Wednesday, May 3, 2017

REVIEW: 'Fargo' - Gloria Heads to Hollywood Searching for Answers in 'The Law of Non-Contradiction'

FX's Fargo - Episode 3.03 "The Law of Non-Contradiction"

Gloria revisits her stepfather's past to try and find some answers.

"The Law of Non-Contradiction" is a very fun and delightful episode of Fargo. It's completely random and pointless as well. The first two episodes of the season were very focused on the plot of the season as it relates to the Stussy brothers. This hour is a narrative dead end for Gloria's investigation of Ennis' death. The audience knows that right away. She's flying to Hollywood for answers to his mysterious past in the hopes that it'll provide more clarity. The audience is aware that it has absolutely nothing to do with his death. By the end of this hour, Gloria knows that as well. Plus, she's still able to discover that Maurice was at Ennis' house that night and is now dead. So all of this could feel like a massive waste of time. And yet, it isn't. Plot is important in this show. But it has never been the only important thing. This hour does a phenomenal job in exploring the themes of the season. It reveals that Fargo can still be Fargo even when the characters are actually in Hollywood. It understands stories and how they are told and the importance of all of that. What this hour lacks in narrative progress, it makes up for with insight into the lives of the characters at the center of all of it. The plot of the season is nothing if the audience doesn't care about or understand the characters.

Gloria's trip to Hollywood further showcases how her life is a walking contradiction. There are very few definitive things about her. She's a police chief, but not really since her precinct is being absorbed by the county. She's divorced from her husband, but they are still technically married. She's investigating the death of her stepfather, but he's not actually her stepfather. She's living in a increasingly technological world, but technology fails around her at every possible moment. Her trip to Hollywood is completely pointless, but it does tell her why Thaddeus Mobley left and changed his name to Ennis Stussy. And finally, she's reading a book about an alien android who wants to help people, but never does. When he is finally seen as the most useful source of information in the galaxy, he's then turned off for good. Those animated sequences are so weird but interesting. This novel is becoming a part of Gloria's life. She's fixated on it because she can connect with the protagonist's journey of intrigue and pursuit of being helpful. She wants to find answers in this case, but her police work is turning up empty in Hollywood. It's only after she returns home that Donny gives her the lead that actually connects back to what really happened to Ennis.

Overall, this episode is very strange and disorienting. It's a little hard to explain why this hour is so effective and compelling as well. It tells a simple story about a daughter learning more about her parent's messy and complicated life. It's a venture that includes a trip to the past. It's a world that Gloria blends into much more than present day. There are shots where it's unclear if it's Gloria or Thaddeus entering a room. It shows that they are kindred spirits who have similar views of the world. Those views just don't work out in the Hollywood atmosphere. Both this show and the movie set out to expose the hidden darkness of "Minnesota nice." It's an entry point for complicated stories. And now, Gloria is actually a fish-out-of-water. She's landed in a world whee people make fun of her accent and are more blunt or mean-spirited. The moment she gets to her motel, her luggage is stolen. It's not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. She only had flannels in there. She can and does buy more. But it shows how the world is different. This isn't what Gloria is used to at all. It's a strange and alienating world to her. She'd rather go to Arby's with her son than get on Facebook or deal with the Writers' Guild of America.

It's also fascinating to see her connect better with people older than her instead of people around her own age. Rob McElhenney is the second star from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia to show up on this show. His beat cop largely just wants to have sex with Gloria. He doesn't care about her investigation at all. Yes, he is able to get her bag back from the elf who stole it. But all of its contents are already gone. Plus, he wants to connect with her on Facebook. He loves how the world is getting more and more connected. The exploration of the growing virtual world seems to be an ongoing theme this season. Gloria doesn't understand it. Nor does she want to. When she's at the diner, she's the only person not on her phone. She's having a conversation with another person. That's the way she interacts with the world. it's a personal connection that means something. Perhaps the show will do more with this idea in the future. Right now, it's just a surface take about the potential perils of online connectivity. But it's also something that is valuable to Gloria. She'd much rather read a book or talk with an older stranger at a bar than have meaningless sex or post pictures of her life for everyone to see online.

But of course, all of this ultimately comes back to Thaddeus Mobley and the life he lived in Hollywood. He had to have changed his name for a reason. It's really quite an interesting story as well. He won prizes as a published author. But he has corrupted by the allure and glamour of Hollywood. Movie stars, big time producers and beautiful starlets distracted him. He fell into their trap and was punished for being so naive. He was "Minnesota nice" long before he actually lived in Minnesota. However, he had to move because he thought he killed a guy. He became so outraged that his producer lied to him that he nearly beat him to death. Howard still survived and Gloria is able to talk with him too. It just shows that the world is filled with bad people. Even the people we know best have pasts that could be horrifying to learn about. Gloria sees the full picture of what Ennis' life was. He kept all of this from her. It made him happy but ashamed as well. That's what makes it so bittersweet to end this hour on his funeral. Gloria has all these details about Ennis' past now. But she only went searching for answers because he was murdered - in a random case of mistaken identity.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Law of Non-Contradiction" was written by Matt Wolpert & Ben Nedivi and directed by John Cameron.
  • It's very unlike this show to sideline most of the cast for a spotlight episode on one character. And yet, it allows this season to differentiate itself from the previous two. Familiarity was this season's biggest problem in its opening episodes. And now, it feels different and distinct while still being Fargo.
  • This hour boasts such a great guest cast. Rob McElhenney is a familiar face for FX viewers. Fred Melamed is great as the slick and cunning producer, Howard. Mother and daughter Frances Fisher and Francesca Eastwood play the actress of Thaddeus' desire. Ray Wise is the fellow traveler who Gloria keeps running into. And Thomas Mann is strong as the naive Thaddeus Mobley. 
  • Having an air conditioner in the middle of winter is a very Fargo thing to do. And yet, both Gloria and Donny note how peculiar it is for Maurice to die in a freak accident like that. So, Nikki may not be in the clear like she expected to be - which isn't that surprising. 
  • Gloria's life may be full of contradictions but she seems fully accepting of that too. It's weird when she finds the machine in her motel room that only exists to turn itself off. But she does take it back to Eden Valley with her. So, it made a valuable impression.
  • Those animated sequences were so simple but really engaging and emotional by the end as well. It was sad to see the android who just wanted to help get turned off in the end. The switch in its head was even similar to the machine that Gloria has as well. 
  • Fargo and The Leftovers continue to be sharing a lot of themes and stories this year. Both seasons have produced strong episodes where characters played by Carrie Coon go out of town to investigate something new.