There has been a glut of anti-heroes filling our screen for the past fifteen years. Tony Soprano had a panic attack over some ducks and radically changed the tv landscape–proving that the most reprehensible of people could be relatable with brilliant enough writing.

It’s been fun living with conflicted mobsters, misogynistic doctors, aloof ad men and misanthropic meth dealers, but it’s often been bleak. The relentless “realism” of these anti-heroes worlds’ is exhausting and borders on nihilistic. Heroes have struggled to rise, but the popularity of the anti-hero has afflicted them. Tearing them up and reforming them into pale imitations of the anti-heroes around them. Heroes are often reluctant. They’re “dark.” They’re dragged into their heroic arcs kicking and screaming.

But FX’s Fargo, riddled with chaotic anti-heroes who are as sympathetic as they are ghastly, refuses to follow the trend. While Martin Freeman’s Lester Nygaard struggles with the concept of masculinity and Billy Bob Thornton’s moralistic assassin Lorne Malvo flits in and out of the narrative dispensing “justice” and causing havoc Allison Tolman’s Molly Solverson quietly wanders through the first episode. With wide eyes she takes in the gruesome horror the men mete out. It’s easy to mistake her guileless energy for naiveté, but Molly is far from naive. She understands perfectly well how horrible people can be–she just happens to pursue her job with exuberance usually confined to children and Phil Dunphy on Modern Family.

Molly doesn’t harbor a dark secret. She isn’t irrevocably damaged by her parents or friends. While the death of her mentor in the first episode gives Molly a personal reason for solving the crime she isn’t gruelingly driven or set on her path by a pathos-riddled higher calling.

Molly solves murders because that’s what a good person–a good cop does. She delivers paint and bad news to her boss’s widow because it’s right, and she doesn’t then bury her feelings in alcohol, bad sex or poor decisions. Instead she tries to take a day off and go fishing with her dad like a normal, decent, and grieving person would do. It isn’t her hilarious tackle of a teenager midway through the episode, or her handling of the immediate aftermath of her boss’s death that marks her as a hero.

It’s that moment out on the ice with her dad. Like all good heroes Molly gets a calling in this first episode. A moment where fate (the writers) declares her the hero and sets her on her quest. Molly is out there trying to fish and entertaining her dad’s plea to leave police work for the relative safety of the diner.

Then something sort of flickers in her. It’s a soft and quiet moment. So quiet you almost miss it. One moment Molly is seeing easy and safe days in the diner and the next she’s seeing her boss’s kid and wife all alone and she’s see his murderer just out of reach and she’s seeing that she, the best cop in her tiny town, is the only person that can go and solve the crime and make things right.

Molly isn’t a reluctant hero or a brooding anti-hero. She’s just a decent cop doing what a decent cop does.

And that makes her, and Fargo, as bracingly refreshing as those winds that gutter across the screen.

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    This is a very interesting take, and it has spurred me to look closer at the hero’s journey as a potential map for the season. I do feel, however, that Molly is indeed a reluctant hero on some levels. In fact, I would say that it is her unique reluctance that creates her character’s true depth and strength. Her stalwart sense of duty is punctuated by her vulnerability. The reluctance in her is conveyed through her experience of the alternatives she has access to — another job, time with her beloved father. And most notable, her vulnerability in that quiet moment of seeing her mentor’s wife after his death, while part of the call to adventure, is also a sobering realization about her own mortality. There is certainly a chord of fear in any such moment. In Molly’s case, it is overtaken by her earnest desire to do the right thing. She is most certainly a hero of proportions we have not seen in a very long time on television. It will be very interesting to track her journey. Bravo to Fargo for bringing a character like this to life.

  • ckodama

    Fantastic piece, so true.