This article contains spoilers for Fargo season 5 episode 3.
After a fourth season set in the 1950s, Fargo has returned to the present for season 5 … or at least as close to the present as Fargo can get.
Since every season of show is purported to be based on a true story (but not really), some narrative distance is necessary. Still, the 2019 of Fargo season 5 feels about as close to modern day as possible. How so? Well, everyone is angry, you see – even the normally calm and genteel Minnesotans and Montanans who give the franchise its Midwestern nice vibe. For one brief scene in episode 3, however, Fargo season 5 takes its plot a little further back in the past. Five hundred years back in the past to be precise.
Roughly 16 minutes in to “The Paradox of Intermediate Transactions,” Fargo catches up with injured assassin Ole Munch (Sam Spruell). After his close call with Dorothy Lyon (Juno Temple) and then the Tillman crew, Munch has holed up in an old woman’s home – seemingly for good as he tells her “I live here now.” Suddenly the scene cuts to a pastoral Welsh countryside with onscreen text reading “500 Years Earlier.” We then see Ole Munch, or someone who looks strikingly identical to Ole Munch, participating in a bizarre religious rite and eating food from a bowl placed on a cadaver in a coffin.
What exactly is happening here? Thankfully we were able to speak with Ole Munch actor Sam Spruell to find out what’s going on … or at least find out his interpretation of what’s going on.
“Either his ancestor or he himself was shaped by a damnation,” Spruell says. “Due to his poverty and social standing, he had to eat the sins of someone who had a higher social standing and more financial freedom.”
Yes, what we’re witnessing in that 500-year-old flashback is Ole Munch engaging in the practice of eating someone else’s sins. For those unaware (and I was one of them until this quick trip to Wikipedia), sin-eating is a real ritual from the British isles. A sin-eater (usually a poor wretch) consumes a meal to absorb the sins from a deceased person (usually a rich asshole), absolving the latter from their sins and condemning the former to a life of shame.
“He’s kind of trapped in a cycle,” Spruell says. “He can’t escape sin. It’s a metaphor, if you like, for poverty and some crime that can come with it. Living below the bread line as an underclass. That’s all in my creation of Ole Munch.”
If it sounds like Spruell has accepted that the man we see 500 years ago is in fact Ole Munch and not one of Ole Munch’s ancestors, that’s because he seemingly has.
“He’s ancient,” Spruell says of Munch. “He has lived with these people forever. He’s got a kind of Old Testament immortal spirit to him that was reflected in that ceremony where he takes off all his clothes and covers himself in mud and the blood of a sheep and really becomes something of the Earth.”
While the existence of a 500-year-old man in this otherwise grounded story might seem outlandish at first, recall that Fargo has dabbled in the realm of magical realism before. Showrunner Noah Hawley introduces elements of the fantastical when they serve the story like the UFO in season 2 or the bowling alley purgatory in season 3. When it comes to Ole Munch, it’s clear how his unusual beginnings can strengthen season 5’s themes. Just like everything else this year, it all comes down to debt.
“Each season has its truth-sayer, right?” Spruell says. “[Ole Munch] lets people know that ‘if you’re gonna do something like this it’s gonna lead to this.’ This is the repercussion or the debt, if you like of how you live your life and the decisions you make.”
New episodes of Fargo season 5 premiere Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX and stream on Hulu the next day.