What do Fargo’s Episode Titles Mean?

the muddy road

In Season One, most of the episodes are named after a riddle or a paradox. Creator Noah Hawley has a particular fondness for Buddhist koans, which are paradoxical anecdotes or riddles without solutions. They are used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and provoke enlightenment.

Although it’s too early to tell for sure, Season Two seems to have a different bent.

Without further ado, here are a list of meanings behind Fargo episodes.

Fargo: Season 1 is now available on Amazon. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you definitely should!

Episode List


Season One
Episode 1: The Crocodile’s Dilemma
Episode 2: The Rooster Prince
Episode 3: A Muddy Road
Episode 4: Eating the Blame
Episode 5: The Six Ungraspables
Episode 6: Buridan’s Ass
Episode 7: Who Shaves the Barber
Episode 8: The Heap
Episode 9: A Fox, A Rabbit, and A Cabbage
Episode 10: Morton’s Fork

Season Two
Episode 1: Waiting for Dutch

Episode 1: The Crocodile’s Dilemma

The premise states that a crocodile, who has stolen a child, promises the father that his son will be returned if and only if he can correctly predict whether or not the crocodile will return the child. Ancient Greek sources were the first to discuss the crocodile dilemma. This is similar to the liar paradox and is used to demonstrate that the following assumptions about knowledge are inconsistent when tested in combination

From Wikipedia.

Interpretation: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Lorne Malvo puts Lester Nygaard in an untenable position.

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Episode 2: The Rooster Prince

 


The Rooster Prince is a Jewish parable and is the only title thus far that is not a riddle. It basically is a tale of lost faith and redemption.

A prince goes insane and believes that he is a rooster (or turkey.) He takes off his clothes, sits naked under the table, and pecks at his food on the floor. The king and queen are horrified that the heir to the throne is acting this way. They call in various sages and healers to try and convince the prince to act human again, but to no avail. Then a new wise man comes to the palace and claims he can cure the prince. He takes off his clothes and sits naked under the table with him, claiming to be a rooster, too. Gradually the prince comes to accept him as a friend. The sage then tells the prince that a rooster can wear clothes, eat at the table, etc. The Rooster Prince accepts this idea and, step-by-step, begins to act normally, until he is completely cured[…]

The main interpretation of this story is that the prince represents a simple Jew who has forgotten his true self, and the sage represents a Hasidic Rebbe who has the cure for his soul. Rather than condemn the simple Jew for being non-religious, the Rebbe “descends” to his level to meet him where he is at, then shows him how to return to God step by step, and in a manner that he can accept upon himself.

From Wikipedia

Interpretation: It’s hard to separate the mad men from the sages. Milo Stavros definitely has the swagger of a rooster and a prince, and but I doubt Lorne Malvo is a sage.

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Episode 3: The Muddy Road

 


This is one of the most famous stories of Tanzan. Hara Tanzan (原坦山) was a 19th century Soto Buddhist monk, head monk at the Saijoji temple in Odawara and a professor of Philosophy at the University of Tokyo.

Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was falling. As they came around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross at an intersection.
“Come on, girl,” said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.
Ekido did not speak until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he could no longer restrain himself. “We monks don’t go near females,” he told Tanzan, “especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?”
“I left the girl there,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?”

From Zen Insights and Wikipedia.

Interpretation: Mr Numbers and Mr Wrench are fixating on Gina Hess.

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Episode 4: Eating the Blame

 


Fugai Ekun was a famous 17th century Buddhist monk and painter.

Circumstances arose one day which delayed preparation of the dinner of a Soto Zen master, Fugai, and his followers. In haste the cook went to the garden with his curved knife and cut off the tops of green vegetables, chopped them together, and made soup, unaware that in his haste he had included a part of a snake in the vegetables.

The followers of Fugai thought they had never tasted such great soup. But when the master himself found the snake’s head in his bowl, he summoned the cook. “What is this?” he demanded, holding up the head of the snake.

“Oh, thank you, master,” replied the cook, taking the morsel and eating it quickly.

From Zen Koans and Zen Paintings.

Interpretation: Gus Grimly nearly solves the case, but in his haste and lack of procedure, Lorne Malvo slips away.

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Episode Five: The Six Ungraspables

 


Yunmén Wényǎn also known in English as “Unmon”, “Ummon Daishi”, “Ummon Zenji”), was a major Chinese Zen master in Tang-era China.

A monk once asked Ummon, “What is the Dharma Kaya?” Ummon answered him with “The Six Ungraspables.” (The Graspables are the five senses and the mind.)

From Wikipedia.

Interpretation: As Sherlock says, you see but you do not observe.

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sherlock-benedict-martin

Episode 6: Buridan’s Ass

 

Buridan’s ass is an illustration of a paradox in philosophy in the conception of free will.

It refers to a hypothetical situation wherein an ass that is equally hungry and thirsty is placed precisely midway between a stack of hay and a pail of water. Since the paradox assumes the ass will always go to whichever is closer, it will die of both hunger and thirst since it cannot make any rational decision to choose one over the other

From Wikipedia.

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Episode 7: Who Shaves the Barber?

 


The Barber Paradox x is a puzzle derived from English philosopher Bertrand Russell. It shows that an apparently plausible scenario is logically impossible.

Suppose there is a town with just one male barber; and that every man in the town keeps himself clean-shaven: some by shaving themselves, some by attending the barber. It seems reasonable to imagine that the barber obeys the following rule: He shaves all and only those men in town who do not shave themselves.

Under this scenario, we can ask the following question: Does the barber shave himself?

Asking this, however, we discover that the situation presented is in fact impossible:

  • If the barber does not shave himself, he must abide by the rule and shave himself.
  • If he does shave himself, according to the rule he will not shave himself.
  • He doesn’t shave himself at all.

From Wikipedia and Princeton website.

Interpretation: Did you know that barbers once did surgery, because it was considered beneath doctors?

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Episode 8: the Heap

 


The heap refers to the Sorites paradox. According to Wikipedia, “it is sometimes translated as the paradox of the heap because in Ancient Greek: σωρίτης sōritēs means “heap”) is a paradox that arises from vague predicates.”

I think Logical Paradoxes puts it in a far clearer way than Wikipedia though.

Taking away a single grain of sand cannot turn a heap into a non-heap. We had a heap of sand at that beginning of the process. All we did was take away single grains of sand. Therefore what we have at the end of this process can only be a heap.

What we have at end of the process, though, is a single grain of sand, and, as we said at the beginning, a single grain of sand is obviously not a heap. The single grain, then, both is and is not a heap.

From Wikipedia and Logical Paradoxes.
Interpretation: Agent Budge actually goes through a variation of the Sorites paradox which concerns a filing room.

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Episode 9: A Fox, A Rabbit, and A Cabbage

 


The fox, rabbit, and cabbage is just one variation of a river crossing puzzle. It is also known as the fox, goose, and bag of beans or the wolf, goat, and cabbage. Variations of this have existed for hundreds of years and the earliest written example is from the 9th century from a medieval manuscript titled Propositiones ad Acuendos Juvenes (English: Problems to sharpen the young).

Here’s my favorite variations:

The jealous husbands problem, in which three married couples must cross a river using a boat which can hold at most two people, subject to the constraint that no woman can be in the presence of another man unless her husband is also present. This is similar to the missionaries and cannibals problem, in which three missionaries and three cannibals must cross the river, with the constraint that at any time when both missionaries and cannibals are standing on either bank, the cannibals on that bank may not outnumber the missionaries.

Agent Budge posits this riddle to Agent Pepper, who flippantly suggests creating a turducken (foxrabbage?). The solution involves carrying first object (vegetable/ grain) back after depositing the second object (herbivore).

Interpretation: It seems that the writers are in a wild juggling act to make sure specific characters do not meet. Also, I think Linda is the cabbage.

From the Fox, goose and bag of beans puzzle and River crossing puzzle.

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Episode 10: Morton’s Fork

John Morton, (born c. 1420, Bere Regis or Milborne St. Andrew, Dorset, Eng.—died Oct. 12, 1500, Knole, Kent), archbishop of Canterbury and cardinal, one of the most powerful men in England in the reign of King Henry VII. He came up with the brilliant idea that a thrifty man could pay his taxes, because he had savings and a man who spends extravagantly could also pay his taxes, because he was obviously rich.

But it has come to mean a dilemma where both choices are undesirable. Or a specious piece of reasoning in which contradictory arguments lead to the same (unpleasant) conclusion.

From Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Episode connection: This is most concretely referenced in Molly’s story of the lost glove. When Lester continues to feign ignorance and obstruct the investigation of Lorne Malvo, Molly tells him the story of a man who loses one glove on a train platform. Rather than keeping the remaining glove, he discards it out the train window so there is a chance that a stranger will find both gloves.

Molly is insinuating that Lester knows something, but only through working together will they be able to catch Malvo, even though Lester’s confession will lead to consequences (e.g jail time).

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Watch it now:

Want to watch it again? The entire season is now available on Amazon Instant Play.

Episode 1: Waiting for Dutch

Dutch was a nickname for Ronald Reagan. His father gave him the nickname soon after he was born, because he looked like “a fat little Dutchman.” Reagan has also said that his father gave him the nickname because of the popular “Dutch boy” haircut, that his mother gave him when he was a toddler.

It may also be a reference to the Coen Brother’s film Raising Arizona. Nicholas Cage’s character, H.I. McDunnough, says, “Better hurry it up, I’m in dutch with the wife.” Dutch is used as slang for trouble here.

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1 Comment on What do Fargo’s Episode Titles Mean?

  1. Lena
    September 19, 2015 at 5:15 am (2 years ago)

    Natalie, thank you so much for the info!

    Reply

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