East/West does not make up for the previous episode but it does call the whole shark-jumping into question. Because East/West is director Michael Uppendahl and writers Noah Hawley (I really want to know how much he does on these episodes where he’s co-credited) and Lee Edward Colston doing a big ol’ Barton Fink homage.
A big ol’ obvious Barton Fink early 1990s Coen Brothers homage. And it’s somewhere between fine, good, and excellent.
The episode’s about Ben Whishaw and Rodney L. Jones III on the lam from the regular series. It’s mostly in black and white, with the color being a little obvious but fine because of how they set it up. Frankly, it shows the whole season should’ve been in black and white—oh wow, Dana Gonzales shot this episode. Gonzales was the season’s worst director until last episode. The photography’s fine, but it’s not great black and white photography by any stretch. They could’ve used some more contrast filters in post. But when it’s endless snowfields and lone buildings and whatnot? Excellent stuff.
Whishaw and Jones are holed up in this in-the-middle-of-nowhere giant old hotel amid snowfields, run by two sisters who hate each other so everything in the house is split east and west. There’s a great desk clerk (Patrese McClain, who somehow manages to better indirectly and directly address the racism the Black characters experience than anyone else has in the rest of the show) and a bunch of weird guests. It’s like Barton Fink, but with a kid—Jones—in the lead.
And Jones ought to be “Fargo: Season Four”’s secret weapon but the show doesn’t acknowledge it needs one. Anyone else, including Whishaw and Gaetano Bruno (who’s on their trail to kill them), would bring too much baggage to lead this episode. Though Whishaw’s a lot better away from the regular cast and in black and white and dealing with racist fucks, but still. Jones is the perfect hero here.
Corey Hendrix also gets a bunch to do at the beginning; he’s the Black mobster trying to take out Bruno for killing Jones, even though Bruno didn’t actually kill Jones—the opening turns out pretty okay thanks to Hendrix, though the present action then backs up a day to Jones and Whishaw to get them caught up and there’s a somewhat rocky transition until the episode fully establishes itself as Uppendahl’s Coen Brothers homage project.
And “Fargo” could definitely work as an anthology of different directors doing their odes to the Brothers Coen. Heck, if they’d done the whole season like this episode in any way—same style, or just the anthology idea—it wouldn’t be anywhere near as in trouble as it’s gotten.