Fargo recap: How low can you go?
There’s no such thing as a reliable criminal alliance, meaning the fortunes of gangsters are as unpredictable as the wind. “The Nadir” reinforces that point with thrilling twists which suggest that, for most of these underworld characters, only doom awaits.
Segueing from an image of Josto disgustingly chewing meat, Fargo’s eighth episode begins by cross-cutting between a dinner shared by Josto, Dessie, and Milvin, and S&M-style sex between Josto and Oraetta. In the former, Milvin attempts to convince Josto to postpone the wedding until after his mayoral election (because if he loses, he doesn’t want his daughter marrying the mafioso). His efforts are to no avail. After making reference to the fact that the dead will be voting for Milvin (the electoral fix is in!), Josto taunts his future father-in-law by mimicking a blowjob.
In post-coital repose, Oraetta says that nursing was her “calling,” and that she spent considerable time as a child in the hospital due to “a kind of malaise. Failure to thrive,” which prevented her from keeping food down. Her mother cared for her closely (“the patron saint of me”), including making Oraetta “her special juice.” Josto reveals that he’s getting married to Dessie because of a business deal struck by his father, but that he doesn’t love her. While Josto is in the bathroom, Oraetta calls the hospital to check on Harvard’s condition. She’s horrified to hear that he’s made a full recovery from his coma.
Josto contends he had it worse as a kid since he was traded to his enemy — Oweny Milligan — who did “things you should never do to a child.” Oraetta doesn’t like this intimate sharing, nor Josto’s subsequent statement that he loves her. She responds furiously to this amorous confession, screaming at him and then storming out.
Josto is in a good mood upon returning to Joplin’s. That ends quickly, given that a bloodied Gaetano is waiting for him. Gaetano flips him onto a table and then delivers a knockout punch. When Josto comes to, Gaetano surprises his sibling by telling him he’s impressed with his cunning scheme to have Loy execute him in retaliation for Satchel’s murder (“I’m so proud of you”). He explains that “I’m the lion, but you are the snake…I am the bull. All muscle. But you have the strategy.” Gaetano takes a knee and pledges allegiance to Josto, who accepts. Everyone cheers except Ebal, who watches this scene with a wary eye.
Loy is informed by Opal that their plan — to tell Gaetano of Josto’s treachery, and free him so he’d kill Josto — didn’t work. Loy’s new idea: “Fargo.”
Buel visits Dibrell at the funeral home. They sit at the kitchen table and have a drink. Though Buel warns Dibrell that their pleasant chat (and similar backgrounds) won’t compel her to dissuade Loy from seizing their business, Dibrell makes her plea, claiming they both have daughters, and that she can’t have Ethelrida pay for her parents’ mistakes. She pledges to make it right with Loy if they get a fair shake. Buel is moved by this and asks Dibrell to hold the service for Satchel, whom she thinks is dead.
Listening to French records in her bedroom, Ethelrida is joined by Lemuel, who looks through her records and asks about her favorite jazz musician (it’s Louis Armstrong; Lemuel is currently partial to Charlie Parker, whose style is all about a lack of structure). He confesses that he’s currently lugging boxes rather than trumpeting because “everything in life’s an experience.” Dibrell enters, has Lemuel go find his mother, and cautions Ethelrida, “He’s your captor, not your friend. And you can’t afford to make mistakes.” When Lemuel finds Buel, the look on her face says she’s going to tell him about Satchel’s demise.
At work, Oraetta learns from a fellow nurse that the police have moved Harvard out of state; his coma was the result of strychnine poisoning, and in light of the prior drive-by shooting attempt on his life, he now needs protection. Oraetta races home and begins packing. In her memento-filled closet, she discovers Ethelrida’s journal. She compares its handwriting to that of the accusatory letter and realizes Ethelrida is her anonymous critic. From her window, Oraetta watches Ethelrida leave her house.
Opal drives Loy home. Defy materializes and, after a brief and tense encounter with Opal (they discuss their guns, which Defy remarks, “makes a pretty sound when it fires. Like Chinese New Year”), the U.S. Marshal goes inside to see Loy. Defy turns down a drink (“Alcohol is your friend with a knife”), and expresses frustration at his inability to catch Zelmare and Swanee and be done with this assignment. Loy says he promised the women that no harm would come to them, which makes him accountable.
Defy counters by stating that a criminal, by his very nature, can’t be accountable, because criminals reject morality and ethics. In place of those values, they create and hew to a code (a “system of rules”) that mostly has to do with loyalty, and allows them to detach themselves from the civilian world.
Loy proclaims he’s an integral part of his family and community. Chuckling, Defy calls this “a ruse,” because although Loy pretends to share the values of his wife and preacher, the Lord knows it’s a disguise — a fact proven by Loy’s willingness to trade his youngest son to his enemy for power and financial gain. After drawing his weapon, Defy says that Loy only adheres to love and loyalty when it suits him, and it doesn’t suit him anymore, so he should give up Zelmare and Swanee. Loy complies and tells Defy not to return to Kansas City.
Defy subsequently informs his law enforcement comrades about the upcoming train station raid to nab Zelmare and Swanee. Having just finished a mysterious phone call, Weff declares to Defy that he wants to be a real cop again. He admits he became a cop because he thought it would give him power, and thus help him overcome his nervous condition. The stress of the job, however, only made him feel powerless and exacerbated his twitchiness, which compelled him to go on the take to regain a semblance of control. This Catch-22 convinces Defy that Weff is being honest, and he agrees to let him join the raid.
The cops arrive at the train station. Following a good-natured rhyme about a pelican, Defy heads inside with his men as Weff anxiously sits in the car, paralyzed by his OCD ticks. Swanee buys some sweets for their trip (stealing some when the seller’s back is turned). Swanee sees the ghostly figure in the crowd for a moment, and Zelmare suddenly becomes aware that things aren’t right. Standing, she meets Defy’s gaze, which prompts a furious shootout. Weff finally musters the courage to go inside and discovers a massacre. He locates Defy down a long hallway; the marshal has caught Zelmare and Swanee, who’ve run out of bullets.
In a traitorous turn of events, Weff fatally shoots Defy and Swanee. Zelmare screams and — after seeing the ghost appear behind the cop — bull-rushes Weff, causing him to miss his shot. She escapes. Defy’s corpse stares accusatorily at Weff.
In the snowy backyard of the Fadda home, henchmen warm themselves around a fire. Josto tells Gaetano that Constant is searching for Rabbi and Satchel — thus revealing that Satchel is alive, which further proves to Gaetano that his brother is a cunning python. Their mom Chianna (Janet Ulrich Brooks) asks them to come inside before they catch a cold, but they don’t.
At that moment, Mort Kellerman and his Fargo gangsters appear in the backyard and open fire on the Faddas, slaughtering everyone except Josto and Gaetano (who fearlessly returns fire, causing the intruders to retreat). A scream sends the brothers running inside to find their mother dead from a stray bullet.
- Oraetta’s comments about her adolescent illness (including puking), and her mother’s “special juice,” imply that she learned how to surreptitiously poison others first-hand, from her own mom.
- Both Zelmare and Swanee see the apparition moments before they stare down death, suggesting he’s a Grim Reaper-ish omen.
- Right before Zelmare spots Defy, she hears a baby cry out and glances toward the train station’s staircase — a moment that seems like a very subtle shout-out to The Untouchables’ baby carriage sequence, which itself is an homage to the “Odessa Steps” scene in Sergei Eisenstein’s classic Battleship Potemkin.