The first two episodes, which aired back-to-back on Sunday, draw these battle lines starkly, but they also suggest key areas where ethnic and racial barriers are crossed, with all the promise and danger that goes along with it. Ethelrida faces those barriers every day at home, where her parents, Thurman (Andrew Bird) and Dibrell (Anji White), are a mixed-race couple running a mortuary. Elsewhere, an exchange of sons between mob bosses is offered like a collateral in a deal — more binding, certainly, than a spit-shake — but it’s more like a test of loyalty. Will the boys choose their own kind or respond to the nurturing of another tribe? The identity of a nation is at stake.
In 1950, the power-sharing arrangement between the Fadda Family and the Cannon Limited threatens to come apart at the seams, especially after the head of the Faddas is struck in the neck by a pellet from a child’s air rifle. As in the Coens’s “Fargo,” one incident of violence spiderwebs out into a much larger and bloodier set of circumstances. A dispute between Loy and the elder Fadda over control of a slaughterhouse cannot be resolved after Fadda’s death, which leads the Cannons to challenge Josto Fadda (Jason Schwartzman) and the temperamental Gaetano Fadda (Salvatore Esposito) by making a move on it. New terms will have to be negotiated on the fly — and at the barrel of a gun.
The wild card in this entire scenario is Nurse Oraetta Mayflower, a pulp villain played by Jessie Buckley, who was terrific as a Glaswegian country singer in “Wild Rose” and as the troubled protagonist of Charlie Kaufman’s Netflix movie “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.” While the Faddas have invited trouble by executing a drive-by shooting at the private hospital that refused service to the big boss, they miss when Nurse Mayflower quietly snuffs him out. Her motives are a question mark, but she’s a wonderful agent of chaos, comparable to Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo on the show’s first season but disinclined to live in the shadows. She’s also our one connection to “Fargo” country, Minnesota Nice turned lethal.
The second episode adds a few more key characters to the ensemble, including an opening in which two women, Swanee Capps (Amber Midthunder) and Zelmare Roulette (Karen Aldridge), escape from the clink like John Goodman and William Forsythe in the Coens’s “Raising Arizona.” Zelmare is Ethelrida’s aunt, and while she’s not greeted warmly by her mother, it’s never the worst thing to have wily convicts around while leg-breaking loan sharks are losing their patience. In a season already teeming with eccentrics, the addition of Odis Weff (Jack Huston), a cop with O.C.D., feels a bit like a hat on a hat, but his compromising relationship to the Italians is also of a piece with “Miller’s Crossing,” in which the top mob boss always has the police at his disposal.
The title of the second episode is spoken by Gaetano, the Faddas’s brutal new enforcer from Italy: “In the land of taking and killing, Gaetano is king.” What kind of land America is — and who controls it and how — will be a central question on “Fargo” this season. And a lot of blood will be spilled to answer it.