Writers Noah Hawley and Lee Edward Colston II pay tribute to The Wizard of Oz with FX’s Fargo season four episode nine, “East/West.” The mostly black and white episode has a real Ozian vibe, complete with key characters, a Fargo twist on the yellow brick road, an adorable dog, and a tornado!
Omie Sparkman (Corey Hendrix) takes a break from driving, stretching his legs as he reads a marker honoring Clyde Tombaugh, the man who discovered Pluto. He allows his kidnapped passenger (stored in the car’s trunk) a smoke while pumping him for info. The reluctant passenger, Aldo Abruzo (Joel Reitsma), says Constant Calamita came to him looking for guns, explaining he needed to kill some people in Kansas. Aldo thinks Calamita’s searching for a Swede or an Irishman.
Omie’s next stop is a gas station in the middle of nowhere. The clerk’s by himself and he’s a talker. When asked he confirms a skinny Italian hasn’t passed by recently. But, if he’s on this road he’s sure to stop there since there aren’t many gas stations around.
Omie wants to hang out until Calamita shows up and offers to paint the walls if the clerk will allow him to stick around. He forces Aldo into lending a hand since they have time to kill.
Hours go by and clouds gather overhead as they take a break inside the station. Calamita pulls up and Aldo tries to make a run for it. Omie’s forced to shoot him before he makes it outside.
Calamita hears the shot and slowly exits his vehicle.
The episode jumps back in time one day, catching up with Rabbi Milligan (Ben Whishaw) and Satchel Cannon (Rodney L Jones III) who are also on the road and driving past that same gas station. They arrive in the town of Liberal, Kansas where Rabbi plans to rest for a few days.
A historical marker outside the hotel tells the tale of the Mellon family who lured unsuspecting travelers to their deaths.
Their check-in at the Barton Arms is a bit confusing, with the clerk quizzing Rabbi Milligan on odd topics to determine whether to put them in the east or west side of the hotel. She concludes they should sleep in the west side and warns the sisters who own the place don’t like “colored folk.” But if they stay away from the sisters (The Wizard of Oz‘s witches), they’ll be fine.
After a quick tour of the place, she shows them to their room. On the way there, Rabbi notices a yellow line down the middle of the floor. Apparently, the sisters have split the place in half and each control one side while avoiding the other.
Rabbi wants Satchel to stay in the room until he returns from retrieving money he hid in town years ago. He hands Satchel a knife and reminds him that if he doesn’t return, he’s either dead or in jail.
Rabbi makes it into town only to discover the store where he hid the money has gone out of business and the new owners have taken down the wall where his stash of cash was stored. The new owner confirms the wall was removed but doesn’t say anything about the money – and Rabbi doesn’t ask.
Satchel’s alone in his room when he hears a noise inside a wardrobe cabinet. He opens the door and out jumps a dog! It’s a Cairn Terrier – like Toto – named Rabbit. She’s a cute little thing and very friendly. She takes off running downstairs once Satchel opens the door and he chases after her. He encounters aluminum siding salesman Hunk Swindell (Tim Hopper) in a parlor and pauses for a chat. It turns out Hunk (The Wizard of Oz‘s “Scarecrow”) is a real fan of Dale Carnegie and is quite the people person. Fargo‘s version of The Wizard of Oz‘s “Tin Man” – Hickory J. Milch (Japhet Balaban) – joins them and changes the subject to oil fields. He’s headed to Texas to make his fortune.
Rabbi returns to the hotel and sends Satchel back to their room. Rabbi confesses there’s been a setback obtaining the money, but he thinks he’s solved the problem. He warns Satchel not to wander around when he’s out. Satchel hears the dinner bell and completely ignores Rabbi’s warning.
They join those already gathered around the dinner table, but Satchel’s warned he can’t take a seat. One of the sisters allows it, basically because the other sister refuses to allow “coloreds” at the table. Hunk introduces everyone seated at the table and Rabbi uses a fake name. He claims to be looking for honest work in Sioux Falls.
Hunk keeps up a steady stream of stories as everyone eats.
The following day Rabbi allows Satchel to bring the dog as they head into town. Rabbi stops by a billboard that’s halfway finished and asks the man putting it up what it will say when it’s finished. “The future is…what?” asks Rabbi. The man tells him he’ll just have to wait until it’s complete to learn the answer. He’s going about the job slowly so that he can stay employed.
When asked why he cares, Rabbi replies, “It’s the principle, making people live with uncertainty. It ain’t right.”
They arrive in town and park outside the store, and Rabbi instructs Satchel to stay in the car. Inside the store, the two owners are discussing Rabbi’s visit. The one who spoke with him is sure he knows they’ve taken his hidden money.
Rabbi enters the store from the rear and is able to easily get the drop on the men. He instructs the owners to head back into the office, away from the front of the store. Rabbi demands the return of his money and one owner claims not to know anything. Rabbi hits him with his gun and the other owner confesses it’s in the safe. Since they found it in the store after they purchased it, they believe it’s rightfully theirs.
Rabbi discovers what’s left of his $5,000 isn’t much but it’s better than walking away empty-handed.
Meanwhile, a cop questions Satchel who’s quietly waiting in the car. The cop demands to know what he’s doing as inside the store the owners beg for their lives.
Rabbi appears to consider his next move. We don’t hear any gunshots prior to Rabbi returning to the car to address the cop. Rabbi claims Satchel’s dad is a dead a war hero he served with, and he thinks it’s his duty to care for his friend’s orphaned son.
The cop warns Rabbi to be careful traveling around this town with a “colored” kid.
Back at the hotel, Satchel complains about being hungry. Rabbi’s decided they will leave that evening – without the dog. Satchel pleads to be allowed to bring her and when he doesn’t get his way, he confesses he just wanted one thing for his birthday.
Rabbi had no idea it’s the kid’s birthday and heads off to the gas station to buy the boy a treat. He stops again at the billboard which is now finished. It reads: “The Future is Now!” and he’s unhappy with that declaration. The man’s still working on it and offers no definitive explanation for what it means.
The wind’s really kicking up as Rabbi Milligan approaches the gas station. He spots legs sticking out of a door and quietly approaches a window. Peeking in he sees Calamita holding Omie at gunpoint. The wind whips around and makes a noise, causing Calamita to look up and spot Rabbi outside. He heads outside and shoots Rabbi once before he can make it into his car.
Rabbi leans on the hood and isn’t able to return fire because the bullet has rendered his right arm too weak to raise the gun. Omie follows Calamita outside the store and fires his one remaining bullet into Calamita’s back. Calamita returns fire, shooting Omie twice.
While Calamita was occupied with Omie, Rabbi was able to use his left arm to hold up his right and takes aim at Calamita. Unfortunately, a strong gust of wind sends a board into his arm, knocking the gun away. Calamita’s about to shoot Rabbi when the approaching tornado begins sucking everything into the sky. Both Calamita and Rabbi Milligan are sucked up into the funnel.
Satchel wakes to find Rabbi hasn’t returned. When he steps outside the room, the episode switches to color.
He tells the bandaged man in the room next door that he’s just woken up and is looking for his friend. Satchel refuses to come closer as the man instructs and instead returns to his room.
He cuddles Rabbit while waiting for Rabbi’s return, propping a chair under the doorknob to keep out all of the hotel’s strange Ozian guests.
Hours pass and Rabbi still hasn’t returned. Rabbit needs to go out and Satchel gets dressed to leave. They head off down the road together. Satchel pauses to look at the completed billboard and to glance both directions down the highway, deciding which way to walk.
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