[For Fargo “The Myth of Sisyphus” or any other recaps on Fetchland, assume the presence of possible spoilers.]
The Myth of Sisyphus The search for Rye intensifies; Peggy overhears a new theory about the Waffle Hut shooter.
Episode two, ‘Before the Law” concluded with the words of H.G. Wells and so it comes as no surprise that episode three’s title, “The Myth of Sisyphus” recalls that absurdist story of the man Sisyphus. This is a show with references up the whazoo. From the Sisyphus myth we know one man pushes a boulder up the hill in an interminable cycle. Because the boulder drops when he reaches the top he always has to start over again, like a hamster on a wheel. Fargo, is, after all, known for its delight in absurdity. This show knows how to stay on theme even as it tells a remarkable story with steamroller momentum.
The Sisyphus episode opens as Ohanzee, the Native American searcher crouches in a blanketed white forest petting a snow bunny and waxing nostalgic for his one room schoolhouse childhood. A magician pulled a white rabbit out of a hat back in Ohanzee’s days of yore. After this memory he walks out of the woods to the Gerhardt house – the dead bunny body hanging from his hand. Then we’re inside the house for a Gerhardt meeting among leaders as they discuss their state of siege. Should they sell, hold out for more, or go to war? Floyd leads the meeting and says the Kansas City mafia are sharks in the sea while the Gerhardt’s are small time in comparison. They’re a peacetime family. Dodd, always ready for battle, disagrees. He wants to pull out guns and start blazing. Floyd takes charge and says she’s not afraid of a war but only as a last resort and on her terms. The suits in the meeting say they’re on the Gerhardt’s side and though they won’t shoot first, they’ll defend the family if that’s what goes down. So, now the Gerhardts know they’ve got some backup from their family business leaders if it does indeed “go down” with Kansas City.
Meanwhile at a smoky hotel restaurant breakfast Joe and Mike of the Kansas City mafia discuss the Gerhardts. There’s no word on Frau Floyd’s answer so far, Joe says. Mike replies, “So we kill ‘em?” and Joe says we listen to the market and let it tell us what we do next. Mike says they still haven’t found Rye, must be on the run. Joe says they gotta find him for extra leverage against The Frau. So, right away we see how Sisyphus is relevant. Following market indicators – especially in the late 1970s – can be just like pushing a rock up a steep slope. People waited in line all day for gas in those days, missing their workday entirely at times. Going nowhere fast.
Lou’s in his cop car on the way to Fargo when Hank calls him on the police wireless to say they identified the prints on the Waffle Hut weapon as Rye’s. Then Lou enters the courthouse offices where the Judge worked and talks with Fargo police detective, Ben Schmidt in the waiting area. Schmidt tells him all about the Gerhardts, the main gist being that Lou’s better off with his own prints on the gun. Ben says he’s never heard of Mike Milligan or the Kitchen Brothers but he’s certainly intimidated by their mere mention. Schmidt repeats his recommendation to take the fall rather than get involved with the Gerhardt clan just for good measure.
Then Ohanzee guts his bunny in the Gerhardt kitchen while talking to Simone, Dodd’s daughter who wears the bluest blue eye shadow a girl’s ever worn in the world. She says they should check out Rye’s apartment and he says, “Show me.” Meanwhile Betsy gets her hair done at the salon where Peggy works when Hank comes in to put up a WANTED FOR MURDER sign in her front window. He’s wasting no time posting Rye’s picture all over town now that they found his prints on the gun. Then right on front of freaking-out-Peggy Betsy shares her theory about the shoe they saw in a tree at the Waffle Hut. She guesses the exact scenario that happened with Peggy hitting Rye. Peggy immediately chips in how that’s such an unlikely possibility. Who would just drive off with a body on the hood of their car? Hank says he’s inclined to agree with Peggy but Betsy ends the convo when she says maybe they should look for a car rather than a person. This sends Peggy pronto off the the butcher shop to enlist Ed on a mission to deal with their car. Peggy pulls him away claiming “family crisis” and then on their way home they see the WANTED poster of Rye and it stops them in their guilt-ridden tracks. Sisyphus indeed.
Back in Fargo, Lou continues to hang out in the courthouse waiting area when he sees nervous typewriter salesman, Skip pacing and fearful right by the dead Judge’s office. Lou and the detective follow anxious Skip out to his car and check his ID. Turns out he’s there for the hearing Rye was supposed to handle but (given the death of Judge Mundt) it got postponed. Lou aptly says to Schmidt, “He’s a squirrelly fella. You oughta take him down to the station.” But Ben-the-dismissive-detective quickly brushes off the idea with you can’t take every guy that had a case with the judge downtown, can ya? Clutching his get-out-of-jail-free-card tightly, Skip drives straight to Rye’s apartment from there but finds Simone, the Gerhardt daughter with blue eyeshadow magic inside rather than Rye. He enters, hesitant and then it turns out Ohanzee is there too, hiding behind the door. Simone figures out who Skip is right away and notes that he came there to “not pay her uncle” so she seductively pulls him by his patriotic tie right out the door to take him for a ride with the Ohanzee, who she calls “Red Man,” all sensitive like.
Ed drives Peggy out to a tree he had in mind for a fake accident. She got the idea for this plan from her drunk uncle who used the method for all his accidents over the years. First he’s crash the car boozed up on Old Milwaukee, then he’d sober up and have the fake accident for insurance purposes. It’s inspiring stuff. Right before Ed drives the car into the tree she tells him he’s her knight. Well, her knight gets whiplash in the process but still manages to hit the tree the right way… the second time. Much like Sisyphus, Ed keeps covering up Peggy’s mistakes and following her advice only to find more awaits on the other side of each wretched little cleanup nightmare.
Back in the Gerhardt kitchen Bear tells his enthusiastic son not to get involved in Gerhardt family business, even if Dodd’s daughter is deep in the mess. Bear and Floyd want him to go to school and become something else – something other than just another shady as F*** Gerhardt, presumably. Bear makes his declarations extra clear by pointing an enormous turkey leg around to give weight to his words – like a 1970s Henry VIII.
The next scene brings us to the Gerhardt front porch where Floyd recognizes Ben Schmidt right away. She asks Schmidt about Lou but Solverson introduces himself, straight backed and eye contact in place. He’s solid. Bear comes out on the porch then and the cops ask both Gerhardts what they know about the dead Judge Mundt. Lou says they need to talk to Rye. Floyd says that’s not gonna happen. Lou stands strong and explains that Rye’s wanted in connection with three murders. He doesn’t want to be forced to shoot some people. Then Dodd shows up, macho man extraordinaire in a leather newsboy cap. We own all the judges – what would be the point in killing one? Lou stands strong and lets Dodd know that he’s the one who found the gun, not Schmidt. Dodd gets right up in Lou’s beautiful face and says, “Let’s dance.” Then Lou asks them about Mike Milligan and Kansas City. Nobody says a word on that topic. Right then Dodd gets called away by Bear’s son on other business, “Ohanzee called and wants you to meet him at the dig.” Floyd and Bear back away going into the house. “Give him his gun back now that he’s on his way,” she says to her muscle men about Schmidt.
On the drive away from the Gerhardt house Schmidt appears to think that the whole confrontation went well, presumably because they’re still alive. Lou, instead, remains disgruntled. Lou then suggests they get a warrant. Schmidt says, “From what judge? You heard Dodd they own most of the town.” This is the signal that it’s time for Lou to give up on Schmidt. He’s rolled the boulder up that hill for the last time. Getting out of Schmidt’s car with a polite, “Thank you.” Lou then investigates the typewriter shop only to find the calm and impenetrable Mike Milligan and the Kitchen Brothers waiting inside. He’s got a gun on them but then they have a gun on him too – it’s the High Noon standoff everybody’s been talking about throughout the episode. Lou stays solid and even makes a buttsex joke at Mike’s mother’s expense. Mike likes the way Lou’s unfriendly, so polite about it. As Lou starts to back out of the shop, gun still raised and pointed, Mike quotes Nixon, “Peace with honor,” and says Lou doesn’t have to go. They’ve already seen everything there is to see at the typewriter shop. So, Mike has the Kitchen Brothers keep their guns raised and pointed at Lou and they’re the ones to leave the typewriter shop.
Lou stops next at a gas station where the attendant tells him about UFOs visiting from above and says that he doesn’t believe aliens visit to probe people. He thinks the aliens are more benevolent than that. Lou brushes it off as a fool talking into the wind. He’s got crucial stuff on his mind like murder, the mafia, and Mike Milligan. Then we see a city bus lit up and crossing town like a glowworm in the dark night. Ed, his neck ina brace, and Peggy sit together on the bus. She comforts him that their plan worked and, though they seem to have the whole conversation telepathically, it rings true of a duo forever bound by a terrible secret and the infinite quicksand they have to shovel to dig their way out of trouble.
Lou comes home to find Hank on his couch and says he had a real “High Noon” kinda day; first with his visit to the Gerhardts and especially later when he ran into Mike Milligan and the Kitchen Brothers at the typewriter shop. “Maybe two pieces of cake then,” Hank promptly concludes. Meanwhile Dodd and Ohanzee put Skip in a deep grave-like hole dug in a snowy field. They tell him to lie down in the hole and begin to dump a literal truckload of tar on him until he caves and tells them Mike Milligan is who they want. He’d come by the day before looking for Rye and has “probably found him by now.” The truck stops mid-dump just for that info, then goes ahead and buries Skip dead. Dodd then tells Ohanzee he’s gotta drive to that Minnesota town and find Rye. Anybody who gets in his way, just kill ’em.
In the last shot of the episode something sticks out of the tar and the camera focuses on it pretty hard but what is it? Maybe an alien communicator of some sort or perhaps some evidence of Skip underneath. It’s unclear what it is and just enhances the mystery of what could possibly happen next. This episode brilliantly delivers a story that makes little progress by focusing on the frustration inherent to spinning one’s wheels. The theme rings true of most investigations, high noon standoffs, covering up lies, searching for what can’t be found, and waiting for answers that may never come. It’s a sign of exceptional storytelling that the narrative flies forward even as the characters get nowhere. Even those of us who watch remain a Sisyphus of sorts because even as the story whirls ahead – we remain relatively clueless. The audience experiences that palpable frustration and dread right along with the characters yet the story keeps us wanting more Fargo anyway.