Fargo recap: Outlaws and criminals
In the underworld, there are no half-measures — once you’re in, you’re in all the way. That’s a lesson learned by more than one character in Fargo’s fifth episode, “The Birthplace of Civilization,” which moves its opposing clans ever closer to war.
An evening out at a jazz club goes sour for Lemuel and Leon when cops arrive and — after a bit of police brutality — arrest them. This bust has been orchestrated by Josto, who, while watching on the sidewalk, tells Gaetano, “That’s how it’s done.”
Mort Kellerman (Kai Lennox) visits Loy and accepts his guns-for-loyalty deal, understanding that a battle with the Italians is imminent. Once Kellerman departs with his weapons, Loy informs Doctor that he’s going to seize Thurman’s funeral home, and do worse to the proprietor if he doesn’t cough up the whereabouts of Zelmare and Swanee. The cops, led by Weff, promptly raid his warehouse. Everyone’s taken into custody, and Weff pilfers Loy’s bag of money. Loy says he knows Weff earned his nickname “Twitchy” during his WWII tour of duty as a mine-sweeper, and that one day, Weff couldn’t take the pressure anymore and simply laid down in the grass, leaving his Colonel to get blown up while relieving himself in a minefield.
Weff doesn’t like this and asks Loy if he fought for the U.S. “Why would I fight for a country that wants me dead?” he replies. Weff passes along Josto’s message to “stick to the deal.” From a parked car outside, Defy covertly watches Weff leave.
Ethelrida begins writing to Dr. Harvard about Oraetta’s strange behavior, including the fact that many of her patients have died under mysterious circumstances. She asks her dad about laudanum (he says Oraetta probably shouldn’t be keeping it at home) and whether she’ll ever see Zelmare again. He assures her that they will, and then stupidly lets slip that Zelmare is staying at the New Parie hotel. He cautions Ethelrida about hanging out with Oraetta, given that they’re presently living outside the law, and she may have delivered them a poisoned pie. Once he’s gone, Ethelrida continues penning her letter to Dr. Harvard, as we see Oraetta repeatedly bang her head against a wall — psychotically — while sitting with a perpetually moaning patient.
Rabbi helps Satchel with his long division homework. Josto appears, boasting that he’s found out how to solve his conflict with Loy without resorting to war — which, he believes, will compel Gaetano to return to Italy. Rabbi doesn’t buy that logic; since this is the land of plenty and Italy was rendered a “toilet” by the war, he’s certain it’s only a matter of time before Gaetano imports more guys from the old country and tries to take over. Rabbi explains that Gaetano is a math problem, and “either you divide them, or they multiply.” Meaning, the solution is to kill Gaetano.
Following this conversation, Rabbi whispers to Satchel, “When the shooting starts, we vanish.”
Ethelrida visits Zelmare and Swanee at the New Parie. It’s Ethelrida’s 17th birthday, and she turns down a drink from her half-sloshed aunt. Zelmare and Swanee declare that they’re not criminals because criminals play by the rules of everyday society. Rather, they’re outlaws, because they reject the very premise of rules (“Our crime is freedom”). They ask whether Ethelrida is a criminal or an outlaw, to which she proclaims, “I’m Ethelrida Pearl Smutny. One of a kind.”
Loy gets an earful from his wife (and disapproving mmm-hmmms from his mother-in-law), who’s determined to get her son Lemuel out of jail. Loy responds furiously, reminding her that everything they have is a result of his work on “the razor’s edge,” and that Lemuel’s arrest isn’t his fault; African-Americans get picked up all the time, and for any infraction. Loy’s tirade does the trick, cowing everyone into submissive silence.
In a crowded cell, Leon worries that he’ll be blamed for getting Lemuel into this mess. Josto shows up (with Rabbi in tow) and gives Loy’s men a speech about how “America is a crime story,” and Americans don’t root for the victim but, instead, for “the guy with the gat” who takes what he wants. He says when people look at him, they see someone who uses crime to get ahead, whereas with African-Americans, they only see crime. This is why he’ll win, and they’ll lose. He instructs them to tell Loy it’s time to surrender.
On the way out, Rabbi — whose prime concern is Satchel — asks them what Loy is going to do. They direct him to bring Satchel back home, but Rabbi sighs, “No. You’re all going to die.”
Defy visits Weff at his apartment, where he finds the cop exhausted from the prior night’s raid. Defy asks about a shrine of little-boy figurines, which Weff explains is for his intended wife, who was raped and murdered by a villain named Nelson Beats while Weff was overseas during WWII. He imparts that when he received news of this atrocity, he laid down in a field rather than clear mines, staring at the clouds.
Defy reveals that he had a vision during last night’s prayers: “Shake the tree, said the Lord.” Weff wants no part of it and stays behind.
On his way into a bar with Constant, a dancing Gaetano slips and falls on a patch of snow. A kid having a smoke (who works at the bar) laughs at him, which earns him a menacing stare and a pat on the cheek from the gangster. Inside, Constant advises Gaetano that if you scare an animal (i.e. Loy), it sometimes fights back. Gaetano takes this message to heart. When he receives a disgusting light-and-sweet coffee, he goes into an extended rant (directed at the laughing kid and bartender) about how what’s wrong with America is that its Jesus looks like a lady, everyone thinks they’re going to be president, and no one does their job properly. He shoots the boy and the bartender and dances his way out of the establishment.
Preparing decorations and a cake for Ethelrida’s birthday, Thurman and Dibrell are visited by Loy and Zero. Loy isn’t happy that Thurman repaid him with his own money (“Which I gotta say is about 10 for balls and zero for brains”), and Dibrell isn’t pleased to hear that this was Thurman’s plan. To prove his seriousness, Loy informs them that Zero isn’t his kid because he traded his own son to his enemy for power. “I will do whatever it takes to win.” He demands Dibrell serve Zero a piece of the just-completed birthday cake and then lays out the situation: they’ll sign over the funeral home to him today, and also divulge Zelda and Swanee’s hiding spot. Thurman blames his error in judgment on not knowing the rules of this game. Loy enlightens him: the rules are that they tell him what he wants to know or they die.
Ethelrida is called into the principal’s office, where Defy is waiting. He's impressed with her smarts but lets her know that the aunt she’s protecting was in prison for a cough-syrup bender that ended with her bludgeoning a pregnant woman to death and executing her husband in an armed robbery that netted a whopping $9.58. Swanee, meanwhile, was part of a crew that killed a bank manager during a robbery. He recommends Ethelrida act “in a civilized manner” and rat them out. She scoffs at the term “civilized,” answering that all of civilization came from Africa. Defy chuckles at her defiance. Because he wants to get back to his wife and kids, he hurries things up with a threat: either she gives up Zelmare and Swanee, or she gets expelled. The look in her eyes indicates she’s going to do the former.
Telling Leon they’ll discuss the club-arrest incident later, Loy organizes his men to storm the New Parie, just as Defy heads to the hotel. Loy gets there first. He abducts rather than kills them, since he plans to use them as invisible soldiers against his opponents. Defy is frustrated at his missed opportunity.
Doctor is surprised to see Constant, rather than Ebal, waiting for him at the diner, sitting in his usual seat. As Gaetano silently eats a sundae in a corner booth, Constant recounts his arrival in America as a baby in a box; his 15-year-old mom died from tuberculosis during the journey from Italy. Constant warns Doctor that no monster on Earth is tougher than an orphan in a box and that when Doctor is dying in the street, he’ll remember that he should have listened. Putting sugar in his coffee, Doctor states that “respect is earned” and that “you’re just boys making a mess that one day I’m going to have to clean up.”
Doctor walks out and is gunned down in the street by Constant. Later that night, an upset Loy and his crew visit the still-untouched crime scene but opt to leave Doctor for the cops to handle.
- Kellerman departs in a flatbed emblazoned with the name “Treehorn Trucking” — an apparent reference to Ben Gazzara’s The Big Lebowski porn producer Jackie Treehorn.
- During Josto’s prison speech, he claims that “I can take all the money and p---y I want and still run for president,” which seems like a direct shot at America’s current commander-in-chief.
- Doctor’s fate may have been preordained, but Fargo will nonetheless be poorer for losing the great Glynn Turman.