretending they can avoid a conflict the narrative’s simple existence makes inevitable. (I mean, it’s theoretically possible this season could’ve unfolded without the Cannons and the Faddas coming to blows, but that was never really in the cards.)
There is quite a lot of death in “The Nadir” even before Mama Fadda and some goons get shot (and burned alive). Deafy finally catches up with Zelmare and Swanee, threatening Loy into giving up their location and coming down on them with a team of cops; but the raid (set in a train station) goes south fast, as both women pull out their guns and open fire on their pursuers. Officers and civilians are slaughtered alike, but in the end, Deafy nabs the escapees after they run out of bullets. Then Odis, who’s been doing his twitchy thing in the car, pops in, shoots Deafy and Swanee, killing them both. Zelmare runs screaming, and Odis is left to vibrate nervously on the floor, aware he’s damned but apparently unable to help himself.
Deafy’s death isn’t entirely unexpected (he was too much a calm center in the storm even with his religious beliefs, and Olyphant was listed as a “guest star” each episode, rarely a good sign for a character when they’re being played by someone as famous as Olyphant), but I hadn’t called Odis being the one to take him out. Even better, in retrospect it makes perfect sense, given the way the two of them had been sparing beforehand. Odis’s speech back at the police station about how much he needs to be in control didn’t quite land for me; while I appreciate how it pays off, it doesn’t sit quite perfectly with the earlier revelations about his time in the war and his dead fiancee. The stories don’t contradict each other, but it feels the character might have worked better if it had made Odis’s need for power and control to be more obvious from the start, instead of briefly pretending that his twitchiness came from being a minesweeper and then losing his fiancee. (As is, I mostly just wondered why the army decided a guy this tightly wound should be handling explosives.)
Still, it’s good to have the cast tightened a bit. Also good to have Zelmare and Swanee’s story cut short. Zelmare is still around, and probably extremely pissed at Loy (she’s not an idiot) as well as Odis, but her and Swanee were just another subplot in what sometimes feels like a sea of them. The season’s lack of focus, its efforts to tie in a lot of disparate elements by stressing a very thin thematic connection, is arguably its biggest weak point. When the cops closed in on Zelmare and Swanee, I was curious what would happen, and enjoyed the horrors of the result, but I wasn’t particularly invested in either character. They always seemed, at best, tangential to the plot (which raises the question “what is the plot?” and, uh, you got me there), and while there is that aforementioned theming, theming isn’t enough to make a story work. Especially not over a multiple episode season of television.
But hey, we might actually get more than a single scene with Ethelrida next week! Oraetta, after learning that Josto is getting married (and being none too happy about it; the two have amped up their s&m foreplay considerably), makes a quick call to the hospital to check on Doctor Harvard. Unfortunately for her, the worst has happened: the doctor survived the poisoned macaroon, and, as Oraetta finds out later when she pops in to work, he’s been transferred out of state for treatment. (To a “hospital specializing in the treatment of poisons.” Honest question: is that a thing?) Finding out the police are involved sets off Oraetta’s fight or flight instinct, but when she goes home to pack for a quick escape, she finds Ethelrida’s notebook in her trophy closet, and connects the handwriting back to the handwriting on the letter the doctor received.
Which means we’re finally heading into an Ethelrida vs. Oraetta showdown, the most interesting and unusual conflict of the season. What’s frustrating is how little the season has been about either character; so much time spent on retreading crime war stories, and so little time on getting into what it means to be a mixed raced teenager with big dreams and a psychotic nurse with an unusual bedside manner. I don’t think the two characters could’ve support the entire season on their own, but in the past, the show has been better at that balance. Or at the very least, it was better at making sure all of its various subplots were more connected. Too much of this season feels like a handful of different shows slammed into each other and just decided to roll with the chaos for a bit. That’s not a new vibe for the series (I remember it being a problem last season as well), but the novelty of that approach is gone. At this point, it’s worth appreciating for the nifty moments and the few compelling characters, and giving up on it all coming together in a meaningful way by the end.
- Loy’s wife, Buel, drops by the Smutny house for a chat with Dibrell, in a very much too-little, too-late scenario; neither character has had enough screentime to make an impression, and while I admire the idea of this, it feels like it came too late in the season. I also didn’t know that Lemuel was staying with the Smutnys. It makes sense, given that Loy would want to protect his son and that he more or less owns the funeral home now, but if there was a line of dialogue saying this was happening, I missed it. (Honestly, I’m pretty sure I did miss it.)
- We learn a little about Oraetta’s childhood. Sounds like her mother did some Munchasen by proxy on her growing up.
- Loy is still not very compelling, but I appreciate his ruthlessness. When Odis tells Deafy about the phone call at the police station, he likely wasn’t lying about Loy being on the other end; just, given the cut to Loy after Odis shoots Swanee and Deafy, it looks like Odis wasn’t completely truthful about Loy’s orders.
- A couple of sightings of the creepy monster guy we’ve seen a few times on the show. I want more of this fella, please.