“The Birthplace of Civilization” sees Fargo reach a point of no return as the first major character death means war — and plenty more deaths to come.
This recap of Fargo season 4, episode 5, “The Birthplace of Civilization”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
“The Birthplace of Civilization” represents a clear turning point in Fargo Season 4. We’re just under halfway through now, and the sense of straws being laid on a camel’s back is difficult to overcome. As well as the longstanding tensions between the Faddas and the Cannons, which take a turn here after Josto shows Gaetano how to non-violently one-up the enemy by having Odis arrest Lemuel and several more of Loy’s men, the bows are breaking at home. Loy’s wife, Buel, has had enough, and between trading Satchel and now this, something essential about their relationship has been lost. Loy doesn’t mourn it. At this point, he’s concerned only with winning, and he’ll trade whatever he needs to in order to be victorious.
This, along with Chris Rock’s wonderfully off-brand performance, makes Loy terrifying to me. He has given up so much thus far that a little more will never be out of the question; all of his previous sacrifices have to be worth it, after all. How he berates his wife is chilling. His threatening of the Smutnys over the King of Tears ownership is frightening. His taunting of Odis is satisfying but also almost psychotic; Loy delights in bringing up Odis’s fraught wartime experiences, and later in making it clear to Zelmare and Swanee that their debt to him will be paid, one way or another. Rock is fantastic all the while; this is one of the best dramatic performances of the year coming from someone who typically isn’t a dramatic actor.
“The Birthplace of Civilization” – which is referring to Africa, by the way – makes it clear that Loy isn’t just shouldering the weight of his criminal enterprises but also anti-Black prejudice, which is given voice elsewhere by Josto. The Italians might not strictly be Americans, but they’re white, and thus White America would prefer their specific brand of crime over Loy’s. It’s a deeply uncomfortable reality because of how obviously true it is, and it also positions Loy’s outfit on the losing side of a conflict that is perhaps unwinnable. A slightly different version of this idea is floated by Zelmare when Ethelrida goes to visit her and Swanee at their current hideout. Discussing the difference between criminals and outlaws, she makes it clear that their crime is their freedom, and that being an outlaw is existing outside of the system.
None of this stops Elthelrida from eventually – though reluctantly – giving up their location to Deafy, with whom she discusses their shared common ancestry; facts she picked up while being an A-grade student, which is unsurprisingly overlooked by the school’s staffers, who just assume by Deafy’s presence alone that she has been up to no good. “The Birthplace of Civilization” gets a lot of mileage out of Deafy’s presence. Earlier, he visited Odis’s home to coax more information from him about his service as a mine-sweeper, his OCD, and the tragic death of his fiancé; when he later visits the location shared with him by Ethelrida, though, he finds the fugitives gone, already recruited by Loy.
And it seems Loy will have need of soldiers since here we get the first major casualty of the season – and it’s someone on Loy’s side. Tragically, Doctor Senator is gunned down by Constant, who replaces Ebal at the latest meeting. Despite all of Josto’s efforts earlier, Gaetano still has his own violent, reactionary way of doing things, and Constant seems to be on-board with it. Their mutual violence in this episode seems almost like a childish game of one-upmanship. As Senator himself says: “You’re just boys making a mess.” And there is indeed a mess left behind – the question now is what kind of mess Loy will make in return.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.