This FARGO review contains spoilers.
Fargo Season 4 Episode 9
If last week’s Fargo featured a climactic shootout at a train station that felt strongly influenced by The Untouchables, “East/West” looks back even further in film history for inspiration. In a not-so-subtle homage to the Wizard of Oz, Fargo goes black and white and prominently features a small dog and a Kansas tornado, but here the fortune teller that Dorothy finds while running away is replaced with a vague billboard, which takes on a deeper and more ominous meaning by episode end. By far the most stylish episode in the season, “East/West” is brief but welcome detour ahead of Season 4’s final two episodes.
Though the episode invites comparison to the Wizard of Oz, it’s also deeply informed by the Coen Brothers’ filmography, more so than the typical installment. The hour finds Rabbi and Satchel on the road, trying to flee Constant Calamita’s pursuit. Their journey leads them to the Barton Arms’ hotel in which they encounter a whole house of colorful characters despite the black and white presentation. There’s a chatty Dale Carnegie disciple, an aspiring oil tycoon on his way to Texas for a fresh start, and a strange pastor traveling with his mother. The whole hotel is split right down the middle, a product of deep-seated ideological differences between the pair of sisters that own the business.
The quality tips over into being a little too effortful and obvious when Rabbi becomes tripped up over a half-finished billboard across the street from the hotel. Instead of letting viewers chew on the imagery and symbolism for ourselves, the writers have Milligan ask the billposter “The future is what? What’s it going to say?” and the billposter reads the subtext back to us. Still, it somehow ends up being emotionally affecting seeing the young Satchel, alone and in a strange new land (now in color, of course) standing underneath the taunting billboard by the episode’s end.
Further than the quirky characters, the plot in “East/West” feels reminiscent of a typical Coen Brother American Crime yarn. Rabbi attempts to retrieve about $5,000 that he stashed in an old building years ago, but when he arrives at the building, the business has changed and the wall that he stashed his cash in is noticeably absent. Knowing that the new owner found the cash during renovations, Rabbi returns later with a gun and confronts the owner and his brother. Ben Wishaw sells his conflicted gangster shtick well, as Rabbi’s experience tells him he must punish the dimwitted yuppies that helped themselves to his money, but his newfound conscious can’t abide the violence. He leaves empty handed, just in time to prevent Satchel from being the victim of racial profiling at the hands of a cop.
Back at the hotel and trying to conjure up a plan, Rabbi realizes it is Satchel’s birthday. Rabbi’s compassion for the boy forces him to seek out a gift, and he heads to the nearest fill station to get some sweets. Little does Rabbi know that Cannon’s man Omie had been using that same fill station as a trap to catch Calamita. “East/West” opens with Omie stumbling upon the remote station with a hostage in his trunk. In exchange for being allowed to stake out there for the day, the station attendant has Omie and his captive crook paint for him. This season has given the impression that there were many side stories lost in editing this season, and my gut tells me Omie’s character was a victim to much of it. I’m sure his inclusion in the episode’s climax may have felt more meaningful had we seen what was originally intended for the character.
Once Rabbi arrives, Omie has already been downed by Calamita, who instantly clocks Rabbi. Fittingly, the brewing storm that’s been taking place in the episode’s background finally comes to the forefront. Calamita peruses the Irishman and puts a bullet in Rabbi’s shoulder, but Omie rises one last time to prevent Calamita from delivering the killing blow. Calamita quickly dispatches of Omie and turns his attention back to Rabbi, but the winds finally transform into a good ol’ Kansas tornado and seemingly sweep all of the gangsters away. It’s quite the sequence, and the shot holding on Rabbi’s face as he’s swept into the air really resonates.
As mentioned earlier, this leaves Satchel alone without his guardian. It’s a bummer for the kid, and for us, as Rabbi was the series’ most compelling character, even if the sad-eyed gangster with a heart of gold story has been told hundreds of times before. It will be interesting if we find out where Satchel ends up, or if we’ll get official confirmation that he is a younger version of Season 2’s Mike Milligan. “East/West” was still a fun detour during a mostly by-the-numbers season. With just two episodes left, will this be the best Season 4 has to offer?