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Fargo, 1.05, “The Six Ungraspables” continues its philosophic inquiry into Bemidji

Fargo, 1.05, “The Six Ungraspables” continues its philosophic inquiry into Bemidji

fargo 1.5

Fargo Season 1, Episode 5 “The Six Ungraspables”
Written by Noah Hawley
Directed by Colin Bucksey
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on FX


Like many of the episodes preceding it, “The Six Ungraspables” is titled after a Buddhist koan, this one written by the great Zen master Yunmen Wenyan. At their heart, koans are a series of questions that test a Buddhist’s students progress, philosophic puzzles that allow us to work towards the ultimate goals of Buddhism: enlightenment and nirvana. In this week’s episode of Fargo, those tests are placed right in front of Molly and Gus: and in two important moments for the show, represent to us just why these two people are the ‘heroes’ of this particular world.

On a more surface level, “The Six Ungraspables” represents a major push forward with the season’s story: Molly is breathing down Lester’s neck, and Gus is getting more and more comfortable with the idea of taking down this Lorne Malvo guy (whose gone so far as to create webpages with pictures of him as Pastor Frank Peterson… nobody ever said beating the devil was easy) causing havoc with Stavros, and attracting the attention of Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench after paying a visit to Lester in his holding cell. And with all these moving parts around Lester, he goes from prison cell to guarded hospital bed in the course of an hour; a further representation that things have spiraled out of hand, and Lester’s become an unwilling (or willing, if you consider what he did to his wife) pawn in a much larger game of cat and mouse.

But the most fascinating scenes of the episode come in the most quiet: Molly’s visit to see Ida (and Lester) in the hospital holding less literary signifance than Gus’s conversation with his neighbor, but still an important scene that gives a lot of context to her character. For the most part, Molly is a loner without her old boss there, and that connection to him is felt both in and outside Ida’s room, where she pushes away the loud, dumb male cops so her, Ida, and baby Bernadette can share a few quiet moments and reflect on the missing presence in the room. In case we forgot, Molly idolized her boss (much as she must have idolized her father, occupying the same job he did for decades), an influence that screams in the silent moments between Molly and Ida, as she smells Bernadette and promises that she’s doing what she can to catch his killer.

She might be pushy and a bit self-important, but “The Six Ungraspables” firmly establishes Molly as both a good character and a great cop in the events of the hour, which lead her to break into Lester’s house, but hold back on questioning as he recovers from a septic episode in the local ER. It’s her “test” of sorts, to see if she’ll take the opportunity to coerce a mentally compromised man to bring herself peace. She tries half-heartedly in the ambulance, but her ability to walk away from Lester’s door and leave the hospital represents a moment of growth for the show’s best character: she’s tried using her five senses to beat Lester, but that hasn’t worked (she even looks inside the washer machine for clues, to no avail) – and now it’s time for her to use her mind, the sixth “ungraspable” Yun-man attributed to the Dharma Kaya (the place from which all Buddhas are born, and return to after death – the word translates as “truth body”) – in other words, Molly’s quest for truth will also lead her to enlightment.

The best manifestation of this koan, though, comes with Colin Hanks, who delivers a fine performance as Gus wrestling with an existential dilemma: how does one end the suffering at the hands of the Devil? Even if he takes down Lorne and lives, another will surely rise in his place – the frustration that continuously mounts on Gus through the hour is a test of Gus’s soul, whether he’s worthy of the task of defeating the devil. Is Gus a “good” person, or just a self-serving one who backs away from the darker forces of the world – if he’s a man who is paid to protect and serve, but only serves, how much is he lying to himself?

It all comes to head when Gus’ neighbor pays him a late night visit. Over a glass of milk, he tells him the story of the rich man who felt the world’s suffering like a weight on his shoulders: eventually, the man kills himself to donate his organs and give everything he can to stop the mental anguish. It’s an interesting paradox: he clearly didn’t end the world’s suffering, but he certainly ended his own, didn’t he? In the face of death is where we find great truth: and as Gus begins to hunt Death around northern United States, Gus proves that his progress towards nirvana is on the right path: when his neighbors tells him that it’s a fool’s task to try and end the world’s suffering, Gus asks him “but don’t we have to try?”. Turns out Gus is ‘real po-lice’ after all; it only took the darkest evil Bemidji or Duluth’s ever seen to bring it to light.

There are other story elements peppered in “The Six Ungraspables” – Stavros breaking down and agreeing to pay the ransom, ignoring his son as he tries to tell him he knows who bought all the crickets from the “plague” – but the overwhelming majority of the episode is focused on Molly and Gus, two non-detectives using their minds (their sixth ungraspable, if you will) to pick apart the complicated web of death and deception casting a longer shadow each day in their hometowns. And again, it’s another astonishingly effective hour of television, embedded with bits of dark humor, and a relentless sense of small town personality (like the awkward exchange between Molly and the ER doctor… “She named it Bernadette… so…. it’s a girl”) – in other words, Fargo‘s quickly become one of the most engrossing, philosophically engaging shows on television – and we’re only halfway through the season.


— Randy