Fargo has moved so far from its geographic and thematic roots, that it’s easy to forget the show came from a Coen Brothers film at all. But Fargo season 4 episode 9 could easily have been written and directed by the sibling auteurs themselves – a stylish, dark yet quirky visit to southwest Kansas.
Presented in black and white, ‘East/West’ managed to advance the season’s narrative while feeling a lot like a standalone episode, centring entirely on Rabbi Milligan and Satchel Cannon as they lay low in the town of Liberal. Meanwhile, the Fadda vs Cannon Limited war bled itself out back on the Missourian border.
— Fargo (@FargoFX) November 13, 2020
Cheery Midwestern line of the week: “Hard to dislike a man what’s got a funny bone; me I got two!”
We were shorter of cheery Midwestern lines than usual this week, owing to the fact that the show skirted closer to the South and wasn’t, well, very cheery. By taking a break from the organised crime toing-and-froing in Kansas City, episode writers Noah Hawley and Lee Edward Colston II were able to have some fun dreaming up new characters, including the one who uttered the line above, aluminium salesman Hoke Windell.
‘East/West’ took its name from the bed-and-breakfast where Rabbi and Satchel found shelter, which was run by two sisters who dislike each other so much they divided the building in the least practical way possible, each room having an ‘east’ side and a ‘west’ side, with guests assigned to one or the other and instructed not to cross the dividing line painted on the floor.
Classic ‘Fargo’ moment: death by tornado
It’s probably no accident that the showrunners picked a city in Kansas that’s home to a “Land of Oz” exhibit as their setting, as the episode referenced The Wizard of Oz throughout – from the dramatic switch from black and white to colour to Satchel’s discovery of a dog that looked like Dorothy’s Toto.
Tornadoes were another reference point, bringing a surprise resolution to the inevitable confrontation between Rabbi Milligan and Constant Calamita. Both men were sucked into the air during a gunfight, the tornado dumping their bodies somewhere outside of the city limits (props to the VFX team here, who had a hell of a job making this look realistic).
The most ‘Fargo’ character name: Will Bupor
Fargo loves to toy with history, and ‘East/West’s fake true-crime story was an interesting way to start the episode, teasing its subsequent events through a mystery reported in a local newspaper.
Taking its cues from old crime movies and Westerns, the opening sequence saw all of the main players pass through the same remote gas station and felt like something Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul might have done, the kind of slow pacing and patient editing that can be so refreshing when employed correctly.
This week’s biggest question: what will happen to Satchel next?
There’s a real fascination with American facades, signage and advertising in Fargo, perhaps most obvious in this episode which kept returning to a billboard on the road leading out of Liberal. “The Future is” it read for the most part, the worker being too lazy to finish pasting up the rest of the commercial, much to the annoyance of Rabbi who was left with an existential itch by the incomplete slogan.
“The Future is Now!”, the billboard was eventually changed to, the episode closing with Satchel stood before it. Did the phrase take on an empowering or foreboding quality for the vulnerable young man? I’d love to say the former, and that Satchel and his dog will go and live peacefully somewhere, but Satchel is a Black child lost in the segregationist South, plus neither the Faddas or the Cannons are likely to give up their search for him even though Constant and Rabbi are dead. My money is on Loy and co. being the first to track Satchel down (the Faddas are seemingly incapable of doing anything right), but I don’t imagine the boy will appreciate being reunited with the father that traded him away.
A season best episode tonight, then. Fargo’s cinematography and production design are second-to-none on TV right now (at least until Euphoria returns next month).
Fargo season 4 episode 9 will air November 15 on FX in the US, with a UK broadcast on Channel 4 expected sometime in 2021