So there are a few things I have questions about.
I’m not sure why Fargo Season 4 Episode 9 was shot in black and white. I mean, I get the Wizard of Oz reference—by the end of the episode, with its Kansas setting and its adorable dog and its shift to color and its vicious twister, it’s impossible not to—but that only raises the further question of why make reference to The Wizard of Oz at all. Not that I’m complaining about the black and white! Director Mike Uppendahl and cinematographer Dana Gonzales, herself Fargo director elsewhere in the season, make it seem stark and intimidating. But I have questions.
I’m not sure why this episode changes the font of Fargo‘s infamous “This is a true story” legend, which begins each episode, from sans serif typeface to scribbled handwriting.
I’m not sure why it begins with an epigraph (“Life is nothing but a competition to be the criminal rather than the victim” —Bertrand Russell) when none of the others have.
I’m not sure why it eschews the monologue-heavy style of speech all the characters have previously reverted to when confronting one another, unless it’s to suit the spare, black-and-white imagery. Actually, strike that, yeah, I’m pretty sure about that one.
And I’m definitely not sure why the book, and this chapter in it, are found in what appears to be the wreckage of the very service station at which Willy Bupor was shot, destroyed that same day. Maybe the aliens from Season Two warped the spacetime continuum to make it so. Maybe—probably—I’m wrong and it’s a different wrecked building, from a different time. Beats me.
Let’s say you’re a child who’s been sent by his father to live with his father’s enemies. You’ve been raised during that time by an Irish guy with a Jewish nickname who himself lives with Italians, having been traded similarly not once but twice. The one constant in your life during this time has been the Irishman’s warning that when the shooting starts you and he will pack up and go, and that if he leaves and never returns he’s either dead or in jail.
The Irishman takes you to the middle of nowhere, specifically the preposterously named Liberal, Kansas (with the still more preposterous slogan “PANCAKE HUB OF THE UNIVERSE,” right beneath a population figure of 408). He moves you into a hotel where the elderly owners, a pair of sisters, have divided everything in half because they can’t stand each other but won’t give each other the satisfaction of selling their share and moving on.
Everyone there is either overly friendly, salesmen and young men on the make and whatnot, or overtly racist. There’s a veteran of the massacre at Wounded Knee—on the white side, not the victims’—and his niece, who is decades younger and doesn’t call him uncle. There’s a reverend and his mother, whom you spot folding an American flag into a memorial triangle. There are the two sisters, who argue using ear trumpets. There’s a man wrapped in bandages with an elaborate system of tubes attached to him, attended to by a teenage assistant in mad-scientist goggles.
Also, it’s your birthday, and no one remembered. You mention it to the Irishman, and suddenly he disappears. He’s gone looking for a candy bar to give you as a present, though you have no way of knowing that. If he’d told you, well, that would have spoiled the surprise.
Eventually you realize he’s not coming back, and he’s drilled what that means into you over the course of months and years. So you take your dog and you go for a walk down the road, past a set of ruins that wasn’t there before. You arrive in front of the billboard, which, completed, reads THE FUTURE IS NOW. For you, I suppose, it is.
You’d have questions too, wouldn’t you?
Based on the chapter from The History of True Crime in the Midwest that we see, it seems likely that Milligan’s body, along with that of Calamita and Sparkman and the foot soldier Sparkman abducted and the owner of the service station himself, will at some point be recovered and identified. (If so, “Who Shot Willy Bupor?” is less about tracking down an unknown assailant and more about trying to figure out which of the gangsters present at his station actually did the deed.) But for now, my lingering memory of the event that killed them is a shot of the Rabbi struggling against the wind that suddenly goes still, allowing you to think perhaps he’ll weather the storm, before he begins to spin and, in an instant, gets blown away, his future along with him.
Sean T. Collins () writes about TV for Rolling Stone, Vulture, The New York Times, and anyplace that will have him, really. He and his family live on Long Island.
Watch Fargo Season 4 Episode 9 (“East/West”) on Hulu