Season 2 of Fargo has lost its unpredictability, but none of its charm.
I want to be the best me I can be, you know?
“The Myth of Sisyphus” is the most Lou-centric episode so far, and it’s about time, because there’s no way things don’t end horribly for everyone else in the story. Death is everywhere in Fargo, whether its corpse disposal, or burying idiot typewriter salesmen alive, or snapping the neck of an innocent bunny following a unusually opaque (even for this show) flashback. But we know Molly’s father is going to make it, so we can hold on to that like a drowning man holds a life raft.
Yet, for the moment, Lou is also the Sisyphus of the title: forever pushing this murder case up a mountain, getting no closer to justice, and only putting himself at greater risk the longer it goes on. His colleague in Fargo, Ben Schmidt, is terrified about what the two of them have stumbled into. When the news comes down that the prints on the Luverne diner murder weapon belong to one Rye Gerhardt, Ben laments that Lou’s life would be easier if the prints were his own. A dead judge, North Dakota’s leading crime family, and spooks from Kansas City sniffing around? Anyone who willingly walks into that mess will deserve what comes to them.
Yet just like the WWII soldiers storming Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest in that fake movie his daughter is watching, Lou drives right into the breach and stares the Gerhardts down. The twitchy Ben is content to just make small talk and call everyone by their first names like they’re friends, because that’s what’s kept him alive so far. But Lou doesn’t operate that way. He’s incredulous when ordered to hand over his sidearm before the meet: “Am I the only one here who’s clear on the concept of law enforcement?” he asks. His wit gets him into an uncomfortable staredown with Dodd as quickly as it gets him back out again, as alerting the meat-headed eldest brother that Mike Milligan is looking for Rye soon takes the focus off of Dodd beating Lou to a pulp and onto finding the actually-quite-dead brother who’s put the entire family at risk.
There are still plenty of other pieces in Noah Hawley’s mosaic whose functions are yet to be revealed, including Brad Garrett’s conditioner-loving Kansas City bureaucrat and just whatever is going on with this UFO business. Towards the end of this week’s episode, Lou encounters a guy with even loonier theories than Nick Offerman’s character, but at least he thinks the aliens are benevolent. You spend enough time on this planet, you can make some judgement calls about the human race; benevolence isn’t one of our strong suits.
“The Myth of Sisyphus” is a showcase hour not just for Patrick Wilson, who radiates competency and (responsible) confidence as Lou, but for Jeremy Donovan, who I am positively loving as Dodd. This week we get to seem him play real menace, and while his idiosyncratic line readings (and that amazing accent!) still have him functioning more as a comedic character, there’s no doubt that Dodd won’t hesitate to cover Lou or the Blomquists in dirt if he gets the chance.
And what of our Mr-and-Mrs Accidental Killers? “Naughty Girl” Peggy breaks into a cold sweat when Hank starts putting up Wanted posters for Rye, and stammers a dispute when Betsy’s theory about what happened to him hits a little too close to the mark. Annoyingly, Hank takes Peggy’s side. Not for the last time a female Solverson will have her perfectly correct hunch shot down by a nervous local sheriff, even if this one is her own father. That said, it’s adorable to see how such savvy parents could have easily produced a detective as intrepid as Molly, and it adds retroactive heartache for her not having her mother around 30 years later when no one else would take her side.
In any case, Peggy’s still leading her man around like a wounded dog, making him crash their car into a tree to the point of Ed needing a neck brace. (Don’t worry — he got it on the second try.) Her cheery manipulation doesn’t reflect well on either of them, though now that they know that they’ve ground up the son of the local kingpin, they’re less afraid of the police than of the inevitable criminal retribution. Now, and now that it’s far too late, we’ve come around to their actions making a modicum of sense. Peggy reassures her “knight” of a husband, telling him not to worry, and now everything will be fine. Has she ever seen a crime show?
That familiarity in Fargo‘s story is both a comfort and a curse. We know, pretty much instantly, that when Lou and Ben let the “squirrelly” Skip Spring go, the salesman is heading directly to his doom — but that doesn’t make his final moments any less distressing to watch. Lou stumbling into a standoff with Mike Milligan and the Kitchen Brothers (the newest prog rock sensation!) is the kind of coincidence Fargo regularly trades in, but that doesn’t diminish the fun of the scene. Mike and Lou is a much better cat-and-mouse than Mike and the overmatched Hank.
“Minnesota cop…” Mike muses. “You know you’re in North Dakota?” “Must have gotten lost on the way to the lake,” Lou replies, like Humphrey Bogart in a Dashiell Hammett adaptation. Those noir tales had a comforting rhythm, too, and invented the elements of the genre that we now think of as cliches — like being able to talk your way out of a potential gun battle with a couple well-placed bon mots. Lou’s not a superhero, but his knack for being in the right place at the right time means he has more dynamic confrontations in his future. And now he and Milligan have each others’ numbers: Mike sees through Lou’s mask of Minnesota niceness, and Lou doesn’t need a Richard Nixon impression to determine whether or not Mike is a crook. But those clacking typewriters on Jeff Russo’s soundtrack communicate one thing: urgency.