In 1900, the Moskowitz Syndicate ruled the Kansas City underworld. Then it was the Milligan Concern. Then it was the Fadda Family. And by 1950, the Cannon Limited had arrived.
“That’s how it worked,” high school student Ethelrida Pearl Smutny (E’myri Crutchfield) wrote in her history report. “Whoever was the last off the boat, finding the doors of honest capital closed, rolled up their sleeves and got to work, getting rich the old-fashioned way.”
Year 4 of creator/writer/director Noah Hawley’s Fargo crime anthology series was originally scheduled to arrive in spring, but COVID-19 forced production to shut down. The new season, which premieres Sunday, Sept. 27, with back-to-back episodes beginning at 9pm ET/PT, is set in mid 20th-century Middle America, where racial and economic tensions are on the rise. The Cannons are looking for their piece of the pie, and they’re ready to take it from the Faddas. And so begins the “Cannon/Fadda” gang war.
Loy Cannon (Chris Rock) is a racketeer, but his entrepreneurial spirit and legitimate business sense are roadblocked by the era’s institutionalized racism. When Loy pitches a white-owned bank with the idea of offering customers an open line of credit — a “credit card” — he is met with a dismissive shrug. A multibillion-dollar idea is flushed down the pneumatic tubes.
“Fargo is funny like a Scorsese movie,” Rock says of the series’ understated, subversive humor. “It’s always within the character and within the story. So that’s something I have to pay attention to.”
Much of the story is told through Ethelrida’s perspective. “[She’s] very different from the other characters,” Crutchfield says. “She’s a biracial girl. Her parents own a funeral home, and she has bigger dreams than she’s set to have. It being the 1950s, a lot of things were against her.”
Of course, there’s also the requisite Fargo funny-talkin’ Northerner. Minnesota native Oraetta Mayflower (Jessie Buckley) is an outwardly friendly hospital nurse with a head full of outdated notions and creepy inner demons. Oraetta is a hypermagnified version of “Minnesota nice” characters from the Coen brothers’ 1996 film. “[She] takes your salty niceness to the extreme,” Buckley says.
Irish actress Buckley had just finished dialect practice when we caught up with her in Chicago, where much of the series was shot. While Buckley excels at the accent, Oraetta is far more than phonetics. She’s precise with language, she has an intricate understanding of human physiology, and she’s acutely attuned to divine communications. “She’s kind of a new-age spiritual guru, in her mind anyway,” Buckley says. “For her, she’s a complete genius.”
All of those delusions are exacerbated by the fact that Oraetta snorts a lot of drugs. “We’re very high on lactose powder. That’s the reality of that situation,” Buckley says of the simulated narcotics the actors used. “There’s a lot of lactose powder going up our noses.”
Drug-induced or not, there’s definitely a lot going on upstairs with Oraetta. “In my head, she was kind of like a little bird,” Buckley says. “She was like a sparrow. She kind of witters away to herself all the time, and sometimes you don’t even know what’s coming out of her mouth. There’s a constant hum or conversation going on.
“Who’s not going to want to hang out with this girl? She’s a riot!”