Fargo "Buridan's Ass" Review: Red, White, and Who?

By Tim Surette

May 21, 2014

Fargo S01E06: "Buridan's Ass"

I just don't think "Awww jeez" is going to cut it for this one.

"Buridan's Ass" deserves at least a "Holy macaroni!," a "What a whopper!," or, perhaps more appropriately, a "HOLY @&*$ING $#!^BALLZ!," because the episode transformed Fargo from whimsical dark comedy to Heat-like shootout in a whiteout blizzard without missing a step. The series got REAL with that snowy massacre, and it was the most riveting action sequence I've seen on television since HBO's True Detective spent six minutes hurtling us through a gang-infested compound while Rust Cohle hightailed it outta there. It was so intense that my heart stopped three times before the scene was over and I had to be revived by my cats.

But as we reflect on the carnage, all I can think is, "Boy, Chief Bill Oswalt is really going to have his hands full with this one!" Such is the nature of the incredible cartoon world in which Fargo exists. I mean, there was a guy in the hospital who was wrapped head-to-toe in bandages; that kind of stuff only exists on Tom & Jerry! More and more, Fargo is kind of like a new version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? where Bmidji is Toontown and Lorne Malvo, Mr. Wrench, and Mr. Numbers are the real-world invaders—but they're bringing more than oversized boxing gloves on springs and two-ton anvils as murder weapons. And that's how the series is able to have it both ways. It's one of television's funniest shows, and it's one of television's darkest shows. 

Let's hit the highlights of that shootout, which began when Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers boxed Malvo in and pulled out the big guns. The cover of snow split everyone up—to Malvo's advantage, since he was outnumbered—and Mr. Wrench's lack of hearing certainly didn't help his chances in a setting that dulled one of his four working senses. Malvo, that crazy mofo, cut his wrist to lure Mr. Numbers to a doorway, where Malvo ambushed him, shanked him, and got him to reveal the name of his employer ("Fargo") before cutting his throat. Molly confronted Malvo outside of Gus's visibility and someone fired twice, but we didn't know who got hit. Our guess was that it wasn't Molly who took the bullets, if anyone did, because we saw her walking back. But then Gus, the world's worst cop—he just wanted to be a mailman!—fired off an ill-advised shot and felled Molly.

And if it turns out that Molly is actually dead, I'll eat a whole five-pound brick of Turkish Delight.

But I wouldn't totally rule out the possibility. Fargo's got an interesting and messed-up theme going on, and it's something along the lines of, "Trying to be good is boring, pointless, and it sucks." We saw it in the story that was first told by Gus's neighbor in Episode 5 and touched on again in this episode, about the rich man who donated his money and then a kidney before taking his own life to donate all his organs. The enigmatic parable, which I still don't entirely understand, says that only a fool believes he can solve the world's problems. But the rich man who committed suicide only solved his own problem; he couldn't bear to see the world suffer, but in trying to fix things for everyone else, all he did was put an end to his own strife. Vern Thurman was a good man who wanted to fix the world's problems and he had his chest shot out. Molly is the kind of person who thinks she can fix the world's problems, so I wouldn't be entirely shocked if she's dead, too.

In contrast, Malvo—and now to some degree Lester—enjoys seeing the world suffer, so he moves through the world with impunity. Fargo is really giving the upper hand to evil at the moment.

Taking this point to Stavros is also interesting. Early in the series, the Malvo/Stavros extortion plot felt more tangential to Fargo's main murder mystery (Sam Hess), but has since developed nicely. Because Malvo exploited Stavros's fear of God by reenacting the ten Biblical Plagues to (almost) get the money out of the grocery mogul, Stavros started to look at the bigger picture, and interpreted his situation as God's way of telling him to repay his debt—the box of money he'd discovered so many years prior. And like many religious nuts, he believed so blindly that he buried a million dollars in a snowbank thinking it would protect his firstborn son

But it didn't, and a hailstorm of fish rained down from a stormy waterspout, causing the wreck of a car that containing Stavros's son and dad (I think it was his dad?), as the vehicle spun out on fish guts and ended up bent around a telephone pole in a bloody mess that left them both dead. 

Stavros was trying to amend his mistakes, yet he was still punished. Is Stavros actually being punished by God for sins he can't ever atone for? Or are these signs of the Plagues (the pig's blood in the shower, the crickets in the grocery store, the dead dog, even the snowstorm as a stand-in for darkness) just the work of a madman named Lorne Malvo? Who himself might be the epitome of evil for pretending to be God?

Moving forward, all these questions swimming in my head makes Gus one of Fargo's most interesting characters. Here is a man who didn't want to try and solve the world's problems. He never wanted to be a cop. His only ambition in life was deliver mail. And when he let Malvo go in the series premiere, he only had himself and his daughter in mind. Now the weight of the situation sits on his shoulders. Yet when he tried to help, he shot Molly. 

My theory is that the "solving the world's problems" parable was first explained to Gus because Gus is actually the answer. God is not involved in this mess. This mess is a product of the natural world. And in the natural word there are predators and there is prey, as Malvo illustrated for us in "Eating the Blame" when he feigned innocence as a minister named Frank Peterson and then confused Gus with trivia about how many shades of green the human eye can see. It's survival of the fittest. What Gus decides to do and what he achieves will either confirm or rebuke the riddle of the rich man. 

What started out as a simple series about a complicated murder in a quiet town has become a philosophical showcase for conflicting sides of the same story, and the question of how we measure how much good and evil exists within us? Evil appears to be infecting Bmidji like an illness, with Lester as Patient Zero. His escape from the hospital was so messed up, but also so much fun to watch. And as he returned to his bed knowing that he'd just framed his brother and his brother's perfect F'ing family, his expression of self satisfaction was colder than the weather outside. 

Lester experienced his Walter White moment this week. He knows who he is now, and he kind of likes it. 

Two weeks ago, I said that a 4-Episode Test™ wouldn't be enough to determine whether Fargo was merely a great show or one of THE greats. After "Buridan's Ass," if it can keep this up, I'm putting it squarely in the THE column. This is your best new show of 2014, folks. 


– Don's (Glenn Howerton) demise was one of the most amazing death scenes I've ever seen. That was F'd up, Noah Hawley. Keep it up!

Fargo's escalation of weaponry is awesome. What started out with hammers, knives, and shotguns has turned into flashbangs, riot shields, and automatic weapons. If this continues, the finale should involve plasma cannons and laser guns.

– I love movies with tons of snow. There's something about the aesthetic and the metaphor for buried secrets that I'll never tire of. If you're looking for more, check out Christopher Nolan's Insomnia or Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan, the latter of which also stars Billy Bob Thornton. Both are very good. 

– Mr. Numbers! I'm going to miss that guy. Numbers may've been the best character Adam Goldberg's ever played. And now Mr. Wrench is out there in the blizzard, all by himself... what's he going to do?

– I love how "Buridan's Ass" episode started with a fish being killed by a man and ended with fish killing men. 

– Lester put a gun in Chazz's son's backpack. Uh-oh. What's going to come of that? 

– After Don pulled the trigger on the shotgun to try to kill Malvo, Malvo said, "That's okay, I'd be insulted if you didn't try." 

– Will the Fargo office send more men down to Bemidji to fix things? 

What'd you think of "Buridan's Ass"? Is Molly dead or alive? 

  • Comments (92)
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  • AwaiSSiawa Jul 13, 2014

    I must admit the storyline that kept me interested up until now was the Lorne Malvo/Stavros one. I wasn't really invested in Lester's, but this episode really flipped things around!

  • qtpi19691 Jun 10, 2014

    I was thinking the very same thing about Lester experiencing a "Walter White moment". This show has the potential (and the great casting, and the pace, and the feeling) of Breaking Bad. I knew from episode 1, it's potential. On continuous watching, so many more levels of storyline are emerging and making it's potential endless! Thanks for your ep. review and commentary.

  • BobbyBlack May 26, 2014

    I agree also that this episode just put Fargo on that list. The greatest tv shows of all time list.

  • BobbyBlack May 26, 2014

    Gus is the dumbest cop in history. What a dumbass and i'm not even saying that cause i like Molly, he's just a well rounded dumbass. Dude better smarten up and you know what will be offensive....is if Gus the dumbest character in the show is the one who ends up killing Malvo.

  • Vinnie99 May 26, 2014

    I saw Molly in the coming attractions for next eppisode

  • ludoTV May 25, 2014

    The blizzard scene was brilliant. Perfectly choreographed and, like all of Fargo, great sound arrangements too.

    Now for the rest of the episode or the show... I am less impressed than Tim. Sure the show looks good and is clever (smart ass often though) but too much of this show seems like a celebration of cliches like...

    • Bad guys being smarter and seemingly able to get away with everything eg Malvo and now Lester (his hospital escape was cartoonish indeed - not a compliment)
    • Good guys being useless / pathetic (minus Molly perhaps) - Gus is the worst character ever (doesn't help Colin Hanks still looks like that equally useless character from Dexter's very terrible Season 6)
    • Violence as a spectacle esp. the police assault on Don's house. It felt pretty gratuitous that Don had to be killed in such a gruesome way. Sure Malvo was never going to let Don walk but just kill him fast. I felt genuinely uncomfortable watching Malvo prepare the Don debacle and then watching Don's terror before the inevitable end.

  • moon33 Jun 10, 2014

    I agree the blizzard scene was awesome

  • MHarryE May 22, 2014

    It will be sad to see Malvo and Lester go in the final episode but that is television. I hate it that my brain can't pick up all the subtle messages during the show, like the cook whacking the fish at the start and the fish whacking the 2 men at the end. One thing that is not realistic - Duluth police shooting up a house with a guy taped to a chair? That happens only in Texas, the other end of I-35. Minnesota nice here - we would burn the house with the guy in it, not shoot it up.

  • burfy_ May 22, 2014

    I reckon Molly found Mr. Wrench, he didn't respond to her telling him to stop, obviously, so she shot him. Then, Gus shot her. Not sure if she'll be killed or not.

    My first theory was she got shot my Malvo or Mr. Wrench and then again by Gus, which means he didn't killed her but things he did etc. But Malvo had an automatic weapon so I don't think he fired the 2 shots we didn't see and I'm just liking my other theory better now anyway.

  • pozet May 22, 2014

    I really liked Malvo's face when he was shot at. He seemed genuinely sad in some sort of childish way.

  • JustifiedCEO May 22, 2014

    I had two revelations on closer examination. The first is Molly shouts "halt" and you clearly see gun sparks within the fog within a second. They were too quick to have come from Molly, Mr Wrench more likely shot Molly and Gus didn't hit her. He thinks he is at fault. But my guess is that will be cleared up in the next episode with ballistics. Thus clearing Gus to work with Keith Carradine. The second is the "rain of fish". The Fargo boss said to kill them all. Mr Numbers and Mr Wrench's job was to try to kill Malvo. The character acknowledging the Fargo boss across the fish table must have been responsible for killing the "King's son and consigliere". My guess is he rained the fish from above the tree line in some matter. Whether Molly is still alive or not really doesn't matter. The best result is she will be incapacitated. And have an emotional link for KC and Gus to work together.

  • JenMo73 May 22, 2014

    I'm still torn on the fish. Was it truly a freak occurrence or someone was genius enough to drop them from the trees.

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