‘Fargo’ Goes Unfathomably Weak Mid-Series With “The Sixth Ungraspables”

By  · Published on May 14th, 2014

FX Networks

For an episode that rounds out the first half of a series, “The Six Ungraspables” is a surprisingly uneventful affair. I think it might be Fargo’s worst, because as much as it moved the plot forward, it did so at a very slow pace and not in any way that added to the characters or their storylines. Or maybe I missed something. Maybe I didn’t grasp enough this time. Maybe I was too annoyed with the unnecessary opening sequence to appreciate much else in the hour that followed. One of my biggest issues with Fargo so far is its occasional hand holding. Another is its occasional lack of logic for the sake of convenience. This fifth episode was basically all about how Lester’s Macbethian hand injury fits into both of these criticisms.

After last week’s opening, I got excited when it became apparent that this too was beginning with a flashback. And to a time without snow on the ground! Silly me even thought maybe there’d be a link to O Brother, Where Art Thou? this time because of the bluegrass music. Unfortunately, all this sequence did was show us how Lester (Martin Freeman) came to own a shotgun and illustrate as plainly as possible how that shotgun later caused the festering wound in his hand. Was there anyone who was watching and hadn’t understood what that injury was from or that there was still a pellet lodged in there, one that would easily lend itself as evidence that Lester was present during Chief Thurman’s shooting?

And now I have good reason to ask this question, which has been bugging me since the beginning: why wasn’t Lester’s hand treated during his second visit to the hospital? That being the one when was brought in for his head injury suffered during the apparent home invasion and double murder of his wife and the police chief? I don’t know that someone would get a full examination following such an ordeal, but I would think a bullet hole in a hand would have to be pretty noticeable to the doctors and nurses treating him at the time. We didn’t even get a line from Molly (Allison Tolman) regarding the oversight there when she escorted the guy on his latest trip to the emergency room.

The little else that happened this week includes Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench (Adam Goldberg and Russell Harvard) learning the name Lorne Malvo, Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) learning where Gus (Colin Hanks) lives, Gus learning how to turn on his daughter’s computer and Chief Oswalt (Bob Odenkirk) learning of the very plausible sounding scenario of how Lester was involved with Malvo and the murder of Sam Hess. That last educational moment was rather satisfying, I have to admit, and it made Molly sound like a classic detective character with her near-conclusive detail in the deduction of Lester’s guilt.

If “The Six Ungraspables” had anything going for it, the episode did provide some nice storytelling from its characters if not from the show itself. In addition to Molly’s speculated exposition, there’s the Jewish parable told to Gus by his neighbor (Byron Noble), which is reminiscent of parts of A Serious Man and is thankfully acted out rather than just told. Never mind that telling a cop a story (not an existing parable, as far as I know) where the point is “only a fool thinks he can solve the world’s problems” is a tad inappropriate, and particularly ironic given that the guy is revealed to be a member of the neighborhood watch – not solving problems, maybe, but at least trying to prevent new ones.

And then there’s Malvo’s loose explanation of why the Romans were so terrible: they were raised by wolves. Sadly no enactment of the story of Romulus and Remus and their iconic suckling at the breast of the she-wolf or, better yet, a flashback to a young Malvo being frustrated while reading The Jungle Book, but an interesting point nonetheless. Of course, Stavros (Oliver Platt) isn’t interested in any stories, even ones involving his favorite saint, any more than he was interested in listening to reason regarding the true, non-divine source of the plague of crickets from last week. He’s too preoccupied with moving a suitcase full of money from one point to another – and disappointingly those points were not of the plot kind.

At least we can appreciate the way this episode ties the religious and mythological tales together. That stuff fits with the usual titling of the episodes, too. This one comes again from a Zen koan and the Buddhist concept of the Dharmakaya. The six graspables are the five human senses plus the mind, while “the six ungraspables” refer to how neither sense nor thinking can helps us in the comprehension of the absolute (for Buddhists that includes the true nature or body of the Buddha). That obviously relates to the characters’ relationship to the ideas of a higher power, which may be the source of moral right and wrong and plagues and pure evil and even babies. And maybe that new baby smell.

I thought maybe the title also has another meaning, like it additionally refers to the characters themselves. But which six? The main characters, Molly, Malvo, Lester and Gus, are certain. The fifth could probably be Stavros. As for the sixth, I’m going to say it’s the viewer. That way the five are united as a way through which we are sensing the events of the story and the sixth is our own mind’s interpretation of what we get from those senses. Why ungraspable? Perhaps we aren’t meant to fully grasp why they all do what they do nor how we perceive those things that they do.

But if that means this series is just going to be pushing along slowly without a graspable conclusion of why any of it’s happening, then that will surely piss a lot of people off. And if I gather anything from the direct opening of this week’s episode, Fargo isn’t out to be anywhere near so difficult for its audience.

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.