Fargo S3E3 “The Law of Non-Contradiction”
Something that all the great shows have and all mediocre and bad shows strive for is atmosphere. Getting to the point where fans can easily identify the “feel” of the show and being able to say the show has a distinct style is something worth striving for and worth praising when done correctly. Fargo is definitely one of the better shows around in creating its own style. When we sit down and watch, we expect bumbling people lethally miscommunicating with each other, the cold Minnesotan winter landscape, accent and all and a near flawless cop there to try and step above it all and piece the puzzle together. It’s such a great style and works great but some have felt that this third season was heading towards being derivative, a bit on the stale end. In “The Law of Non-Contradiction”, season three treads into new waters (almost literally) as Gloria takes sole control of the episode and leaves behind Minnesota for a little while to find out more about her step dad’s younger life as in Los Angeles. It’s definitely a bold move off the beaten path. Does it pay off? Let’s take a look.
Before we get to Gloria, we get a fairly lengthy cold open sequence in the form of a flashback. The subject matter? Thaddeus Mobley. The year is 1975 and Thad is fresh off winning an award for his sci-fi work The Planet Wyh and heads over to the bar at the award ceremony to celebrate. At the bar he meets movie producer and con man Howard Zimmerman. Making it big is something that attracts Thad so Howard is able to make quick work out of him and get what he wants. He gets Thad to write a screenplay for a film adaptation of the film no problem but brings in attractive actress Vivian Lord to seduce him and ultimately get him to fund the movie through his checks from book publications. It sounds all good and Thad is living the flashy Hollywood life for a time but like all good things, it comes to an end. It turns out Howard and Vivian were scamming him along the whole time, literally getting him to pay for their going nowhere drug laden lifestyle. Naturally he gets upset, really upset over this and nearly kills Howard while just barely sparing Vivian due to the real love he had for her in what she even admitted was a fake relationship just to get money out of him. He flees the scene and packs his things in his motel. Before leaving, he heads to the bathroom and seems a brand name on the inside of the toilet bowl, Dennis Stussy with the D in Dennis very faded out. That’s where he got his new name from before leaving Los Angeles behind for Minnesota. That all didn’t happen in the cold open but it makes more sense to just write about the two narratives of the episode individually rather than try to intermix them, which the episode to its credit, did brilliantly.
With Thad’s story explained to its fullest through flashbacks, Gloria goes out to Los Angeles to find out some information about him herself. It’s been a long time since the events that we saw from Thad’s perspective so it’s not going to be easy for her. She doesn’t get off to a great start as she checks into her motel, the same one that Thad himself was staying at all that time ago. Minnesota may be a place where people don’t feel the need to lock their front doors at night but Los Angeles is a whole different animal. She left her luggage at the front door of the motel when she went to check in and is too late to stop someone from speeding away with her luggage. Luckily, she did manage to get the license plates so she calls the Los Angeles Police Department and it’s a familiar face for Its Always Sunny Fans. Rob McElhenney plays the part of an LAPD cop but not a particularly useful one. Gloria asks if she could help out seeing if they have anything on Thad in their database but that doesn’t end up turning out anything. No scene better shows that Gloria is a fish out of water here in Los Angeles than when she meets him for drinks at the bar. His Facebook monologue comes off a bit excessive but it gets the point across and his inability to connect with her in anyway whatsoever is pretty funny.
After that setback, Gloria can get down to business. Her lead is Vivian Lord, a picture of an actress that Ennis had in his belongings that she found. Vivian works in a diner now and is far removed from the lifestyle she had before. She’s managed to stay sober for decades now and says that she has no memory of her old life. With seemingly nothing there, Gloria leaves Vivian her information just in case she remembers or has a change of heart if she was just lying about the memory loss and heads off.
The next stop on this tour is the Writers Guild. Gloria correctly points out that it’s a bit of an oversight that the guild doesn’t actually cover book authors. Luckily they do have Thad’s screenplay on hand and Gloria gets a second lead off of this as she sees the producer of the film was Howard Zimmerman. She’s able to track him down to a hospital where he lives out the rest of his days in a rather sad manner. He can’t talk by himself and we don’t know if it’s from all the drugs or the physical trauma from Thad’s beating of him but it’s probably some mixture of both. Much like her first lead, this too leads nowhere and Gloria seems to have hit a dead end here.
Just before she could wave the white flag, Vivian has a change of heart and decides to spill the beans on what happened with her and Thad back in the day. She more or less gets the same story that we the viewers got and while it’s certainly interesting, it doesn’t seem to have any tangible connection to the story. Gloria unknowingly gets all metaphysical frustratingly saying “This is just a story, none of this has to do with anything”. Maybe it doesn’t but she also says earlier that everyone has a story and everyone has someone that cares enough to make the effort of looking worth it. Even the late discovery of the toilet brand name really isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things. With the mission seemingly a failure, she spends some time on the beach (I hear the beaches aren’t quite up to par in Minnesota) and heads on home.
One thing I’ve got to say after three episodes is that Gloria has got to be the best and most fleshed out police officer we’ve gotten to follow. Whether it’s Molly in season one or Lou in season two, they both weren’t undermined through any fault of their own. Their delayed success was mostly if not entirely due to the incompetence of their superiors. Gloria to this point has had shortcomings as a result of her personally and it’s a breath of fresh air. Gloria doesn’t like technology and while this season has poked fun at technology, it has also done the same to those who can’t keep up. Gloria went all the way to Los Angeles to do good old fashioned police work and comes home to find that the new development in the case is thanks to technology. One also wonders what she could have found out about Thad if she was just more internet adept and it didn’t even have to be much because good old fashioned police work wasn’t that productive either. In any case, with Maurice being the new development and also being dead, Gloria has plenty of time to hit up Arby’s and plan her next move. I’m sure we’ll get back to the rest of our brilliant main cast next week but this episode as a character study of Gloria worked extremely well despite the adventure being a failure for her.
The animation behind The Planet Wyh was something Fargo’s never tried before and it worked pretty well. It would have felt out of place in any other episode but fit right in with the different and one off feel of the episode. The robot also works as an allegory for Gloria. As much as the robot wants to help, does observing make him useful? You can try your hardest sometimes but in the end you may just accomplish nothing.
That gimmick toy thing that closes itself when you open it is known as a useless machine (what a fitting name). Gloria might be able to relate to the feeling of futility with her loss of power and a transition to modern day policing coming.
Never been to Los Angeles myself but I feel bad for Los Angeles folk if that was an accurate depiction of the traffic. And I thought New York was bad.
In season one we got Dennis from Always Sunny in a role, season three has given us Mac. I for one won’t be complaining if we get enough seasons to get the whole cast in using the every other season pattern.
Quote of the Day. Little in the way of dark humor in this episode but still plenty to go around, enough that I had to call a tie.
Mac “I got to go drop the kids off at the pool.”
Gloria “you got kids?”
Mac “I gotta take a shit”
When the motel manager tells Gloria about the ocean scent.
Gloria “There’s an ocean view?”
Manager “No, there’s a smell”
“The Law of Non-Contradiction” sails Fargo into uncharted waters in both setting and narrative style, and found treasure.