‘Fargo’ Continues to Be One of the Most Unpredictable Shows Ever With “The Heap”

By  · Published on June 4th, 2014

FX Networks

First off, I want to note that I’m not going to put forth any more claim that this show has left the shadow of the Coen Brothers influence. Last week, I personally felt that it was standing enough on its own that I was no longer looking for or noticing references, but of course I was pointed to a couple fairly significant instances of quotation. I still feel like it’s departing from the pastiche, though, and that’s a good thing. But sure enough, it continues to make certain connections and allusions now and then. I did sense a Barton Fink homage in tonight’s episode with the close-up on a poster of women walking on a beach. And there’s an image of Molly (Allison Tolman) midway through that easily reminds us of Marge in the Fargo movie. More on that in a moment.

Because of the narrative course of this week’s episode, titled “The Heap,” I do think it continues to break free in a way that makes it plausible that the series could continue beyond this mini run. The world of the show is strong enough. At the same time, this sure could have been a great series finale. You’ve got a kind of closure on some story lines, even if they’re not necessarily satisfying to the characters, or maybe some viewers. And then you have a device that pushes the plot forward in a way that we’re used to only seeing done in the very last episode of a show. Or, if you’re Parks and Recreation, in the last episode of a penultimate season. If anything, tonight’s last scene opens things up to where it either should be a crazy place to leave us forever or it should be the beginning of a whole new chapter. Instead we have two more episodes and only two more episodes. Another bold move.

Fargo remains one of the most unpredictable shows on television right now for that reason. Who saw it coming that suddenly halfway into the episode we’d have the plot advance a year? Sure, it was beginning to seem like a dead end for some of our characters and story lines as they were. Molly was not going to convince Bill (Bob Odenkirk) to accept her theories on the now closed case. Lester (Martin Freeman) seemed to be in the clear on the murders and appeared to be a changed man as a result. And Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) was presumably onto his next assignment, back to normal. Despite how we barely got to know them, even the newly introduced FBI agents (Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peel) were in a corner by being thrown into the file room as a result of their screw up outside the Fargo mob’s building.

By the end of the 2006 half of “The Heap,” the show was not just about deadlocked story lines. It was all about coupling the characters, too. Not Agents Budge and Pepper, who already have each other, but we had Molly finally going on a date with Gus (Colin Hanks) and Lester getting together with his co-worker, Linda (Susan Park) – though I’ll admit, I thought for a second that he’d have a little fling with his sister-in-law, Kitty (Rachel Blanchard). Even Malvo made a little proposal to Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard), whose last partner was killed by that very suitor. Whether or not Wrench accepted the offer, we’ll have to wait and find out. However, their becoming associates might be the most easily predictable thing on this show yet, so maybe I’ll go with not. Then again, why would we have the scene if not as a set up? Writer Noah Hawley is screwed either way, I guess.

While we don’t see any of Wrench in the 2007 jump, yet, we do briefly see a very different-looking Malvo, with a better hairdo and basically resembling Thornton in real life (and sitting with an as-of-yet blurry Stephen Root, who is a perfect late addition, and not just because he’s been in three Coen Brothers films). Lester has apparently turned into Don Draper, only not as good looking, and very naive if he doesn’t realize that woman giving him the eye is very plausibly a prostitute – I wouldn’t guess that necessarily if it wasn’t Vegas. And Molly and Gus are married, seemingly for 30 years already, and pregnant. That’s, of course, where she becomes more like Marge from the movie.

Molly is still obsessed with the case, and I guess the endgame will still have to be her not only solving it but convincing Bill (unless he’s somehow killed, like I once figured, but now he has the adopted African son, and so that would actually be sad). For those who are curious about the relevance of the old movie on Molly and Gus’s TV, it’s 1945’s Adventures of Kitty O’Day, the second of two about a secretary who is an aspiring detective. In both films she follows through on a murder investigation that the police won’t properly take care of themselves. Obviously that sounds like Molly, except the amateur part, and maybe a hint that she will come through in the end in spite of the official police business being closed on that investigation.

The other surprise of the episode came with the main scene for Key and Peele, which is good for them since we haven’t really seen much out of their characters yet. They were responsible for laying out the meaning of the episode’s title in a way we haven’t really gotten before. They don’t mention that what Budge is asking is the gist of the “sorites paradox” (aka the paradox of the heap), but it is. He changes heap to file room, and that ought to be fine because there are a number of different ways to consider the concept, though usually it’s with vague terms of measurement and a file room isn’t quite that. A file room isn’t a vague thing. It’s a room with a file or many files in it. I tend to find this paradox to be annoying in general, a matter of semantics on an observational quality. A heap of sand is a heap of sand until you’ve depleted enough grains for me to not see it as a heap.

Here’s what I wanted the episode’s title to mean: how many characters can you kill off on a show like this until it’s not a show anymore? Yeah, I’m obsessed with wonder over who will live and who will die at the end of this series. I can’t help it. More than that, though, I finally have a greater curiosity. Now I’m just generally wondering what’s going to happen next, because I have no clue. And I love a show where I can’t foresee even a scene ahead. All I do know is Stephen Root will be involved now somehow and that’s pretty exciting.

Some questions to be answered either next week or the following (and then that’s it):

– Will we see what’s become of Stavros in 2007?

– Has Wrench joined forces with Malvo?

– After what we saw with Don, isn’t that the worst idea?

– Will there be more coincidences at play in the conclusion, as foreshadowed with the story of the adopted African boy and then again with the chance sighting by Lester of Malvo at the Vegas bar?

– What does Kate Walsh, who was actually really awesome in her scene tonight, mean by Gina having “a great finish”? Does that mean she kills Lester? Or she has a great death?

– Who will live and who will die? Yeah, I’m not letting that one go.

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.