If Noah Hawley’s TV series Fargo has taught us anything, it’s that crime is as ingrained in American culture as apple pie and Taylor Swift. And even from its first season, we’ve seen that crime tends to warp people into more and more contorted shapes.
In its latest season, Chris Rock joins Jason Schwartzman and Jessie Buckley (recently from I’m Thinking of Ending Things) in a crime saga set in the 1950s. As always, there are intriguing parallels with today’s America, and of course, riffs on previous Coen brothers movies (including the eponymous 1996 film itself), such as two criminals hootin’ and hollerin’ as they escape prison from a sewage pipe, and occasional use of the word “malfeasance.”
This go-around, Rock plays Loy Cannon, African-American leader of a crime syndicate in Kansas City, Missouri, as he reaches an uneasy alliance with the existing Italian-American crime syndicate in town, run by a somewhat unhealthy don whose seat is being eyed by son Josto Fadda (Schwartzman). The truce between warring mobs involves each crime boss swapping sons, with a pledge to raise and take care of their adopted wards. It’s an interesting, even if entirely fictional, conceit.
With his salt-and-pepper beard and (so far) slow roll, Rock not so much convinces us he’s a badass as lays the groundwork to eventually become one. But Hawley’s series is not about glorifying crime, though it tends to do so by playing up its allure in popular culture (Hawley seems to be going full Godfather II with some of his darkly-lit scenes, as well as harking to the Coens’ mob tale Miller’s Crossing); Fargo almost always brings us around to understanding that crime has unintended consequences, whether that message is delivered in bloody bursts or ironic surprises.
The wild card this season is Buckley, with her cock-eyed Midwestern niceties masking a lethal hand with a hypodermic needle. (She’s a nurse in much the same way that Stephen King’s Annie Wilkes is a nurse.) She promises to be the agent of chaos we’ve seen in every Fargo outing so far, setting the whole enterprise toppling.
The allusions to our present day involve a voiceover by precocious African-American teen Ethelrida (E'myri Crutchfield), who observes that “America is said to be a country of immigrants. So when do we get to be Americans?” It’s the alienation, and the personal challenge, that every newcomer in American history must face: how to integrate, without losing your identity or your soul.
IF SHERLOCK HAD A KID SISTER
On a lighter side, Netflix offers us Enola Holmes, which features the likeable Millie Bobby Brown in a somewhat chattier mode than her Stranger Things character. Frequently breaking the fourth wall in a way we’ve come to expect from Fleabag, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and just about every Jane Austen remake these days, Brown plays the kid sister of the famous Holmes brothers. The film wouldn’t be nearly so watchable if not for Brown’s central take as a homeschooled teen whose mom (Helena Bonham Carter) disappears one day, leaving Enola (her name spells “alone” backwards) to be dealt with by her two older brothers Mycroft (Sam Claflin) and Sherlock (Henry Cavill). Mycroft wants to send his unruly little sis to finishing school, thinking her incapable of landing a husband; Sherlock has more respect for Enola’s formidable sleuthing skills, but is too busy with cases to deal with her. Enola soon finds herself in the middle of a case involving a missing marquess named Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) and the game, as they say, is afoot.
Based on a series of teen novels, you can well imagine Brown and the gang spinning this chapter into another season or two. (As a producer, Brown reportedly requested that her character break the fourth wall whenever possible.) There are steampunk touches and martial arts moves that make this Holmes outing a little more Guy Ritchie than other recent reimaginings out there, but it’s wrapped up in a self-empowering message for young women that seems squarely aimed at the Netflix viewing demographic. And why not? Its appeal lies in its youthful spin. That’s just elementary.
RIDLEY SCOTT GOES SCI-FI FOR HBO
In Raised by Wolves, shown on HBO Max, we meet two androids — Mother and Father — launched into space to escape a catastrophic war on Earth and pioneer life on a new world called Kepler-22b.
While Father (Abubakar Salim) builds huts and gathers firewood, Mother (Amanda Collin) nurtures six test-tube embryos and displays fierce maternal instincts (when one of her daughters eventually goes missing, Mother howls at the alien skies like a wolf — shades of Rutger Hauer’s Replicant Roy Batty in Blade Runner).
Oh, yes. The first two episodes are directed by Ridley Scott, no stranger to alien landscapes and android behavior. He also serves as executive producer, and the series was scripted by Aaron Guzikowski, who wrote Prisoners for Denis Villanueve, another tie to the Blade Runner franchise.
The new planet is seen here as a brave new world, one in which human intellect can prevail over religious thinking and its attendant problems (most of the religious believers who launched “arks” during Earth’s destruction perished; the lighter android craft, built and sent by athiests, prevailed). But we know that angle’s too simplistic when we see the youngest kid, Campion (Winta McGrath), praying in secret, away from Mother’s jealous eyes.
Mother, we learn, can do a lot with those eyes. Early on, we learn she’s a necromancer — a kind of warrior android who can hover, shoot lasers from her peepers, and wail like a banshee (unlike the Father model, who’s more of a peaceful servant).
This early in Raised by Wolves, it’s hard to know what the exact focus will be. Director Scott and Guzikowski tease out its mysteries, from
the religious debate — pitching androids against hard-praying Mithraics (the term perhaps derives from Mithraism, an early religion predating Christianity that espoused man’s salvation) — to the intentions of Mother, her underlying programming and powers.
One thing is clear: like Taika Waititi’s robot nanny in The Mandalorian, her mission is to protect and raise children, and the bloody, fiery carnage marking the end of episode one shows that she is bent on fulfilling that mission.