Fargo 2×03 ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’: Caretakers of the zoo

Fargo 2x03 Cover

Fargo, believe it or not, is dancing around with quite a bit of existential literature. The first episode, “Waiting for Dutch”, was a play on Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”, an existential/absurdist play about two men Vladimir and Estragon as they waited in vain for a man named Godot. This episode, “The Myth of Sisyphus”, is even more direct in its reference to existential literature, as it’s a philosophical essay by Albert Camus, one that introduces his philosophy of the absurd. He wonders what man is supposed to do when faced with a pointless search for meaning and purpose in a world that doesn’t make sense or contain any absolute truths. He talks about Sisyphus, a Greek figure who is condemned to forever roll a boulder up a hill, only to see it roll down again, and in doing so he talks about contentment in struggle, the acceptance of one’s fate.

Fargo 2x03-1

Source: FX

So what does any of this have to do with Fargo? When I think of the Coen brothers and existentialism, I think of Burn After Reading, one of their movies that people seem to forget about. The end of the movie has J.K. Simmons’s character, a CIA supervisor, actively wondering what the point of the story was, to which the rest of the room gives a collective shrug. Fargo feels similar, even if that absurdist thought isn’t directly stated. There’s a certain level of futility inherent in the struggle that the characters go through, to the point where we wonder the purpose of all of it. The cops will catch the bad guys, only to have to do it again and again until the end of their careers. The Gerhardts will struggle, but will likely be crushed under the Kansas City Syndicate. And Ed and Peggy will likely get punished for their crimes. Of course, this could change, but Fargo is about the status quo being disrupted and then set straight, and it’s in tone with the movie and the first season for the second to operate in this fashion.

FARGO -- “The Myth of Sisyphus” -- Episode 203 (Airs October 26, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured: (l-r) Angus Sampson as Bear Gerhardt, Jean Smart as Floyd Gerhardt.  CR: Chris Large/FX

Source: FX

This episode tightens the noose a little further on the characters, with the cops thinking that Rye was hit by a car and the Kansas City Syndicate considering ways to push at the Gerhardts. It’s an episode that raises the stakes for all characters, either putting them in harm’s way or getting them closer to it. Peggy, when hearing Betsy’s theory about a car hitting Rye, has her husband Ed smash the car into a tree in order to get rid of the evidence of hitting Rye. Of course, Ed has to smash the car a couple times to get it right, but he still obliges his wife, complaining afterward that his back hurts. Ed, throughout this entire series, seems to wander through his scenes, mildly frustrated that he has to go through all of this in order to keep his normal, decent life. All he wants is the retention of the status quo, as it’s a state that benefits him as an average, straight, white guy. Peggy, on the other hand, likes it when the status quo is shifted because it’s not something that has benefited her in the past. She talks about going to the seminar without Ed’s permission because it’s something that makes her feel like she matters. Shifting the status quo makes her feel worthwhile.

Fargo 2x03-3

Source: FX

“The Myth of Sisyphus” also deepens the conflict between the Gerhardts and the Kansas City Syndicate, as we see the way that Dodd’s approach is so different to Bear’s or Floyd’s. We can see a certain toughness to the way that Floyd runs the group, a controlled viciousness that intimidates people like Ben Schmidt. But Dodd is different, relying on physical violence to cement his presence as an intimidating one, using that violence as a way to make him feel masculine and tough. This season of Fargo has done a lot of juxtaposition between men and women, how women have to rely on emotional manipulation while men have to rely on physical manipulation, and always seems to look down on the idea of physical manipulation. Dodd is never really perceived as a sympathetic character, especially at the end of the episode, when he slaps around his daughter and murders Skip, the typewriter salesman. Floyd, on the other hand, is simply trying to hold onto the family business, thinking of ways to respond to the offer that appeases to everybody. But it’s becoming increasingly obvious that there are no good answers.

Source: FX

But I can’t help but go back to a comment one man makes to Lou late in the episode, when he talks about aliens and how they’re likely benevolent creatures, caretakers of all on earth. This season has been using aliens as a metaphor for the forces that impact people in this world, and while this show often makes that metaphor physical and real, it does so to remind us how little control people have over their fates. It goes back to the idea of Sisyphus, cursed to forever roll the boulder, simply existing in a state of struggle. Everybody in the show exists in a state of struggle, where they want to find a utopia that doesn’t necessarily exist. If Peggy wants a more equal marriage, she’s not going to find it at a seminar, especially in the Midwest. And Dodd isn’t going to find peace or leadership in exhibiting violence. But revolting is all they can do, railing against their fate with the hopes that they can somehow change it. It’s only people like Lou or Betsy that are okay with their fates, and it’s because they’ve accepted their condition in life. Lou likes his job as a police officer; Betsy is okay with her fate as a woman dying from cancer. As Camus says, the only way out of struggle is to accept it as a condition of existence.

“The Myth of Sisyphus” works fantastically to further deepen the existentialist connections within the Fargo universe. Nobody wants “half a car”; rather, they want the entire car, to get everything they want without any concessions. But that’s not how the world works. America may promise us “The Dream”, but that’s not true. We’re lied to, told that the world works one way when nobody really understands how it is that the world actually works. And we can revolt against that lie, but in the end, what does our revolution get us? What really is the point of revolution? There’s no clear answer to this, but it’s a question that we need to ask ourselves again and again as we face off against the indefinable forces in our own lives.

What is the point? Nobody knows.

So what did you think of “The Myth of Sisyphus”? Is the second season continuing to impress? Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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  • George Liapes

    I love how the episode forwarded the plot movement too! I actually think Peggy’s boss will start sticking her nose in her and Ed’s affairs, and either Peggy or Ed (or both) will end up killing her (I’m not sure that id buy Ed, no matter how much of a doormat he is, committing cold-blooded murder like that though.)

    Next week seems to up the stakes even more with Ohanzee investigating Ed’s car, and judging by one of the Kitchen Brothers opening fire in the promo, I’d say we’re in for a real treat. I’m not saying that there will be casualties, but Hank seems the likeliest candidate for the season’s first major death (outside of Rye) in my opinion.

    Great review as usual!