A review of tonight's “Fargo” coming up just as soon as I make you sound like a prog rock band…
“It's been real 'High Noon,' my day.” -Lou
Midway through “The Myth of Sisyphus,” Peggy tries to butter up Ed by telling him, “You've been a real Paladin,” referring either to an actual medieval knight, or to Paladin, the heroic gunslinger from '50s TV Western “Have Gun, Will Travel.” (Perhaps best known for its closing theme song.)
By episode's end, though, it's clear that the title can only be applied to one Lou Solverson, who has himself quite the day of staring death right in the face, but acquits himself well throughout.
Patrick Wilson has been very good so far, but this is his first big showcase of the season, and he's superb in it. The scene where Lou faces off against the entire Gerhardt mob by himself (thanks to local Fargo cop Ben acting more like the hired help than a fellow officer of the law) was a wonder of both tension and subtle acting, as Wilson showed us how unhappy Lou was to find himself in this situation, but also how unwilling he was to back down. He's not a superhero, but he's a man who's seen some things and been in some firefights before, so if the guns are going to come out there, he's ready to at minimum inflict some damage. His encounter with America's favorite new prog rock band, Mike Milligan and the Kitchen Brothers, was just as tense, even if the odds were more even, but also more crackling, because the writers and Bokeem Woodbine have made Mike a more verbally dexterous and interesting antagonist so far than the Gerhardts, who all favor a terse manner of speech. Lou and Floyd are literally from different states, but there's a common laconic style to the region, whereas Mike is an outsider who's happy to come in and gab and gab, including on the subject of how their alleged friendliness is really just unfriendliness presented in polite fashion.
But what's most impressive about Lou in the episode isn't his ability to keep his cool in two near-death encounters, but how calm and at ease he is when he gets home to Betsy at day's end. This is simply part of the job to him, and while this case is more extreme than most of what he likely has to work as a state trooper, it's a measure of who Lou is that he can take those moments in relative stride as they're happening, and not break down after the fact. He knows he may not have much time left with Betsy, so any opportunity to make it home to her alive and in one piece is all he really needs.
The episode's title refers to the Greek legend of the man doomed to spend an eternity rolling a boulder up a hill, even though it would inevitably roll back down again. Is the boulder in this case meant to be the whereabouts of Rye Gerhardt? So much of what's happening – Lou and Hank's investigation into the Waffle Hut massacre, Kansas City's attempt to buy out the Gerhardts, the Gerhardts' attempt to fortify things in the wake of Otto's stroke and the arrival of Joe, Mike, and the Kitchens – centers on Rye, and the belief of everyone but Peggy and Ed that he's still alive, well, and capable of offering clarity to the situation. But we know that he's not only dead, but has been ground up into an unrecognizable form. Everyone seems to view Rye as the missing piece to the puzzle – certainly more than typewriter salesman Skip, whom Dodd has buried alive once he realizes the guy knows nothing about his brother – and devoting a lot of time and resource to finding him, when it's too late.
If the major players ever realize what's happened, I imagine the guns are going to come out very quickly. Let's just hope Lou's in the middle of it all again to keep a cool head.
Some other thoughts:
* This is the first episode of the series where Noah Hawley hasn't been the credited writer, as Bob De Laurentiis got the credit for this week's script. Hawley used a writer's room in the first season to help him map out all the story and character arcs, but wrote the individual scripts himself; this year, he wanted to lighten his workload, while also giving more of an opportunity to the other writers involved.
* Among tonight's songs: “Yama Yama” by Yamasuki, “Send Her to Me” by Wayne Chance, “Rise of the Thing” by Jim Blake, and “He Made A Woman Out of Me” (Bobbie Gentry).
* We get a brief glimpe of Hanzee's childhood, as his elementary school (presumably on the reservation) is visited by a white magician pulling a rabbit out of his hat. In present-day, Hanzee demonstrates what you're really supposed to do if you get your hands on a rabbit.
* I wonder if Hawley was a fan of “Battlestar Galactica,” or if it's a coincidence that Michael Hogan is again playing a role that demands he act with only one eye.
* Last week, Betsy found Rye's gun. This week, she's the one who puts the pieces together about Rye vanishing because he was hit by a car. The show certainly isn't making Lou out to be bad at his job, but it's fun to see that Molly inherited her investigative gifts from both parents. (Also, one can imagine young Betsy pumping Hank for information about his job the way Molly eventually does with Lou.)
* Things keep getting worse for poor Ed, who here suffers whiplash while participating in Peggy's ill-conceived plan to explain away the hole in the windshield by crashing the car into a nearby tree. You knew it was going to go wrong somehow, but the skidding so that the car struck the tree in the back instead of the front was still damned amusing. Ed trying to get out from under this murder feels like perhaps the most Sisyphus-ian task of the whole season.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org