Fargo’s third episode is going to be a hard one to top (a surprise considering Hawley’s absence from the writer’s credits). Not only is it a deeply powerful character study “The Law of Non-Contradiction” is also an existential tract as profound and moving an episode as Fargo has ever produced. There’s a special rhythm to the episode whose plot follows Gloria Burgle investigating the death of her stepfather, an investigation ultimately bringing her to Los Angeles during the holidays. A second outlying narrative follows her stepfather as a young man (his real name revealed to be Thaddeus Mobley) and his days as a naïve science fiction writer 35 years earlier. A third narrative briefly outlines her stepfather’s final story; a tale of a wandering robot, which also plays as his existential confessional.
This is the first the series has truly explored its yokel heroes as a fish-out-of-water. In Los Angeles Gloria finds out a lot about herself and about the world around her. In one sequence detailing the cruelty of the big city Gloria meets a local cop and discovers how shallow the outside world is when he vainly attempts to proposition her. The moment is also crucial because it inscribes a bit of insecurity to the headstrong police chief, whose prowess in the field prove null and void in her new environment.
Gloria’s Minnesotan accent and cordial manner are relics and novelties to everyone in L.A. and perhaps the rest of the country. Her feeling of worldly insignificance rings even stronger upon reading Thaddeus’ final novel. The tale of the wandering robot is in itself an outcry of existential despair, a story that resonates deeply with not only Thaddeus’ thoughts but Gloria’s burgeoning feeling of cosmic irrelevance. (Her quiet, dispassionate stare into the vast emptiness of the Pacific Ocean is a striking and well-placed moment of contemplation of her life’s possible meaninglessness in the space of infinity).
The story of Thaddeus Mobley as a young man (played by Thomas Mann) seems as middling and clichéd as Hollywood cautionary tales come. Film producer Howard Zimmerman (Fred Melamed) approaches him during an award acceptance for his book and offers him a film deal. Thaddeus, naïve and star struck, is beguiled by the glamour and promises of Hollywood. Soon he falls in love with film actress Vivian Lord (Frances Fisher), an enigmatic seductress under Howard’s employ. Though a story we’ve heard before, Thaddeus Mobley’s tragic fall from grace becomes a devastating affirmation of Hollywood’s fiction and artificiality bleeding into human behavior in the worst possible way.
Fiction becomes a running motif in “The Law of Non-Contradiction,” both as an honest reflection of reality and an alluring mirage. Gloria’s trail turns cold, she never discovers her stepfather’s killer but uncovers a dense background of deception and betrayal. (Including how Thaddeus Mobley ultimately becomes Ennis Stussy). In the end Gloria learns the most about her stepfather through his final story, which proves the episode celebrates fiction as much as it laments it. Carrie Coon finally finds equal footing to Ewan McGregor as a leading force; her portrayal of goodness transcends morality and becomes self-examining. It will likely be a safe bet as far as Emmy consideration goes, but more interesting (and worrisome) is how this story will play into her character in later episodes.