This week’s episode of Fargo is titled “The Myth of Sisyphus,” after, assumedly, the underworld fate of that eponymous Greek hero. Sisyphus was cursed by endless toil without progress, yet this episode features quite a bit of progress for all of the characters: Lou and Sheriff Larsson identify Rye Gerhardt as the likely suspect in the Waffle House murders, Floyd Gerhardt begins to muster the troops for the looming war, the Blomquists put the final touches on their coverup after Betsy deduces the truth of Rye’s death, Skip meets his end after his own frantic searching (negative progress is still progress, after all), and Dodd Gerhardt gets a promising lead on his brother’s disappearance. How, then, does the fate of Sisyphus map onto this week's installment?
I submit Lou Solverson as our very own Greek hero. His boulder is the inscrutable Waffle House murder case, and each time he rolls the damned thing to the precipice it comes right back down again. After discovering Rye’s prints on the murder weapon, he travels to Fargo and meets Ben Schmidt, a local cop with a healthy fear of the Gerhardts: “When you put a dead judge, the Gerhardt family, and some hitters from Kansas City in a bag together, I go back to thinking it might be best just to confess to the crime myself.” Hear the rock rumble down the mountain. But Lou begins to push again, first following up with the squirrelly Skip the Salesman and then insisting that Ben drive him up to meet with the Gerhardts.
He reaches the summit again when he meets with Floyd and her sons, showing his mettle by refusing to give up his gun or back down from Dodd’s threats, but still leaves the compound without learning anything new. Again, the boulder gains momentum on its way to the bottom of the slope. Still not deterred, Lou makes a stop by Skip’s typewriter shop, where he meets Mike Milligan and the Shotgun Twins. More progress lost, this time between the barrels of drawn firearms. At the end of the day, sitting in his living room with his dying wife and card cheat of a father in law, Lou resembles Camus’ version of Sisyphus, wearing “a face that toils so close to stones [that it] is already stone itself!” His walk down the mountain back to the boulder is a piece of cake (or maybe two), and that will have to do until he begins another ascent the next morning.
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Hanzee, Dodd Gerhardt’s righthand man, steps onto the main stage this week, first in a flashback to a younger version of himself being unimpressed by a magician and later when he manages to abduct Skip with the help of the rebellious young Simone Gerhardt. However, despite his steely gaze and brutal rabbit killing, Hanzee comes across as the lesser evil compared to Dodd, whose brutal treatment of his daughter coming on the heels of the Reservoir Dogs-style interrogation from last week’s episode moves him quickly to the top of the season’s Most Villainous Characters list. Compared to Mike Milligan, whose threats and intimidation work by virtue of his calm and efficient attitude, Dodd is vicious and quick-tempered, just as likely to cut off your ears as he is to bury you alive in order to get what he wants. Dodd can’t even keep his mouth shut while his mother attempts to consolidate their family’s alliances with other smalltime operations, betraying a weakness in the leadership at a time when they most need to project an image of strength. He is quickly proving to be as much of a threat to the Gerhardt family as the Kansas City Syndicate, and the final scene of this week’s episode hints that he’s about to fire the shot that will set the whole keg ablaze.
By contrast, Bear Gerhardt is a concerned father and a team player. He wants his son to stay far away from the coming conflict so he can have a better life, and backs his mother in her confrontation with Lou (unlike Dodd, who takes charge and escalates the situation almost by his very presence). If Ben Schmidt’s Gerhardt family history is to be trusted, Dodd follows in his father and grandfather’s footsteps, the third (and last) in a line of megalomaniacal murderers. He is clearly bothered by his lack of a male heir. “I wanted a boy,” Dodd says through teeth clenched around a cigar, “but what did God give me? Four God damned girls.” This frustration underlines his desire to be the head of the family, to rule over the clan of capable male killers he has failed to naturally produce, and is ultimately tragic: no matter who takes over the family, his generation will be the last of the criminal Gerhardts.
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This week’s extraterrestrial reference comes courtesy of an idle conversation between Lou and a fellow motorist as they wait at a gas line. “I believe their purposes are more benevolent, as the caretaker to the zoo,” says the man. “Strange happenings occur, they are near.” This scene fits in nicely with my truncated discussion of this subject from last week, and actually reinforces the notion of the aliens (or “visitors”) as the superior form of intelligence when compared with humanity. One of the guiding metaphors from Fargo’s first season was Malvo’s question about why the human eye can see more shades of green than any other color, and the answer was that the primate eye developed that way to be able to spot predators in the underbrush. As such, Malvo was the predator and everyone else were prey.
In season two, the humans are animals in a zoo, each trapped in its own cage, aware of but unable to truly interact with their fellow captives. Yet after Rye’s death beneath the lights of a UFO, the locks have been undone, and the animals are free to roam around and interact. As we see at the beginning and end of “The Myth of Sisyphus,” this means that some of the animals, the weaker ones, will be quickly killed, while the stronger, smarter species gather allies to their cause before striking. And all the while, the aliens, like the members of the audience, watch the ensuing chaos from a bird’s eye view and are the only ones aware of the full picture.