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'Fargo' recap: 'Know thyself'

'Fargo' recap: 'Know thyself'
Left to right in the front row, Patrick Wilson, Jeffrey Donovan and Keir O'Donnell in a scene from "Fargo." (Chris Large / FX)

In French philosopher Albert Camus' essay "The Myth of Sisyphus," from which this week's episode of "Fargo" takes its name, he speaks at length about his philosophy of the absurd. To Camus, living in a confusing world with no God, no absolute truth, no morality, renders man's search for meaning useless. Camus even goes so far as to compare man's absurd struggle with that of Greek legend Sisyphus, who was tasked to forever push a boulder up a mountain, only to begin the task anew once completed.

But all is not lost for Sisyphus any more than it's lost for man. The reason, Camus muses, is that in accepting the futility of the struggle, man and Sisyphus alike find freedom from the absurdity of their situation and eventually settle somewhere significantly closer to contentedness.

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Camus' philosophy of the absurd reads like a CliffsNotes version of every Coen brothers movie ever made, so to see it subtly suggest itself within an episode of "Fargo" makes perfect sense. The essay itself makes an appearance when Peggy stops by the butcher shop to pick up Ed and address their lingering car situation. It's the reading material of sullen Noreen, who works the counter and could not be less interested in whatever antics are unfolding around her.

Noreen's choice of philosophical study is all too apt for a moody teenager disillusioned by the world around her, a feeling not particularly unique in the tumultuous 1970s that serve as the backdrop for this season of "Fargo." But none in the "Fargo" universe seem to lend themselves so well to the wholehearted acceptance of the philosophy of the absurd than the Solverson clan.

In this week's episode, Lou Solverson finds himself thwarted at every turn when trying to accomplish even the simplest act of police work, besieged by skittish fellow officers, a stonewalling family of criminals and the looming threat of the involvement of the Kansas City mafia. Yet, Solverson is undeterred in his quest, insistent that he get his boulder up the hill, no matter if it comes crashing down on him in the moments to follow.

This appears to just be how the Solverson family operates. Molly Solverson, protagonist of "Fargo's" first season was much the same as her father is this season, tenacious in the pursuit of the truth in the face of obstacles both absurd and abhorrent.

The danger, though, in constantly throwing yourself against a boulder, in the hopes that it might move, is that there's always a chance that the boulder might push back. Though Sisyphus never seemed to have trouble staying out of the way of his rock before it made its way to the bottom of the mountain, Lou has no guarantee that he'll be as adept at dodging falling rocks.

When Lou pushes against someone such as Dodd Gerhardt, who's been spoiling for a fight since we first met him, he has no idea how hard Dodd might push back. And though Lou has no problem standing his ground when times get tough, there's no telling what kind of destruction may be wrought if he loses control of the wrong boulder or who might get caught in its path.

With "The Myth of Sisyphus," "Fargo" finishes setting the table for the next course of the season. The hunt for Rye Gerhardt continues, though no one will likely be looking for him in the meat grinder at the butcher shop. Rye's business associate finds himself on the wrong side of a pile of asphalt. The Gerhardt family decides to try to make a deal with Kansas City but will come out guns blazing if necessary.

All is not well in the upper Midwest, where people are impolite in the most polite way possible. And though "Know thyself," may not appear in the Bible, as Bear Gerhardt claims, it's certainly not a concept that the characters in "Fargo" struggle with.

Every person within "Fargo's" universe knows exactly who they are, their place in the world, and how best to pursue it. Their problem is knowing just who everyone else is and what absurdity they have in store.

Follow me on Twitter at @midwestspitfire

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