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