‘Fargo’ Season 4 Episode 1 Recap: “Welcome to the Alternate Economy”

Fargo Season 4 Episode 1
Tommaso Ragno as Donatello Fadda and Chris Rock as Loy Cannon in ‘Fargo’ season 4 episode 1 (Photo by Elizabeth Morris/FX)

Season four of Fargo, FX’s critically acclaimed anthology series, finally arrived with back-to-back airings of episodes one and two on September 27, 2020. It’s been more than three years since fans were served up a new episode of the award-winning series, and season four episode one – “Welcome to the Alternate Economy” – proves that while the wait was lengthy, it was definitely worthwhile.

This season’s cast is led by Chris Rock, however before we’re introduced to his character (“Loy Cannon”) we first must learn the backstory of the rival Kansas City mobs. Our reliable narrator for this trip down memory lane is Ethelrida Pearl Smutny (E’myri Crutchfield). In between visits to the principal’s office to receive beatings for simply displaying her intelligence – something unthinkable for a young Black girl in the 1950s – Ethelrida lays out the area’s history of shifting mob control.

Ethelrida walks gently as her backside is always bruised and sore, but her approach to learning remains undaunted by corporal punishment. Her history reports land her in hot water at school, but they’re a trustworthy source of information for the audience.

Kansas City, Missouri, 1900, outside Joplin’s Department Store: The Moskowitz Syndicate, led by Liev Moskowitz, ran the underworld. The Irish mob, known as the Milligan Concern, arrived on the scene in 1920. The opposing groups struck an uneasy alliance which was solidified by trading the youngest sons of the two mob bosses to their rival. Owney Milligan’s son went to live with Liev and Liev’s youngest had to go home with the Milligan Concern’s boss.

Their deal went south not long after the bargain was struck. The Irish killed off the Moskowitz Syndicate, with Owney’s son pulling the trigger and murdering Liev’s boy at the end of the one-sided gunfight.

But as Ethelrida so wisely explains, peace doesn’t last for long. In 1934, the Milligan Concern struck a similar deal with the Italian mob, the Fadda Family. Owney Milligan trades his son, again, this time to Donatello Fadda (Tommaso Ragno).

Ethelrida is in class and refusing to hide her intellect as she asks us to consider, “If America is a nation of immigrants, then how does one become American?”

Back to the history lesson… The Irish mob was tricked into opening the door of the establishment where they were drinking and relaxing by the son Owney traded away. The boy might not be blood, but he had become part of the Fadda Family.

Donatello handed the boy a gun and had him finish off his own father, which he did with only a minor hesitation.

Ethelrida steps off the school bus after it arrives at her family’s funeral home. Her father’s white and takes care of the Caucasian clientele while her Black mother, as Ethelrida explains, “ministrates to the Colored.”

A white funeral’s wrapping up as Ethelrida arrives home and she encounters a sobbing woman on the way to the kitchen. The woman apologizes for her display of emotion and Ethelrida assures her crying is expected at a funeral. This stranger refers to Ethelrida’s dark complexion and makes a comment about Ethelrida’s “people” being more in touch with their spiritual side.

Ethelrida contains herself and doesn’t respond as her father, Thurman (Andrew Bird), walks up to introduce the woman – Oraetta Mayflower (Jessie Buckley) – to his daughter. It takes Oraetta a minute to recover and Thurman continues the introduction, explaining Oraetta is a nurse at St. Bartholomew’s.

We step back a year to 1949 and the introduction of yet another rival gang, the Cannon Limited. Loy meets the Fadda Family outside Joplin’s and it appears he’s come alone. When Donatello Fadda makes note of that, Loy gives a whistle and dozens of men appear and assemble behind their leader. (Among those standing behind Donatello are the adult versions of the boys involved in the Fadda/Milligan trade – Josto Fadda [Jason Schwartzman] and Rabbi Milligan [Ben Whishaw].)

A deal is struck but minutes before the meeting to exchange sons takes place, Loy’s closest friend and advisor Doctor Senator (Glynn Turman) asks his boss if he’s certain about what he’s doing. Loy believes they must make this arrangement now – fully aware of what happened to the Irish – but it’s only a temporary deal. Loy will play along until the time comes the Cannon Limited can make their move.

The meeting commences and the Fadda boy, Zero (Jameson Braccioforte), doesn’t want to leave his family. Rabbi Milligan steps into the gap between the groups and, having been in this spot years ago, facilitates in completing the exchange.

A voiceover from Ethelrida reminds us no one in that room was white. “They were dagos, Negroes, micks…all fighting for the right to have been created equal. But, equal to what and who gets to decide?” asks Ethelrida. She adds, “History is made up of the actions of individuals and yet none of us can know at the time we act that we are making history.”

Fargo Season 4 Episode 1
Andrew Bird as Thurman Smutny and E’myri Crutchfield as Ethelrida Pearl Smutny in ‘Fargo’ season 4 episode 1 (Photo by Elizabeth Morris/FX)

Ethelrida returns home and finds strangers seated at the dining room table with her mom and dad. (We know one of them is Loy, but she doesn’t know this.)

It’s now 20+ minutes in and the opening credits with the fake “This is a true story” disclaimer finally graces our screens.

Loy and Donatello meet while watching their boys on the teeter-totter. Their men are nearby, scattered about in groups. They aren’t mingling until Josto approaches a group of four of Loy’s men. He asks if one of the men is Samuel and is corrected that the man’s name is actually Lemuel (Loy’s oldest son). Josto proves he’s easily confused, and also easily takes offense, during this conversation. Loy’s men tell him to walk away but Josto refuses and instead is about to whip out his gun when one of his own men, Constant Calamita (Gaetano Bruno), persuades him to let it be.

Loy explains his wife wants to see their son, Satchel (Rodney L. Jones III), and Donatello agrees something can be arranged. Loy points out Donatello appears to believe he works for him, but he knows stores are just as racist toward Italians as they are Blacks in a lot of areas. “We’re both in the gutter together, like it or not,” says Loy.

Josto’s seated next to his father in the back seat of a car as they leave the meeting. Josto’s anxious to make a move on the Cannon Limited, calling them animals and disrespecting them. Donatello warns they need to be careful, but Josto’s worried about his younger brother.

Josto’s shocked to learn his brother Gaetano is coming for a visit and wants to see their mom. Shocked, Josto’s angry about the planned visit and claims his brother’s not even American. Josto insists he’s the boss of this crew.

As he and his father argue, in the front passenger seat Constant takes notice of two men standing on the corner. He seems to think they’re part of Loy’s gang. Rabbi Milligan is in the second car and also goes on high alert. Both Rabbi Milligan and Constant step out of their cars, use their doors as shields, and get in position to shoot, if necessary. Fortunately, it turns out the men were pausing for a smoke and don’t even glance toward the Faddas.

While this is going on, a crossing guard has been holding them at the stop sign. Two young boys are playing with guns in a nearby yard. Although the men weren’t Loy Cannon’s, it’s these boys Constant and Rabbi Milligan should have been keeping an eye on. One of the kids accidentally shoots a pellet into the car and strikes Donatello in the neck.

Blood immediately spurts from the wound. Josto attempts to cover it and stop the flow as they race off to the closest hospital. Once they arrive, they’re turned away because this particular hospital doesn’t serve their “kind of people.”

Josto threatens they haven’t seen the last of him and then rushes his dad back into the car. They reverse course and head to St. Bartholomew Hospital.

Meanwhile, Loy and Doctor Senator (Glynn Turman) meet with Winckle Savings and Loan’s President. Clayton Winckle (William Dick) acknowledges he knows they’re also bankers and Loy confirms Doctor has a PhD in Economics from Howard University. Of course, Clayton points out that’s a Negro school.

Small talk over, Loy says he’s a futurist and “has a premonition about the wealth of tomorrow.” He believes every average person wants to appear rich. Even those with just $2 to their name can look like they’ve got money to burn with…wait for it…a credit card! Loy’s come up with the idea that people can carry a card made of plastic which allows them to get small loans to be paid back in installments over a few months. Plus interest.

Loy and Doctor have businesses in their area signed up already, but they’d like to expand to larger companies. That’s why they’re making this pitch to the Winckle Bank President. Clayton, who is obviously not a forward-thinking businessman, poopoos the idea. He finishes up the meeting, credits them with having wild imaginations, and thanks them for their time.

After retrieving the pellet from Donatello’s neck, a doctor at St. Barts tells Josto his father lost a lot of blood. The doctor believes Donatello needs to remain hospitalized for a few days so that he can rest and recover.

Josto delivers instructions that his mother and the others can come in the morning – if Donatello makes it. He spots Nurse Oraetta Mayflower and asks if she has any drugs to help him get through this stressful day. Oraetta initially refuses to help since what he’s asking for needs to be administered by a doctor. She quickly changes her tune when he assures her he’ll share.

They snort a few lines and then she puts drops in their eyes to cover the fact they’re high. Josto reveals he thinks children shot his father and confesses he doesn’t like seeing his father in pain. He asks Oraetta to take care of him and she swears she will tend to him “faithfully until the Lord arrives.”

Ethelrida joins her parents for dinner and although she asks multiple times, they won’t tell her who the men were she saw seated at the table earlier. She’s smart and knows something’s up.

Loy returns home and tries to convince his wife, Buel (J. Nicole Brooks), their son will be returned to them soon.

Over at St. Barts, Nurse Mayflower visits Donatello’s room. The man left to watch over him is sound asleep and unaware that Donatello is awake and speaking with the nurse. Oraetta refers to herself as momma and wonders if he’s in pain. She moves to his IV and injects something into it before assuring him it won’t be much longer before he’s with the Lord. She tells him his son was worried about him suffering so she’s there to take the pain away. Seated next to him in the hospital bed, she leans into his body to hold him down as he struggles to stay alive.

After she checks for breath, she uses her mouth to slip the ring from his finger and place it on her own.

A split-screen shows Loy and Josto in separate locations, each smoking and staring off into space while shown facing each other. The shot makes it appear the two are sizing each other up.

Season four episode one ends with Ethelrida on the porch swing. As she rocks, Ethelrida spots Nurse Mayflower exiting the bus and entering the apartment building directly across the way. It’s cold and dark outside as Ethelrida’s dad joins her. She’s finally able to get him to confess they’re having financial issues and that’s why the men were there earlier.

A light flickers on and Oraetta appears at a window, staring out while she’s mouthing something we can’t hear.

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