FARGO Recap: “Buridan’s Ass”

     May 20, 2014


The title of Fargo’s sixth episode, “Buridan’s Ass,” comes from the philosophical idea that if a donkey is equally hungry and thirsty, and is given both water and hay equidistant from itself, it will die of starvation and thirst, because a decision cannot rationally be made between which of the two to start with.  The paradox is a satire of moral determinism, which suggests that actions and their effects are all part of a causal web, and that when faced with a choice, humans must choose the greater good. But what if there is no greater good? The character Malvo is a walking agent of evil and destruction, and while he in some ways seems to be the catalyst for what’s happening in Bemidji, in others, it could be argued that he is just a heightened manifestation of the of evil or mistakes the residents brought upon themselves.  Hit the jump for more mumbo jumbo.

fargo-buridans-ass-martin-freeman“Buridan’s Ass” was an hour of consequence.  There is a clear causal web in Bemidji that starts with Malvo’s first conversation with Lester.  The murder of Sam Hess brought on Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers, and the death of Verne made this a personal vendetta for Molly.  On the other hand, Malvo’s interactions and torture of Stavros is a separate set of crimes that has finally overlapped with the others in “Buridan’s Ass,” leading to the deaths of Don, Numbers, Dimitri, and at least the serious injury of Molly.  Lester, meanwhile, pulled a grand caper wherein he implicated his brother Chazz, as well as his nephew, in some kind of gun-nut conspiracy and coverup of the murders at his own house.

Readers will note that Fargo is not among my favorite series, and “Buridan’s Ass” didn’t change that for me (those of you hoping I’ll have a change of heart like I did about The Americans, we’ll see …).  But I am certainly willing to admit what the show gets right: for one, the use of the blizzard to provide confusion and obfuscation was a great way to make the setting of Bemidji matter.  Not only did it allow Malvo to be cloaked and escape (much like Lester did), but its white blanket also directly led to several deaths. Secondly, the entire sequence that culminated with the shootout that killed Don was a great use of slow motion and cinematography (the lights around him, his bobbing and weaving to avoid the shots), while the white outside and the darkness inside compounded to make his circumstance (duct taped to the gun and exercise equipment) unable to be determined until after he was shot to pieces.

fargo-billy-bob-thornton-buridans-assThat particular scene felt the most like the Coens than anything else in the hour, where a dim-witted small-time crook with big dreams came to a horrific and gruesome end.  Meanwhile, the true evil lurks away.  Still, the suspension of disbelief required for the fish, as well as for Lester’s grand hospital escape, pushed some limits.

The scene “Buridan’s Ass” has set for the back half of the season is one of extreme confusion.  Facing a scene mired in death and chaos, it’s up to Gus, who never wanted to be a cop, and who let Malvo go (which helped unleash a lot of this nightmare) to put it all back together.  It’s not easy to find heroes in Fargo, but the closest approximation so far is Gus.  For him, the dilemma is between good and evil, and neither one has a guaranteed outcome.  He could listen to his neighbor’s parable, and give up on Malvo.  Or, he could fly in the face of Malvo’s threats, and continue to pursue him for the greater good.  Buridan would suggest that the latter is Gus’ only choice.  And for Fargo to continue with any meaning, I would have to agree.

Episode Rating: B+

Musings and Miscellanea:

fargo-martin-freeman-buridans-ass— Finally, some “Minnesota nice” made an appearance at the grocery store.

— The deaths of Numbers and Dimitri have made things personal for Wrench and Stavros, just like the injury (surely not death) of Molly has made things personal for Gus as well.  There has to be that emotional connection there, it seems, for things to move forward.

— “Part two is, have you ever had Turkish Delight? It’s disgusting” – Malvo.  No lies detected there.

— If the money stays buried this time, then the show has kept itself from messing with the mythology too much, and also has created the possibility for other instances where those who find the “cursed” money will have their own stories about it to tell.

— Gus gets the most upset over the sin of duplicitousness.  That must be a hard life in this world, as Molly notes.

— “Son, do you go to church? Then open the goddamn gate, your Lord demands it!” – Stavros.

— “There’s something wrong with you, something missing” – Chazz.

— As surreal as it was, I did enjoy the suspense of Lester’s escape and reappearance at the hospital.  That self-satisfied smirk can only portend the worst, though.