Fargo: 203 “The Myth of Sisyphus” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Part of the joy of Fargo season one was the way it slowly built up momentum before an enormous explosion that acted as a brutal, visceral payoff. This happened most notably around mid-season during the blizzard shootout, where five episodes of careful build-up reached a terrifically satisfying apex. However, as this week’s episode proved, the build-up to that explosion can often be excellent in its own right.
The Myth of Sisyphus is best described as a tension-builder, laying the groundwork and drawing battle lines for the inevitable bloodbath to come. In particular, Lou found himself drawn further and further into the twisted world of true crime with no less than two stand-offs in one day. Patrick Wilson, who delivers a terrifically steely performance as Lou here, heightens both stand-offs but they’re also great because they serve to place Lou in the firing line of some very dangerous people. Lou’s meetings with the Gerhardt family and then Mike Milligan and the Kitchen Brothers (what a great prog-rock band that’d be) work not only because they’re tense, compelling scenes that place a central character in far more danger than you’d expect this early on, but also because it’s easy to see the seeds of future conflicts being sown here.
When Lou squares up to resident Gerhardt douchebag Dodd and antagonises him, for instance it’s hard not to see this newly-founded rivalry coming back to bite Lou in the near future – but the scenes, thankfully, work both as an intriguing set-up for things to come, and as tense, sharply scripted and strongly acted set-pieces in their own right. The Myth of Sisyphus gets a lot of mileage out of placing Lou in the firing line of people far more dangerous than he could quite comprehend (there’s a neat contrast between the idealistic Lou and the younger version of season one character Ben Schmidt, who endeavours to do good but pals around with the Gerhardts to save his own skin), and it’s heartening to see Lou made fully aware of what he’s up against early on, meaning that Fargo won’t have to waste time in later episodes catching Lou up on things the audience already knows. Lou also continues to improve considerably as a character, with Fargo steering away from turning Lou into little more than an archetype of the rugged, justice-seeking all-American cop. There’s plenty of that within Lou, but it’s the scenes where Lou comes home for dinner with his family that act as a neat reminder that Fargo’s not the kind of show that does brooding, lone wolf heroes who are tortured by their past sins.
There’s not an awful lot of advancement for Ed and Peggy in The Myth of Sisyphus, but what we do get continues to be great. Their constant game of whack-a-mole with pieces of evidence continues to be amusing in a pitch-black way – Fargo is taking good advantage of the fact that Ed and Peggy are completely awful at being criminals, with their plan to cover up the murder seemingly being made up as they go along. Even when they do come up with a plan, it ends up with Ed injuring himself less than gracefully. What’s absolutely clear after this episode is that Ed and Peggy are hanging on by the skin of their teeth, and even random theories from civilians are sending them into a tailspin – what happens when someone discovers a link between them and Rye? Like a lot of other things this episode, their plot is mostly building tension for their inevitable tangle with either Kansas City or the Gerhardts, but it’s hugely enjoyable in its own right due to the streak of black comedy that runs through their increasingly futile attempts to cover it all up.
Where The Myth of Sisyphus really elevates itself above most of Fargo’s numerous other table-setters is the return of the sustained layer of black comedy throughout the episode that made season one more than just a typically gritty crime drama. There’s a knowing feeling that everything that’s going on is all a little absurd – with crime groups pouring in resources to track down Rye and cops putting up wanted posters all over town, it’s pretty funny that the actual answer, that would save everyone a great deal of time, is so utterly simple; everyone is searching for a dead man. To have Betsy, Lou’s unassuming yet sharply intelligent wife, idly voice the answer that no-one else has thought of while in a hair salon only to be laughed off encapsulates what makes The Myth of Sisyphus work despite the slow progression of the plot (and it is slow, which is part and parcel of Fargo, but it’s perhaps a little too slow here, which is pretty much the only flaw here) – the slow pace is very much the point, reflecting the fact that almost everyone is orbiting around the truth yet never actually getting to the core of it all.
And speaking of black comedy, you really can’t get much blacker than the final scene. The typewriter guy’s plot appeared to be a bit of a detour from the main plot, serving to add a little to the youngest Gerhardt daughter’s character, but it all made sense at the end of the episode as the guy found himself facing a pretty horrible death – suffocating in concrete. It’s as twisted and horrific as you’d expect from Fargo (this scene kind of feels like the spiritual successor to the scene in season one where an unassuming suspect is chucked inside an ice hole to drown), but it serves a clear purpose in that it underlines the sheer villainy of certain factions of the Gerhardt family, in particular the violent and misogynistic Dodd, who dispatches the quiet enforcer to search for Rye independently of Kansas City. Once again, this is The Myth of Sisyphus turning ominous set-up (emphasising that Dodd is a thoroughly dangerous guy, and that Lou ought to be just a little afraid) into something that’s immediately gratifying in a twisted kind of way. So, we now have the Gerhardts and the Kansas City mafia gunning for Rye separately. Is there any way this doesn’t end terribly?
The Myth of Sisyphus keeps up Fargo season two’s hot streak, giving more and more credence to the idea that Fargo has actually surpassed itself, inverting the sophomore slump for a second season that’s gotten off to a better start than the acclaimed first season.