By Jeff Michael Vice

FARGO – Live-action comedy-drama developed by Noah Hawley, based on characters created by Joel and Ethan Coen; rated TV-MA; airs Tuesdays on FX; 60 minutes (approximately). Episode 1.5: “The Six Ungraspables” (original airdate, May 13, 2014). Directed by Colin Bucksey; written by Noah Hawley (8 out of 10)

The story so far: Nomadic, hired killer Lorne Malvo winds up in the frozen Northeast after crashing his vehicle into a deer. He’s left a trail of dead bodies in his wake, and not just that of the poor animal in question. Meanwhile, born loser Lester Nygaard suffers abuse – from not only his verbally demonstrative wife, Pearl, but also his childhood bully, local businessman Sam Hess. And Bemidji (Minn.) Police officer Molly Solverson suddenly finds herself thrust into the role of murder investigator, thanks to Malvo’s recent actions.

In this episode: Lester finds himself behind bars, alongside Mr. Numbers and his silent partner, Mr. Wrench, who continue to badger him about his role in the death of Sam Hess. Molly puts together evidence from her investigation into Hess’s killing and that of Bemidji’s late police chief, finally manages to link Lester and Malvo to the crimes. And Malvo continues to “plague” his unwitting boss, local supermarket king/motivational speaker Stavros Milos.

If you weren’t already convinced that “Fargo” might be the best new series of the 2013-14 season, the show continues its run of sustained excellence with a fifth episode that’s full of mordant, dark comedy, character drama and even a few thrills. While it’s a slower hour, at least in comparison to the rest of the series so far, it’s still fairly plot-driven and it features strong performances from its cast, one of the best currently seen on the small screen.

In the predominant story line, Lester is tortured while he’s incarcerated with the two enforcers, and gives up his partner in crime, Malvo, in the process. And the wound on his hand, which he sustained during the murder of his wife, Pearl, and Bemidji’s beloved police chief, continues to fester, requiring hospitalization. While he’s hallucinating, he also gives up Malvo to Molly, who still doesn’t suspect it was actually the milquetoast insurance agent who bludgeoned his abusive wife to death.

Duluth Police officer Gus Grimly is bothered by his inability to pin the crimes on Malvo, whom he originally let get away during a traffic stop. Worse, during later questioning, Malvo managed to convince Grimly’s boss and fellow officers that he is actually Frank Peterson, a mild-mannered pastor from up north, and put the heat on the well-meaning Grimly, a part-time animal control officer.

Meanwhile, Malvo finds a unique method to ensure the continued cooperation of his partner in crime, dopey personal trainer Don Chumph, and appears to be pushing the haunted Milos towards a complete mental breakdown. (Again we see the telltale leather suitcase, a clever tie-in to the Coen brothers’ Oscar-winning 1996 film that served as the show’s inspiration.)

Both Thornton (alternately sarcastic and menacing as Malvo) and Freeman (both repugnant and sympathetic) are the standouts, performance wise, though relative newcomer Allison Tolman is able to hold her own with them, and the supporting guest and guest stars all get their moments to shine.

The episode was helped by directed by small-screen veteran Colin Bucksey (“Breaking Bad,” “Burn Notice”). Executive producer/show runner Noah Hawley provided the script once again, which explains why there are several, memorable quips and line exchanges. The better ones of these include:

“Well, who’s for me to say what’s fair? It’s three pair of socks, half of ‘em women’s. Certainly not a million dollars.” (Unnamed store clerk)

“Well, if anyone could shoot themselves in the face with a shotgun, unloaded, it’s you.” (Pearl Nygaard)

“If you puke in here, I’ll kill you. Actually kill you.” (Mr. Numbers)

“Do I look like I want a pink police scanner?” (Lorne Malvo)

“And in your experience, are police scanners something ladies get wet for?” (Malvo)

“How big is that, a million dollars? Does it fit in a bag? Can I lay in it?” (Don Chumph)

“Only a fool tries to save the world’s problems.” “Yeah, but you gotta try, don’t you?” (Neighbor, then Gus Grimly)

“It’s why I never bought into ‘The Jungle Book.’ A boy raised by wolves becomes friends with a bear and panther? I don’t think so.” (Malvo)

“There are no saints in the animal kingdom, only breakfast and dinner.” (Malvo)

“Well, that’s a baby all right.” (Molly Solverson)

Overall rating: 8 out of 10

CAST:

The regular characters: Billy Bob Thornton (Lorne Malvo), Allison Tolman (Molly Solverson), Martin Freeman (Lester Nygaard), Colin Hanks (Gus Grimly), Bob Odenkirk (Bill Oswalt) and Keith Carradine (Lou Solverson)

Guest stars: Julie Anne Emery (Ida Thurman), Adam Goldberg (Mr. Numbers), Joey King (Greta Grimly), Russell Harvard (Mr. Wrench), Glenn Howerton (Don Chumph) and Oliver Platt (Stavros Milos).

You can read Jeff Michael Vice, aka Jerk-bot, at Cinephiled (www.cinephiled.com),where he writes movie reviews and film-related articles. He can be seen reviewing films as part of Xfinity’s Big Movie Mouth-Off (www.facebook.com/BigMovieMouthOff), and be heard reviewing films, television programs, comics, books, music and other things as part of The Geek Show Podcast (www.thegeekshowpodcast.com).

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Tags: television reviews , FX Networks , Coen brothers , Fargo , Billy Bob Thornton