A review of tonight’s Fargo coming up just as soon as there are nine Santas lounging by the pool…
“I used to think it meant something: these collisions, the people we found.” –Howard Zimmerman
In terms of the plot of Fargo season three, “The Law of Non-Contradiction” is a complete waste of time, which we know going in, and which Gloria figures out by the end, lamenting, “It’s just a story. None of this has anything to do with it.” Ennis wasn’t murdered because of what happened during his time as a failed screenwriter and scam victim(*), and the relevant players to the case are all back in Minnesota. But the plot of the season and the story of the season aren’t exactly the same thing, and the episode is hugely valuable as the most entertaining hour of this third season so far, and as important insight into both our chief investigator and the season’s initial murder victim, as well as to the season’s (and series’, for that matter) overall interest in stories and the way they’re told.
(*) Technically, Thaddeus Mobley’s misadventure in the City of Angels did lead to his death: if he hadn’t puked in that particular motel toilet, he’d have chosen a different name to assume while fleeing the aftermath of his assault on Howard Zimmerman, and would still be alive. Though Gloria has to piece together Maurice’s name confusion before she can fully understand that part.
It’s an unusual episode by Fargo standards, focusing on a single character, and taking place almost entirely under the warm California sun. But after the season’s first hours felt a little too familiar from the Solverson years, this was exciting, and fun, and offered a better and more compelling picture of Gloria and Ennis.
Where previous episodes were named after bridge strategies, “The Law of Non-Contradiction” comes from the theory that no two contradictory ideas may exist at the same time. But the episode itself is a contradiction of its own title, showing how this case, and Gloria Burgle’s life in general, can contain contradictory thoughts simultaneously.
Gloria is a police chief who isn’t really a police chief anymore, running a department that no longer quite exists, still technically married to a man who is no longer her husband, investigating the death of a man who hadn’t been her stepfather in decades but still had a paternal (or grandpaternal) presence in her life, was Ennis Stussy but not really Ennis Stussy, and who once wrote the tale of a helper robot that never seemed to get a chance to help anyone, then proved enormously helpful to the entire universe. Even the novelty box that Gloria finds in the back of her motel closet is built to be a contradiction, existing only to turn itself off (with a switch resembling the one that poor Minsky the robot uses to turn itself off after 2.38 million years of service). When Gloria is at her most unmoored during the trip, while stuck on what she didn’t realize was an attempted hookup by Officer Hunt, she runs into Paul, her neighbor from the flight into Los Angeles, and explains the contradictory state of her marriage, if not of her whole life. Paul in turn charms her with the tale of a soldier who goes off to war, first giving his wife a bill of divorce that becomes official if he doesn’t return within 12 months, but then retroactively takes effect from the moment he left, turning the woman into even more of a Schrodinger’s Wife than Gloria: simultaneously married and unmarried, without definitive proof until the box opens up 12 months from now.
Though Gloria is thousands of miles away from home, “The Law of Non-Contradiction” does a nifty job of still feeling like Fargo, both in the sense of the movie itself, and the ways the two previous seasons were influenced by it, and how Noah Hawley has turned the series into an extended tribute to the entire Coen ouevre. There are echoes of The Big Lebowski (LA noir conventions turned on their head), The Hudsucker Proxy (naive young man gets involved in big business where he’s meant to be a dupe), and Barton Fink (“legitimate” writer moves into an LA hotel to try his hand at screenwriting, and things go awry), yet the Coen moment that kept coming to mind was Marge Gunderson having drinks with Mike Yanagita.