This Fargo review contains spoilers.
Fargo Season 3 Episode 3
In my lukewarm review of the premiere of this season of Fargo, I wondered whether creator Noah Hawley would have enough tricks up his sleeve to stave off the increasing sense of familiarity that was bogging down the show’s first hour. In episode two, the writers were able to execute familiar beats to maximum effect, making the familiarity criticism a moot point. Now with the “The Law of Non-Contradiction,” Hawley and company invigorate an almost-filler episode, one part road trip, one part origins, with enough new elements to make things feel entirely fresh.
Last season, Fargo made a particular point of paying homage in various different ways to the Coen Brothers filmography. It looks like this could be their Barton Fink tribute. Diving into Ennis’ past life as Thaddeus Mobley via flashback, a large portion of the episode follows the young science fiction writer in 1975 as he is chewed up and spit out by Hollywood after trying to convert one of his novels into a screenplay. We already know that Fargo can ace the ’70s period material, but the Hollywood and show business angle make it feel like uncharted by highly welcomed waters. As a fan of movies and TV shows about show business, now I’m longing for Hawley to give us more stories set in that world.
The flashbacks aren’t the only action set in sunny Los Angeles, as Gloria takes an unapproved business trip to investigate Ennis’ past and find out if it’s related to his murder. Getting out of the Midwestern snow isn’t just good for Gloria; it’s also good for the show. Just visually, the change of scenery livens things up, and it’s fun to watch Gloria buck up against people that don’t have that Minnesota Nice ingrained into them, like a forward, Facebook-enthralled cop played by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia creator and star Rob McElhenney.
The episode also utilizes animation, a first for the series and another welcomed curveball. The animation looks to be inspired by Don Hertzfeldt’s style and recent work, The World of Tomorrow. The sequence plays out the story of one of Mobley’s novels, The Planet Wyh, in which an android programed to observe and record information is stranded on a distant planet for millions of years, only to be found, praised for its discoveries, and then turned off. At the time of writing, I haven’t quite wrapped my brain around what it means thematically for this story, but it seems to be commenting on the lack of appreciation for a job well done, the meaning of our existence or planned obsolescence. I’m sure I’ll figure it out on after some reflection, or that an angry commenter will clue me in.
There’s more of a graspable theme in Gloria’s story this week, and it’s similar to actress Carrie Coon’s other series, The Leftovers. After meeting with the old romantic interest and the Hollywood producer that conned Mobley, Gloria realizes that Ennis’ old life in L.A. has no ties to his murder. Just like The Leftovers, this episode finds Gloria thinking about the stories we tell ourselves and the narratives that we cast ourselves in to help explain the circumstances of our lives. As much as Gloria wants Mobley’s raged induced attempted murder from 35 years ago to factor into his death, it’s just a story that she’s telling herself to make sense of the random loss.
Once back home, Gloria receives news that Maurice’s prints have been discovered in Ennis’ home and learns the suspicious nature of Maurice’s “accidental” death. It’s the only plot moving piece of information delivered in the episode, but that doesn’t mean the L.A. diversion wasn’t appreciated. Between old Howard Zimmerman’s speech about quantum physics and the distilled nature of Mobley’s Hollywood cautionary tale, there’s plenty to love here, and I also feel extra anxious to get back to the main story about Emmit and Ray. There wasn’t much relaxation for Gloria, but I think Fargo’s vacation west was time well spent.