“This is a true story.”
It’s only fair to frame one “true story” by referencing another, and that’s what “Fargo” has done with “The Myth of Sisyphus.” The title of the third episode calls to mind an essay by Albert Camus of the same name, first published in 1942 and introducing the philosophy of the absurd. Camus — using an example from Greek mythology of Sisyphus rolling a boulder up a hill, letting it fall down and then repeating the process — makes the argument that the only way to embrace and understand life is by treating it as an absurd adventure; to regard the search for meaning as a futile task and instead choose to embrace the difficulties of everyday life. “The struggle itself […] is enough to fill a man’s heart,” Camus concludes about the eternal damnation of the King of Ephyra. “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Applying the above to “Fargo,” it begs the question: Who is Sisyphus? The most obvious answer is Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson), who is fighting back against a cruel and unjust world and somehow finding a way to smile about it. He’s losing his wife to cancer. He’s barely supported on the job (at least this week). He’s repeatedly faced with horrors no man should have to see, let alone see twice (as if anyone could forget Lou is a Navy vet after all those war stories). The world is an absurd and unruly place for this lawman, yet he keeps pushing the boulder up the hill — with or without backup.
And while maybe that title is a little spot-on, it was the forced exposition and overtly obvious figurative explanations — namely most everything with Skip Spring (Mike Bradecich) and the opening discussion on market forces — that made Episode 3 feel a bit more sluggish than the last two. Part of that can be explained by who was behind the script, as this week marked the first for which creator and executive producer Noah Hawley wasn’t the solely credited writer. Bob DeLaurentis’ efforts just didn’t have the subtlety of past weeks’ (and last season), even though it was far from a major drop in quality. Still, it says something when the story behind the title brings up more questions than the plot covered in this past hour.
The Lorne Malvo Award for MVC (Most Valuable Character)
“Valuable” is a little bit of a misnomer when it comes to including Skip Spring here, as his value isn’t necessarily to the audience. The writer — or at least the credited writer of this week’s episode, Bob Delaurentis — needed Skip for two reasons: First, they needed someone to die. It’s been a while since Rye met his mark, and “Fargo” isn’t the kind of show that typically goes hours (plural) without a death. More importantly, though, he was valuable in providing exposition to the right parties. When confronted outside the courthouse, he handed the cops key information: He needed money, and that he wasn’t shy about making it known. Frankly, that right there should have been enough for Lou to take this guy in for questioning, not just ask about it. The script tried to play it off like Skip was skittish, and that was the main reason he’s worth investigating. But placing himself at the deceased judge’s door and divulging a heaping ton of information about his typewriter store was a much more obvious reason to suspect he’s tied up in all these murders.
The Allison Tolman Award for MVA (Most Valuable Actor)
After two weeks of the thoughtful, laid-back Lou Solverson, Episode 3 showed us the quiet cop’s outspoken side. Apparently, he’s no Hank; older, wiser and thus a bit more scared of volatile outside elements. Between the “your mama” joke he cracked to Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) and, “Am I the only one here who’s clear on the concept of law enforcement?”, Lou was in full-on ass-kicking mode throughout “The Myth of Sysiphus.” It makes sense, too. With a dangerous and frustrating case building tension and a wife dying at home, Lou needs an outlet for his anger. Yet it takes a great deal of skill for an actor to switch gears like that while maintaining consistency within the character. Wilson stealthily navigated the transition, adding sufficient confidence to courageous words, making them spark with life. Even if that spark sets off a powder keg for Lou, that just shows how in tune Wilson is with his role.
(This section highlights the unexpected trouble “Fargo” regularly showcases, usually to tragic or comedic ends.)
Poor Peggy. Oh, wait. It’s more like propitious Peggy. Sure, she had herself quite a fright when Betsey “True Detective” Solverson (Cristin Milioti) guessed exactly what had happened to Rye Gerhardt (Kieran Culkin), based solely on a shoe hanging from a tree outside the Waffle Hut. But think of what would have happened had Peggy not been there: Maybe Hank (Ted Danson) trusts his daughter’s theory a bit more. Maybe he goes looking for people who were in a car accident. Maybe the salon owner tells him about her co-worker’s banged-up car. It’s a thing Peggy was working so she could shoot down these discussions and convince her depressed husband to do one more naughty deed for her.
But backtracking a bit, Betsey put it together pretty quickly, right? I mean, just from brainstorming about glass in the road and a missing murderer, she made more progress getting her hair done than her husband and father have during their official investigation. Clearly, this dynamic is meant to be quirky and cute, but it’s also a bit convenient. The conversation was meant to ratchet up tension in the moment, building upon so many involved parties meeting in the same room while one of them desperately tries to steer the conversation while keeping her cool. Instead, it felt like a forced encounter brought on to…what, exactly? Will the insurance claim draw more eyes to the couple? Is “the whiplash” more severe than Ed thinks? Is Peggy getting in over her head with all this deception? I’m sure we’ll find out, but let’s hope it’s with a little more grace.
(This section highlights the unexpected glee “Fargo” regularly showcases, teased by tragedy or humorous beginnings.)
If we hadn’t already covered the laugh-out-loud brilliance of Lou’s assertive dialogue this week, that would certainly be here. Instead, I’ll credit Brad Garrett and Bokeem Woodbine for their pleasant shampoo conversation over breakfast. Really, it’s Woodbine who deserves the most props. In just a few episodes, he’s proven capable of exchanging arresting banter between his character — Mike Milligan — and just about anyone, often in just a few short words. (For example: “Agree.” “Agree to what?”)
(This section highlights the obscure local customs brought to focus by this Northern-set series.)
Do Native Americans hate magic? Do North Dakotans? I get the foreshadowing in the opening when Ohanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon) pets a bunny, coaxes it into submission and then kills it — similar to how he less gracefully offed Skip at episode’s end — but I’m lost as to how his flashback to seeing a magic show as a kid relates to what ended up happening with his character. At first, I was excited by the indication this silent assassin would get some much-needed character development, but that kind of petered out as the story fell back into familiar rhythms, and Ohanzee went about business as usual. Perhaps it plays a bigger part later on, or it could merely just mean assassins hate rabbits.
Quote of the Night
Like you’re doing me a favor.” – Mike Milligan
What a line. I mean, what a line to come out of “Fargo.” It just so eerily defines the tone and character of the series, all while fitting within the context of the discussion between Mike Milligan and Lou. Mike Milligan is clearly not too pleased with the way he was treated by Hank last week, otherwise he wouldn’t have oh so carefully pointed out their run-in to Lou, but the beauty of the last line is how all-encompassing it becomes for all the locals in “Fargo.” From Peggy to Hank to the judge to Floyd, they’ll tell you they’ll show you the door with a smile, even if their demeanor leans more toward throwing you through it.