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An Ode to Ole Munch, Sin-Eater of 'Fargo'

By Chris Revelle | TV | January 22, 2024 |

By Chris Revelle | TV | January 22, 2024 |


What a season Fargo had. We got to watch Juno Temple play Dot to perfection as she became the tiger again to defend her family and fight off her abusive ex Roy (Jon Hamm) and his MAGA goons who saw Dot as stolen property. We got to watch Richa Moorjani as Indira, a principled and right-hearted woman who realized her own power and escaped her shitbag husband who demeaned her as he drilled them further into debt. We got to watch Jennifer Jason Leigh do a great spin on classic Ivy League conservative William F. Buckley as Lorraine Lyon, queen of the ghoulish debt industry who nonetheless finds room in her charcoal heart for Dot. Debt was the predominant theme of the season and while we saw plenty of examples of the classic financial debt, the show expanded the theme to include ideas about what people owe to one another. Witt Farr (Lamorne Morris) mentions the debt he owes to Dot for saving him during the gas station shoot-out and Roy speaks of Dot as if she’s a lawn mower owed back to him after a neighbor has kept it too long. The most surprising figure at the center of this theme is the eerie hitman Ole Munch (Sam Spruell, otherworldly), a character that appears at first to be a mere Anton Chigurh riff but contains some of the most fascinating ruminations on debt the season has to offer.

On the other side of this gif are spoilers for season 5 of Fargo.


An unexpected cut in the third episode takes us back 500 years ago to Wales where Munch crouches in a shadowy chamber dimly lit by candles. A dead body lays on a plinth, and clutches of what might be nobles and clergymen stand by with poorly concealed disdain as Munch eats a meal offered to him right next to the corpse in the room. There’s the air of ceremony or ritual in this brief look at Munch’s existence as a sin-eater. Naturally, I just had to know more!

Appropriately, the origins of sin-eating seem to be in Wales with accounts of the practice being found as far back as the seventeenth century. The basic procedure was that the body of the deceased would be laid out after the funeral but before burial and the sin-eater would be brought to the corpse’s side. The sin-eater would be given some manner of bread and beer or wine that had touched the deceased or were handed to the sin-eater over the corpse. People believed that the food would absorb the sins of the deceased so that their souls could enter Heaven clean and unburdened. The sin-eater would eat this meal suffused with another person’s sins and their soul would take on the stain instead. Despite performing a service for others (literally taking others’ misdeeds onto themselves), sin-eaters were shunned by society and seen as unclean or wretched.

It’s a sort of martyrdom to be a sin-eater, and yet here’s a very caste-flavored assumption at play that, of course, the peons and peasants will launder the souls of others without much benefit or pay for their troubles. It connects fearsomely well to Fargo’s ruminations on how debt keeps the have-nots poor not just in the financial sense, but also in what kind of life someone in debt is allowed to have. Munch has lived a long time, long enough to see worlds change and empires rise and fall, but he carries with him the sense of being innately less. Munch has only known a bleak life lived in the margins at the beck and call of those with power and money and he’s been so thoroughly dehumanized that it’s calcified into a sort of code he lives by. Munch has lived this way for so long that he believes it’s not only the natural way to live, it’s the only way.

At the end of the season, Ole Munch appears at Dot’s home to explain that they have unfinished business. Munch was hired by Roy to take Dot, and though Munch has long since burned his bridge with Roy, it’s an unresolved transaction he cannot leave open. So what does Dot and her family do with the 500-year-old killer-for-hire? They invite Munch in, give him a beer, and eat a chili dinner with him. Spruell does riveting work in this scene as he shows Munch’s defrosting: his eyes bulge and his mouth worries as if he’s a wounded animal distrustful of humans. It’s funny to see this bizarre and fatal figure, whose given name we learn is Oola Moonk, be treated with such warmth in a cozy domestic setting. Throughout the season Moonk reminded me of Cain who was cursed by God with immortality for killing his brother Abel. Anywhere Cain would go, he would be shunned for his sins. Moonk is the same, neither sleeping nor dreaming, simply skulking through the world.

It’s important to note something about this ending scene. Moonk knew crusts of bread and bowls of beer as the food of his trade that would damn him. Dot’s family offers him beer and biscuits, a familiar meal but for one important detail. At the dinner table, Dot offers the man — who has only known scraps laden with sin and blame— a biscuit, something she tells him was made with joy and love. Eat and be forgiven, she tells him, and in the final moments, we see Moonk grin with a mouth full of biscuit, experiencing for the first time joy, love, and forgiveness. He has never known a meal to feed him, only to further burden his soul. In this moment, we see the man who represents the most primordial ideas of debt and sin find medicine in a simple meal. This might feel a bit sweet, but I found this ending note to be a sublime statement. It would’ve been a fine thing to conclude this tale with Moonk returning to the shadows, no lighter from his burdens, but to instead challenge his worldview and by extension the entire obligation of debt we end not wallowing in the worst of humanity, but coming back to forgiveness.

We constructed a pretty bleak and merciless reality of credit scores and exploitation that feels inescapable and endless. At this moment, we’re asked to compare the archaic, superstitious, and unnecessary practice of sin-eating that locked the less fortunate into cycles of debt and poverty to our own system that does the same. Though sin-eating is old, it’s worth wondering as we live in a world choked with debt: do all debts really need to be paid? Wouldn’t everyone be happier with forgiveness and doing away with that miserable system?