‘Fargo’ Boosts Its Body Count In “Buridan’s Ass”

By  · Published on May 21st, 2014

FX Networks

In many ways, I liked this week’s episode of Fargo, titled “Buriden’s Ass,” as much as I disliked last week’s (both of them were directed by Colin Bucksey). It wasn’t perfect, but it had a good deal of action and racked up a serious body count. Not that deaths make a good show, but it was enough that stuff was happening. And much of that stuff led to conclusions for certain characters and questions for and about others, questions that are intriguing rather than frustrating. Some characters make really dumb choices, as is expected in this series, but interestingly Lester (Martin Freeman) was not one of them this time. He finally made decisions that indicate he could just make it through the finale alive, after all.

There are two moments in the episode where characters are shown to be really thinking about what to do next. For Lester, it’s with a surprisingly lengthy close-up on Freeman’s face as he works out his plan. And by episode’s end, it seems to have been a good plan, albeit one involving a very cliched escape scenario and a few too many instances of illogical luck (why did no one from radiology look for their scheduled patient? why did Lester’s nephew do nothing when he saw the guy creeping around the house?). Then there’s Stavros (Oliver Platt), whose thought process was accompanied by those annoying reminder flashbacks. And by episode’s end, it seems his decision was not a good one at all.

Nor was the choice by Gus (Colin Hanks) to shoot blindly into the white of the blizzard. Of course, it’s unlikely that Molly (Allison Tolman) is dead. We don’t see any wounds or blood or open eyes to indicate she’s really gone, as we do with poor Don (Glenn Howerton) and the rest of the episode’s fallen. We don’t even know if Gus actually accidentally shot her or if she’s on the ground as a result of whoever she came into contact with – which could be Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) or Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard). It would be really daring of the show to have her eliminated midway through like this, especially since she’s still the most interesting and completely likable “good” character. Chances are she’s okay.

Another big question that leaves us in want of answers, hopefully to be revealed next week, involves the deaths of Stavros’s son and bodyguard. Both of whom are very definitely dead, by the way, that’s not the question. Rather, the mystery is in how they were killed. Where did the fish come from? Did Malvo arrange for a seafood shipment to be dropped on the Milos property? If so, was this always something in the scheme, or was it added to the mix because Stavros got the urge to return the money to where he originally found it nearly 20 years earlier, because of what he thinks God would prefer, instead of handing it over to his extortionists, who he already thought were sent by God?

This week’s episode title refers to a more well-known story than usual. “Buriden’s Ass” is a paradox, not a parable like usual, meant to make fun of the concept of free will. The idea is that a starving and thirsty ass, placed midway between food and drink, will die due to his inability to choose what to go for first. That hardly directly fits any character in Fargo at this point. But there is a connection between that ass and the way every character makes a choice that is both good and bad, as if they’ve made the decision to go for the food but then they still die of thirst or the decision to go for the water but then they still die of hunger.

Going back to the first episode, though, Lester is Buriden’s Ass when he fails to give Malvo a proper answer regarding whether or not he wants Hess killed. Both choices could have been favorable to his survival. Call Hess’s death the food and call Lester’s not being involved in a murder the water. The choice is made for him, though. He was given the “food,” and it’s left him with some very unfortunate side effects. And maybe in not making the choice himself is a sign that he will be dead by the series end.

Here are a few things that didn’t sit well for me in this episode:

– If a hospital patient is accused of murder and he has an officer guarding the door, I doubt he would have a roommate, and if he did have to have a roommate, the officer would likely think to check on the suspect when people are coming and going.

– I suspect a guy like Lester’s brother would have a more secure home, especially given his arsenal. And even if Lester had a key and knew the alarm code, his sister-in-law should have found it strange coming home to an unalarmed home.

– Malvo’s plan to occupy the police in case Stavros calls them is logical, but there is no need for Don to be part of it. The trip wire that triggers gunshots is all that’s required to prolong the incident. Don being placed inside the door with a shotgun taped to his hands plays no real part in it, and therefore it is just cruel. And that’s fine, as Malvo is a sick bastard, but he seems like he’s putting the poor sap there as if out of some kind of necessity to the plan.

– Given that there is a blizzard occurring, there was no reason for Stavros to call his son and bodyguard back home so urgently, and there was no reason for his bodyguard to think it a good idea to brave the storm to do so.

– In fact, it seems illogical for many of the characters to do things they do during a big storm like this. It mostly doesn’t seem to be the wisest time for Numbers and Wrench to go after Malvo, unless they thought they’d have an upper hand given the limited visibility.

All of these things could be overlooked due to one thing I really loved about the episode:

Adam Goldberg with a machine gun.

And finally here is my one important prediction for the next episode:

– Molly is down but okay, and she was shot by Wrench not Gus. Gus will have lucked out and killed Wrench, whose body is probably close by.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.