FX’s Fargo is a ten-episode, limited series (and no, it’s not actually based on a true story). Of the ten episodes, the titles for the first six have already been announced, and they are instructive, although to what end, I’m not sure.
The titles each episode of Fargo refer to parables, koans, or paradoxes, and they should offer some interesting insights into the episode, and possibly — with the context of the series — add up to something even more interesting.
1. The Crocodile Paradox — The crocodile paradox is a paradox in logic in the same family of paradoxes as the liar paradox. 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.
2. The Rooster Prince — The Rooster Prince is a Jewish mashal or parable told by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, founder of the Breslov form of Hasidic Judaism.
In this story, 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.
3. A Muddy Road — “A Muddy Road” is a zen parable that urges you to see the situation as it truly is instead of letting your religious or personal views blind you.
Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling. Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection. “Come on, girl,” said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.
Ekido did not speak again until that night, when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could 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?”
4. Eating the Blame — It refers to another zen parable.
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.
5. The Six Ungraspables — This refers to a Zen koan (a story, dialogue, question, or statement, which is used in Zen-practice to provoke the “great doubt”).
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.)
6. Buridan’s Ass — Buridan’s ass is an illustration of a paradox. 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.