After branching out to motion picture with the ill-received Lucy in the Sky, Noah Hawley brings us the fourth season of Fargo after a three years absence. The latest season of the series focuses on the build-up and the fallout of the war between an African American crime family and the Italian mafia in 1950s Kansas City. As always, the cast is led by a number of talented actors, the most prominent names being Jason Schwartzman, Chris Rock, and Ben Whishaw. Jason Schwartzman as Josto Fadda and Chris Rock as Loy Cannon portray the leaders of the Italian and African American crime families, respectively, whilst Ben Whishaw takes the role of Rabbi Milligan on the side of the Italian mafia. Admittedly, Chris Rock seems like an odd choice at first, given that he is mostly known for his work in comedy. Nevertheless, he does a good job portraying a serious role in such a renowned series.
As expected, Fargo once again delivers very strong visuals, making every scene worthy of becoming a poster on a wall. It is, once again, the peak of television when it comes to cinematography.
Directly from the premise, a parallel between the fourth and second season is clear, just as it was for the third and the first. The story at hand includes limited police work and mostly revolves around the two crime families; thus, it is quite like the second season and very different from the other two.
Unfortunately, this is where the similarities end. Of course, change does not have to be negative, but it is also not necessarily positive. The leap from the modern day first season to the 20th century in the next was a surprising one, yet it had worked out well based on how masterfully the change in setting was executed. The leap from the third season to the fourth is way worse, especially given how little essence there is to the latest season.
The first problem is with the cast. Sure, Rock and Schwartzman do an impressive job in their respective roles, just like Whishaw. Unfortunately, none of those performances are on par with what viewers of Fargo have been used to in the previous seasons, such as incredible performances delivered by Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton in the first season, Kirsten Dunst and Ted Danson in the second, and Ewan McGregor and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the third. Thus, for the lead cast of the latest season, the problem is rather that the bar had been set too high previously, and not that their performances are inadequate per se. The main issue is rather in the supporting roles. Two of those are Karen Aldridge as Zelmare Roulette and Kelsey Asbille as Swanee Capps, who arguably deliver the worst performances in the history of Fargo as of yet. What makes matters worse is that most of Asbille’s and Roulette’s scenes are together, causing their flawed portrayals to be much more apparent than they would have been if actors such as Schwartzman or Rock were there to support their characters.
A bigger problem yet, though, is the changes made to the stylistic devices that appeared regularly in previous seasons. The overall premise of Fargo was always that chaos would erupt out of nothing, and the audience would be thrown into it for the duration of ten episodes. A prominent stylistic device, in that case, was the dark humor that was always subtly there for viewers who were looking for it. This season though, the aforementioned chaos seems to have been replaced with a story that drags on for two-thirds of the show, teasing the upcoming chaos just to abandon it at the peak with a half-hearted and unsatisfying ending. What’s worse is that the dark humor seems to have completely vanished and swapped by Sandler-esque jokes. At the beginning of the season, we are left jarred with two fart jokes in critical moments. It also does not help that the subplots are scattered precariously, barely tied to each other and also barely affecting the main storyline.
Granted, the unique approach to the American identity explored in this rendition of Fargo is definitely very intriguing and almost well-executed. Unfortunately, it is immediately swallowed by a half-baked and weak storyline. If the theme of identity had been implemented stronger, the season could have been salvaged to some degree, yet it just remains as another question raised by the season and left in the void.
As a result, after three years of waiting, Fargo returns with its weakest season to date. It proves to have lost its essence and everything that made the show great, minus some of the acting and the eye-candy visuals. As such, here’s to hoping that the next time Noah Hawley brings Fargo to the small screens, he backtracks quite a bit and returns to his well-established formula.