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E'myri Crutchfield as Ethelrida Pearl Smutny on Fargo (2020)

Spoilers for Fargo’s latest episode – “The Birthplace of Civilization” – lie ahead.

The fourth season of Fargo is moving right along, as viewers continue to get caught up in the brewing war between rival crime syndicate families led by Chris Rock’s Loy Cannon and Jason Schwartzman’s Josto Fadda. But in the midst of the crime and bloodshed, there’s also the story of Ethelrida Smutny, an intelligent and progressive teenage girl who finds herself dealing with adult problems as she navigates the primitive world of 1950s Kansas City. “The Birthplace of Civilization” gave her some big choices to make, and up-and-comer E’myri Crutchfield had some keen thoughts on her character’s journey, what she learned from scene partner Timothy Olyphant and how things could play out for Ethelrida and Oraetta.

Ethelrida is a young woman who’s very ahead her time and not afraid to speak her mind, two things that E’myri Crutchfield savors. In this latest episode, the teen was put to the test when Timothy Olyphant’s Dick "Deafy" Wickware confronted her at school about her wayward aunt’s whereabouts. It was an intense scene, to say the least and, when I spoke to Crutchfield about it, she told me she definitely felt the tension while filming it:

I was so nervous because it was so intense, and you have to stay intense through the entire scene. [Olyphant’s] character is definitely intimidating.

Luckily, Crutchfield found comfort in the fact that the Fargo crew did its best to keep the atmosphere on set as calming as possible to balance out the intensity of the scene. Plus, the scene itself serves as one of the episode’s best (and most important) moments. And not only was the actress able to act alongside Timothy Olyphant, but she also learned a thing or two from the seasoned performer:

The biggest thing I can remember is how confident [Olyphant] was. How confident he was not only in himself but in his character to where he could collaborate with the director. I love how confident he was because me being new to the game, I’m learning how to be like that. I’m learning that I can have a voice in these scenarios… So being more vocal about what my character does and doesn’t need.

Of course, Deafy is only one of the many eccentric characters that Crutchfield’s Ethelrida crosses paths with this season. There’s also her neighbor, the seemingly friendly Oraetta Mayflower – a nurse from Minnesota who, for years, has offed many of her patients. In the previous episode, Ethelrida discovered this secret and is now planning to report her. But now that the teen has this knowledge, Crutchfield says things only get more complex from here:

Well, I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to spoil it for you or anyone else. But I can say the relationship between [Ethelrida] and Oraetta does get even more interesting. Ethelrida and Oraetta are both very different characters. They’re very odd. But I think the biggest similarity that those two have is that they’re very inquisitive and very smart, and that’s where they relate. Like Ethelrida can speak another language, and Oraetta is shocked that she can. I think they like that they can challenge each other. But also, I think they were trying to figure each other out. Elthrida kind of has Oraetta figured out in a sense, and Oraetta figured out in kind of a sense. It definitely gets more interesting because they couldn’t really put their finger on each other, but now that they have each other figured out in a sense, everything starts to come together.

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Things are certainly going to heat up between the two, especially since Ethelrida left her journal in Mayflower’s closet. But off screen, Crutchfield thoroughly enjoyed working with Jesse Buckley, who plays Oraetta. She finds it both “motivating” and “inspiring” to watch Buckley add small, crucial details to her character.

Ethelrida is always one to do the right thing, as evidenced by her efforts to report Mayflower, but that same moral compass also forced her to out her aunt Zelmare and her outlaw partner, Swannee, to Deafy. This all comes after the two women schooled Ethelrida about the different kinds of people in society – those who do and don’t follow the rules. Luckily, E’myri Crutchfield says viewers shouldn’t worry about Ethelrida being too discouraged by her decision:

I think in that moment she felt like she let a lot of people down. It was a very disheartening hour for her, and at times, it felt like the world was on her shoulders at that point… It was definitely a discouraging experience for her, but I think for the other episodes, you will see how she won’t let that hold her back.

As someone who’s rooting for Ethelrida to succeed, it’s great to hear that this incident won’t cause her to doubt her morals moving forward. And with the different pieces being put in place right now, it would seem that she’s going to need it more than ever as the season progresses.

Fargo airs on Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.

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