Season 4, Episode 6: ‘Camp Elegance’
Gaetano is ready for his beating.
Kidnapped, bloodied and tied to a chair, having been shot point blank in the head and survived, the Italian brute laughs at the pain that awaits him. This is the machismo we’ve come to expect from him, which has stood him in stark contrast to his diminutive brother, who is characterized by a fumbling pragmatism. And yet before Gaetano gets worked over by a shadowboxing henchmen, he first has to listen to a Loy Cannon monologue about Sugar Ray Robinson. To him, this is the real torture.
I can sympathize.
As a continuing homage to the films of Joel and Ethan Coen, “Fargo” has gamely attempted to mimic the verbosity of the Coens’s scripts, which themselves evoke a bygone era of Hollywood patter. The wit and musicality of their dialogue is the hardest thing for a non-Coen to simulate — they have almost no contemporary equals in that department — but patterns of speech are a key element, too, with plenty of variance between big speeches and rat-a-tat exchanges. It never feels predictable.
In the TV “Fargo,” and in episodes like this week’s especially, the long windup before characters finally get to the point can be exasperating. It’s not enough for Loy merely to beat Gaetano for information. He has to talk about a legendary boxer first. It’s also not enough for Loy to turn Odis from adversary to asset. He has to analogize owning figurines to owning human beings first. It’s not enough for a trigger man to take Satchel “for a ride.” He has to reflect on the American experience first.
And so on. The problem isn’t so much the monologues themselves — though the figurine analogy is absolutely terrible — but the predictability of deploying them. When the audience can see a speech coming, it’s no different than being a mile ahead of the plot. Worse still, it throws the brakes on a conflict that’s been escalating steadily and is on the verge of busting out into the open. It plays against the show’s long-running strength for spinning a good yarn.
Another spool’s worth of yarn gets spun on this episode, which focuses mostly on the Loy’s urgent need to retaliate after Doctor Senator’s death. Josto isn’t the shrewdest capo, but he realizes the significance of the moment. It’s the bell that can’t be un-rung. In the funniest scene of the episode, his consigliere sits down to deliver a two-point message from the bosses in New York: First, he has two weeks to “fix things” with Loy. Second, he has to make things right with his brother. The second point gets delivered immediately after he learns that Gaetano is probably dead. Setup, punchline.
On his end, Loy wants to have his revenge but doesn’t feel he has to sacrifice his own men to do it. He directs Zelmare and Swanee to bring Gaetano to him alive, which they do through a miraculously not-fatal gunshot, and he strong-arms Odis into taking Satchel from the Faddas’ compound. (The latter is such an obviously terrible plan that it’s surprising Loy would dream of it, especially with his son’s life at stake.) As Deafy watches from afar, Odis pin-balls from one side to the other, a hapless tool of two mob outfits that think they have a lawman in their pocket.
Under orders from Josto, who’s ready to dispose of the Cannon syndicate’s collateral, a henchman reluctantly drives Satchel to an abandoned camp, echoing the celebrated sequence in “Miller’s Crossing” in which Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne) takes his mistress’s brother, Bernie Bernbaum (John Turturro), into the forest for a hit. Satchel doesn’t beg for his life like Bernie — he doesn’t realize his life is in danger — but there’s evidence that the henchman, like Tom, may not have the will to go through with it. We’ll never know, because Milligan shoots the man first.
It’s here that the episode lands on a grace note, as Milligan defies the Faddas in defense of another son orphaned for the family business.
“I never got to choose,” Milligan tells Satchel. “A child soldier, that’s what they made me.”
So here’s Milligan, the Irishman once lent to an Italian family, coming to the aid of a Black boy lent out to the same clan. Milligan’s use of the word “choose” is telling: Americans are supposed to choose their destinies, and that’s a value that he’s chosen to fight for now on behalf of himself and a boy of a different race and a younger generation. There’s hope in that gesture, and it takes little pontificating to express it.
3 Cent Stamps
One big Coen moment, aside from the “Miller’s Crossing” reference: the man popping out from behind a shower curtain to abduct Odis, a nod to Jean Lundegaard’s kidnapping in the film “Fargo.” (The slapstick amateurishness of the operation, such a signature Coen touch in the film, is not in evidence here.)
Two smaller Coen moments for the price of one: The darkening of the Gaetano’s doorstep mirrors Anton Chigurh’s showdown with Llewelyn Moss in “No Country for Old Men” and the bursts of light that stream into the room when he shoots through the door are straight out of “Blood Simple.”
Surely there will be a point when Odis’s O.C.D. comes into play, right? And it’s not merely a character tic?
Surely there will be a point when Oraetta’s role in the larger narrative is clarified, right? For now, she has easily deflected Ethelrida’s attempts to expose her. To quote Omar from “The Wire,” “You come at the king, you best not miss.”
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