The story of Sisyphus is a story of futility. In Greek myth, Sisyphus was a human king known for his cleverness and greed; in life, he cheated and schemed and pissed off the gods, even managing to trap Death itself. For all his accomplishments, he was rewarded in the afterlife with a punishment that seems to summarize the width and breadth of human ambition. There’s a hill, and a boulder, and every day, the former king has to push the boulder up the hill. Every night, the boulder rolls back down.
It’s a potent metaphor for pointlessness, and “The Myth Of Sisyphus” finds several of Fargo’s leads putting all their energy into tasks that don’t deserve the effort. The hunt for Rye Gerhardt continues, even as Peggy and Ed work to erase every last trace of their involvement in his death. Poor, stupid Skip wanders in and out of relevance, only to run afoul of Dodd’s daughter Simone, his second in command Ohanzee, and ultimately, Dodd himself. Floyd manages to hold onto the support of the family’s lieutenants, but might be losing the war with her oldest son. And Lou noses around the edges of everything, getting some firsthand experience with the various heavy-hitters around town without making much headway on the case.
That’s the rub, of course. Rye’s disappearance links everyone together, and the fact that none of the major players have any idea about what really happened looms over every choice they make. Betsy comes closest to figuring out the truth at the hair salon (seems pretty obvious where Molly got her brains: Lou is smart, but Betsy is like a crime-solving savant), but while her husband and father both clearly respect her opinions, it’s doubtful her insight is going to be enough to hold off the bloodshed that’s sure to come. There’s something thrilling about not knowing exactly how things will play out, but knowing almost without question that when events reach a crisis point, there will be blood. Purely from a story construction standpoint, Noah Hawley isn’t re-inventing the wheel here, but he’s attached four of ’em to a very reliable vehicle. Now we’re just waiting to see where the drive takes us.
So: We’ve got the setup, but it’s too early for the pay-off, and that means more slow, patient build-up. There’s nothing here to match the gruesome inevitability of Ed’s corpse-disposal methods last week; Skip’s burial in paving gravel was unpleasant, but given the lack of investment in his character and the relatively clean manner of his death, the sequence didn’t have the same punch. (Nice shot of his tie poking up, though.) That’s not a bad thing, of course, but it’s worth noting that the moment earlier when Dodd viciously abused his daughter was more unsettling than anything that went down with the Typewriter Man.
What we got instead of big moments was a lot of interesting smaller ones, working to enrich our relationships with these people, which will, in turn, make us a whole lot more interested in their fates than we were in poor Skip’s. Lou’s time looking into the judge’s murder may not have revealed much plot, but it did give him (and us) a clearer sense of just how much hold the Gerhardts have on their community. Lou’s guide for the day, the nebbishy Ben Schmidt, is entirely in the family’s pocket, saying in no uncertain terms that Otto, Floyd, and the rest are the real power around town. This climaxes in the scene at the Gerhardt’s farm—a conversation which turned quickly into a confrontation, and then came real close to having a body count.
It’s good to have a scene like this, especially at this point in the season’s run, because it helps to clarify where people stand in relation to one another as the story moves forward. We knew the Gerhardts were dangerous, but this is the first time we’ve seen them come up against actual law enforcement, and their absolute unwillingness to back down both makes them more dangerous, and also enforces the idea that they won’t be pushovers if war breaks out with Kansas City. That doesn’t mean they should face off against the KC mob (beware its dreaded sunshine band!), but it establishes stakes going ahead for the confrontation. This won’t be a bloodless coup.
The scene also shows us how Lou works in the field, which is more than likely how you’d expect. He doesn’t back down easily, he’s not prone to giving in like Ben, but he also isn’t foolhardy. There’s a sense at the Gerhardts’ that part of the reason he stands his ground is that he’s aware of the authority his badge represents—he isn’t just Lou Solverson, he’s State Trooper Lou Solverson, and that means the responsibility of not letting people think they can just walk over the police. Still, he’s not an idiot, and when he gets the drop (briefly) on Mike Milligan and the Kitchen brothers, he doesn’t force a fight that he probably couldn’t win.
You can say, then, that there are several different factions at play here, all of them circling around each other and planning their best move. There’s the Gerhardts, the Kansas City folks, and the Solversons and Hank Larsson, standing in for the forces of Order and Basic Decency against the chaos and violence of the rest of the world. Then there’s the wild card: Peggy and Ed.
A wild card is important in a story like this one, because when you get a group of professionals working against a different group of professionals—well, it can be thrilling, but there’s a certain level of predictability to the whole affair. With Peggy and Ed running around, doing their thing, they’ve thrown everything for a loop, because their behavior isn’t predictable, even when they’re trying to do something as comparatively straightforward as faking a car accident to cover up a different car accident.
I wasn’t hugely impressed when I watched the season premiere, because so much of it seemed to be aping ideas I’d seen in other shows and movies. But as the season has progressed, the archetypes have become richer, and that’s especially clear when it comes to the Blomquists. Peggy hitting Rye with the car felt like a bad luck moment (still does), and, while it wasn’t immediately clear why she couldn’t bring the police in, there was at least enough ambiguity to make the whole storyline play like another version of “Decent people getting in over their heads.”
While I’m sure that’s still more or less true, Peggy and Ed have become, if anything, even more opaque than they were at the start, but in a way that makes their scenes far more interesting. Ed’s stunned slowness at nearly everything that happens, combined with his willingness to do just about anything for his, is that perfect mix of not-too-bright, but super-determined that could lead to just about anything. Midway through the episode, when Betsy lays out her theory of what might have happened to Rye, I realized that Peggy’s boss could theoretically connect that story with what she saw of Peggy’s car—and then I wondered if Ed would have to kill her. At this point, I’m not sure if Ed would do it, and that could make for some mighty tense scenes ahead.
Hell, Peggy could be just as capable. If anything, Peggy is even more of a mystery than her husband. We get a brief glimpse of her past in her story about a drunken family member who used to re-crash his car to cover for his drunk driving indiscretions, and there’s something profoundly low-rent about it. The anecdote is more overtly comical than anything else, but there’s a wry sadness to the way she says it, and the more we get to know her, the more she seems like someone with a very deep need to present a certain kind of life. Hopefully we’ll find out more in the future.
There’s more going on here—like how about that cold open, with Ohanzee out in the woods, remembering seeing a magician pull a rabbit out of his hat. Not sure what to make of that (the fact that the young Ohanzee doesn’t applaud the magician, while the older version kills the rabbit and guts it later in the episode certainly suggests something), and as with the first season of the show, there’s a sense sometimes of Hawley just throwing a bunch of ideas at the screen and seeing what might stick. Some of them will probably pay off, some of them won’t, but at least things are lively in the interval. In a way, the title of the episode almost feels like a meta joke: With TV, sometimes you just have to spend an hour pushing the boulder, and hope it might hit someone when it rolls back down.
- In case you missed the change in byline, I’ll be taking over Fargo reviews from here on; the esteemed Mr. Teti is busy running, well, pretty much everything else. I beg your indulgence and patience in the weeks ahead, as I’m not sure I have John’s precision, but I’ll do what I can.
- Mike Milligan’s “peace with honor” comment was a reference to one of Nixon’s biggest Vietnam War talking points. It was the president’s way of justifying continued involvement in the conflict, as an immediate withdrawal of American troops would be losing face. As justifications go, it was more a public relations move than a defensible philosophy, but it helped get the bastard re-elected, anyway.
- Mike also nails the Midwestern Nice style: “But it’s the way you’re unfriendly. You’re so polite about it. Like you’re doing me a favor.”
- “Strange happenings, huh? I wondered what was causing that.” Lou runs into a local at the gas pump (energy crisis!) who’s apparently very eager to talk about the recent UFO sitings. This plot is unquestionably the riskiest of anything the season is trying to do so far, and I’m half nervous how it will play out, and half impressed by the ballsiness of it all. Also, I guess this means Hawley has seen The Man Who Wasn’t There.
- “You been a real paladin.” “Uh, what’s that?” “It’s like a knight. My knight.” So I’m thinking Peggy and Ed must’ve hooked up in high school, although the fact that they don’t have a kid together means it’s more complicated than just “prom queen and the football king.” (I’m not saying Peggy was the prom queen or Ed was into football, just that I’m familiar with that kind of unhappy marriage.) There’s strain between them, and sadness, but nothing’s been exactly pinned down, and the more we see of the two of them together, the more I want to know how they met.
- “I wanna be the best me I can be, ya know.”—Peggy