For an hour that so drastically limited the focus to one single storyline, Fargo Season 3 Episode 3 was a remarkably compelling installment of the series.
"The Law of Non-Contradiction" found Gloria Burgle leaving behind the Minnesota chill for sunny California to investigate her murdered stepdad's secret past. It also provided an incredible showcase for the unbelievably talented Carrie Coon.
The action was split between flashback sequences to Thaddeus Mobley in California in 1975 and Gloria Burgle essentially retracing his steps 35 years later.
In my review of Fargo Season 3 Episode 2, I wasn't fully clear on whether Ennis was definitely Thaddeus Mobley, but that was cleared up quickly.
Ennis was once an award-winning sci-fi writer on the verge of the big time, but a series of bad choices (and a whole lot of cocaine) derailed his life and his career, sending him into a life of drunken curmodgeonliness in Minnesota.
The flashbacks revealed that Thaddeus had arrived in California to accept his award – the same award he was pictured accepting in the newspaper article clipping found in the box that Gloria uncovered after the murder. In no time at all, poor Tad (then a naive and innocent young man) was approached by "producer" Howard Zimmerman (unclear whether this guy was ever a producer at all or just a no-good con man).
Howard managed to con Tad out of all of his money, enlisting the feminine wiles (and, again, the cocaine) of Vivian Lord, a long-forgotten 1970s screen queen and sex icon.
It was blisteringly clear that Tad, who was living out of the same motel room that Gloria stayed in during her present-day visit to Tinseltown, was being played by Vivian right from the word go. She was barely feigning mild interest in him, but Tad was utterly starry eyed and oblivious to her true intentions.
That made the eventual climactic scene, where the jig is finally up and Howard and Vivian harshly confess to Tad that he got played and won't be getting back any of the book advance money that he fronted to make the movie all the more heartbreaking.
Obviously, that sympathy is challenged by the fact that Tad completely snapped and viciously beat Howard with a cane, debilitating him for the rest of his life. Like Vivian pointed out, that's not exactly the reaction of a good person.
He was right. I am a bad person. But he wasn't so good either.Vivian
Anyway, sometime between fleeing California and arriving in Minnesota, where he changed his name (inspired by the name of the company who made the hotel room toilets, as Gloria discovered), Ennis became the withdrawn, drunken old geyser we met briefly before his untimely glue-asphyxiation death in the premiere.
In the present, Ennis' stepdaughter encountered a series of obstacles in her investigation of his death.
Gloria arrived in Los Angeles to fully gridlocked traffic (what else is new) and was promptly robbed of her flannel-packed suitcase by a rogue Santa Clause at the rowdy and obnoxious Santa convention taking place at the motel. (What an odd and perfeclty quirky little detail.)
That unfortunate event let her straight into the hands of Officer Hunt, the less-than-charming police officer played brilliantly by It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Rob McElhenney.
Hunt: So after we talked, I tried to friend you on Facebook.
Gloria: I don't use that.
Hunt: Really? You don't use Facebook? You're kidding me! Everybody’s on Facebook. It's Facebook.
Gloria: Could you stop saying Facebook?
Hunt: I got 352 friends. Most of them I don't even know! This one time I met this chick. Then she turned out to be a Nigerian man who wanted money.
And by the way – I'm continuing to adore the character detail about Gloria resisting all forms of technology, including cell phones and social media. How funny was it to see her get in touch with her son back in Minnesota by using a landline to dial her deputy Donny, who then drove to catch up with Nathan's school bus?
But meanwhile, back in LA, Hunt was an absolute toad, making fun of Gloria's accent, making crude comments about going to "take a shit," and finally asking Gloria outright if he was going to get laid tonight "or what." "What" was Gloria's apt response.
Despite Hunt's complete lack of helpfulness, Gloria still managed to track down the present-day Vivian Lord, long since recovered from her rampant drug use, no longer famous, and currently working as a waitress to support herself.
She also managed to figure out that Tad had written a screenplay version of his book for Zimmerman, tracking Zimmerman to the nursing home where (as Gloria later pieced together, with the rest of the story from Vivian) he'd been living since Tad brutally beat him down years earlier.
The Zimmerman scene was noteworthy if only for his stunning monologue:
Howard Zimmerman: Science has this thing. It's been proven. They call it “quantum” something. It talks about how we're all just particles. We're floating out there. We're moving through space. Nobody knows where we are. And then, every once in a while —
bang! We collide. And suddenly, for maybe a minute, we’re real. And then we float off again. As if we don't even exist. I used to think it meant something — these collisions, the people we found.
Gloria: And now?
Howard: Don't let the door hit you on your way out.
Thematically, what the producer said tied into what we saw of Tad's melancholy award-winning novel. Much like Fargo Season 2 was grounded in philosophy via characters like Noreen, Tad's book The Planet Wyh seems to encapsulate the larger theme at work this season – the meaning of life and the point of human existence.
Light stuff as usual on Fargo, y'know!
Interwoven throughout the entire installment were animated sequences depicting the events of Tad's novel, which followed a little android who is effectively marooned on the planet after his astronaut dies.
His whole purpose is to figure out, well, his purpose and the meaning of life. Instead, the poor little guy (who can only say "I can help!" cheerfully, again and again) winds up wandering seemingly aimlessly for 2.38 million years.
On the bright side, the android's seemingly endless existence does actually have a happy ending – after his years of wandering, seeing civilizations rise and fall, he's beamed up by a United Federation of Planets, who congratulate him on having collected invaluable data about humanity and give him the go-ahead to shut down.
The android's "life" finally ends (he voluntarily switches himself off), and he "dies" knowing that his existence had a clearly defined purpose.
Of course, that's not how real-life goes. The counterpoint to the android's story is his creator's real-life, which ended for no good reason other than the fact that a drugged-up moron lost a piece of paper with his real target's address.
Gloria wanted desperately to believe that Ennis' secret past life would hold the key to his murder, when, in fact, they were entirely unrelated. As she learned in the final moments of the hour when she returned to Minnesota and spoke with Donny, Maurice LeFay was her stepdad's killer.
Gloria's jaunt to California might seem pointless, in the larger scheme of things, because it seemingly doesn't tie into the larger story. But this is Fargo, so I wouldn't be shocked to find out later that Mobley's life does have some larger bearing on the plot.
And even if not, it was a damn fine standalone episode.
- 1970s Vivian was played by Francesca Eastwood, while modern day Vivian was played by the actress' mother, Frances Fisher. Great casting choices.
- Isn't it weird that Tad's script somehow still managed to get registerd with the Writer's Guild of America? Even after he smashed the producer's head to a pulp? Who even took care of registering it?
- Speaking of that script – an intriguing but minor (and probably unimportant) detail: The screenplay has the correct spelling of "Why" in its title. The Planet Why versus the book's The Planet Wyh.
- Ennis was established as an alcoholic early on in the Fargo Season 3 Premiere, which made the small detail that he only wanted a cream soda when Howard offered all the more sad.
- It's really a credit to Carrie Coon's skill that I didn't miss any of the other characters for a second while she commanded the screen.
- The box Gloria finds in her hotel room (the one that, when you flip the switch, has a hand come out and switch it right back off) is a nice tie to the android in Tad's story.
- I'm never one to complain about the inclusion of Ray Wise in anything, but what was the point of Paul Moran? Other than to say several profound things to Gloria. Will he turn up again later?
What did you think of "The Law of Non-Contradiction"? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below and remember that you can watch Fargo online anytime here at TV Fanatic.
Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.