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FARGO Episode 3: Is It Pointless to Fight When You Can’t Win?

Before we take a deeper look at this week’s Fargo, I want to take a moment to recognize the politest badass in the world, Patrick Wilson. This show is so full of incredible performances it can be easy to overlook individuals on a week-to-week basis. It’s not that you take them for granted, but more that there are so many that are so good, you just figure it’s obvious and you can move on to things that might fly under the radar a little bit. Through two episodes, that has been especially true of Patrick Wilson, maybe more than anyone, but it’s impossible to overlook him after this week.

If this show has a protagonist it’s him, and his Lou Solverson has been as good as anything on Fargo, in either season. He has managed to convey the unbearable responsibilities of both his personal life as well as his professional life without ever seeming to change his tone or demeanor. With just a small turn of his mouth or the way his shoulders seem to rise or fall with the weight of the moment, he has built a character that demands our attention, as well as our adoration, and no more so than during his two tense standoffs this week.

At the Gerhardt complex, we got to see polite Lou at his strongest. After being told it might be easier to just admit to the triple-homicide himself rather than go question the Gerhardt clan, there was our boy, standing tall in the middle of a circle of guns. No fear, no backing down, no fake tough guy act, just Lou Solverson, goddamn policeman. I wanted to stand up and high five someone when it was over. Whereas he knew what he was walking into at the Gerhardts, the next standoff, at (poor) Skip’s typewriter store, Lou had no idea what he was about to encounter, but even with two shotguns pointed at him, Lou didn’t flinch, he carried himself like a cool cinematic cop keeping calm and delivering witty lines. The reason it was so good though is Wilson made Lou seem so real, even in extremely heightened circumstances. This was a very cinematic scene (it would be impossible not to be with two mute brothers involved in a Mexican standoff), but Wilson gave it an air of sincerity, like he has in every scene.

Fargo has become a place for amazing performances, from minor characters to the major ones, but Patrick Wilson’s needs to be recognized. This might be the performance of a lifetime.

Episode 3 is titled “The Myth of Sisyphus,” in reference to the Greek tale, the one that ends with Sisyphus rolling a large stone up a hill, all day, every day, for eternity in Hades, only to see it roll back at day’s end. It’s why a fruitless or pointless endeavor is known as a “Sisyphean task.” Such are the circumstances for all characters on this show. Ed and Peggy are never going to get away with Rye’s murder, the Gerhardts are never going to escape the invasion from Kansas City, and, sadly, the Solverson family probably knows Betsy will not beat her cancer.

So why was Sisyphus sentenced to his eternity of toil? Like any Greek myth, the details vary, but usually it is explained as his punishment for trying to cheat death. Here we are watching the potential death of freedom, of an empire, and of a mother. These characters are all fighting, but in the end it will probably be pointless. You can roll that stone up, up, up, and up, but the forces of nature will bring it rolling back down. Maybe it’s better to realize that early and stay at the bottom of the hill. The view might not be as good, but it’s probably safer and easier.

Last week we discussed the final scene with the narration from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, about how humanity had no idea it was being watched by outsiders, and certainly didn’t know the danger it was in. Again the show returned to the world of the extraterrestrial, first when (poor) Skip compared the new electric typewriters to spaceships, and then when Lou stopped for gas, and the man in front of him talked about the visitors from above that had come to town. When he compared them to zookeepers keeping a benevolent eye on their (human) animals, it echoed back to Wells’ lines about humanity’s ignorance. Invaders are never peaceful, they only bring threats.

When there is no fighting back, should you fight at all? When the fight is un-winnable, what’s the point? Everyone in Fargo is in conflict. They think it is against Kansas City, or cancer, or the police, but really they are all fighting the same opponent–they just don’t realize it.

Unfortunately you can’t win that fight. Just ask Sisyphus.

What did you think of this week’s episode? Let’s discuss it in the comments below.

Image: FX

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