Ah, Fargo. For all the unpredictability of its random UFOs, tragic happenstances, and typical Noah Hawley surrealism, you can still count on a few elements to exist. There will be snow and cold. Everyone will be bundled up in coats. Exaggerated Minnesota accents abound. Bumbling criminals will have unexpected success. Good old Fargo. We can always count on you.
Wait…is that sunshine? Is that a palm tree? Wait, a BEACH? What’s going on here? No one looks cold at all! Did I tune in to the wrong channel? How am I going to write this review if I can’t even find the right channel!
Spoilers for 3×03 “The Law of Non-Contradiction” below
The episode opens with a flashback to Thaddeus Mobley, later to be Ennis Stussy, after winning his Golden Planet award. A man named Howard Zimmerman approaches him about producing a movie of his award-winning book. He starts writing a screenplay, meets a girl named Vivienne who is supposed to star in the movie, writes some checks for Howard to grease some palms, and starts doing drugs.
You can see where this is going, I’m sure.
After a fascinating animated sequence of a robot crashing on a planet and beginning to wander, we see Gloria on a plane reading one of her stepfather’s novels, which the animated sequence was about. A man next to her on the plane strikes up a conversation, and eventually she lands in Los Angeles. She checks into the same hotel as Thaddeus.
While she checks in, a man in a Santa beard and hat steals her luggage. Because there’s a Santa Claus convention nearby and there are Santa Clauses everywhere. Oh, Fargo, never change.
Gloria calls the police to report the crime but the officer (played by Rob McElhenney!) doesn’t provide much hope. She tells him she’s a cop in town investigating a murder and he softens up. After checking in she finds a Useless Box and calls home to check on her son. She talks to one of her officers as well and it turns out her LA excursion was not sanctioned. Her new boss wants her to come back. She also has a lead on the actress from Thaddeus’s flashback.
This lead takes her to a diner where the actress works now. Vivienne claims no knowledge because of years of insobriety. Gloria returns to the hotel to find her suitcase, only its contents are gone. Inside is a note from the officer offering to buy her a beer.
She meets him at a bar, where he acts basically like Mac from It’s Always Sunny and has no information on Thaddeus. Gloria also comes across the man from the plane while there. They talk a bit and it turns out Gloria’s divorce hasn’t finalized yet. The officer leaves when she tells him he won’t be getting laid.
After another animated sequence showing the robot traveling throughout hundreds of years of life on the planet, she visits the Writer’s Guild of America and finds Thaddeus’s script, along with Howard Zimmerman’s name. She finds Howard in a nursing home, where he has been since an accident. He calls Thaddeus a failure and basically irrelevant to his life.
Another animated sequence shows civilizations destroying themselves while the robot travels, and eventually the robot getting abducted by a UFO. A note slipped under Gloria’s door says Vivienne wants to meet, and a flashback shows Thaddeus show up at her house. Howard is there and he tells Thaddeus he was scammed. Thaddeus snaps after Howard attacks him and it turns out the “accident” was Thaddeus beating him viciously with Howard’s cane.
Vivienne tells Gloria this at a diner. Gloria tries to make a connection to Ennis’s murder and realizes her LA investigation has turned up nothing. Shots of her packing up to leave are interspersed with shots of Thaddeus hurriedly doing the same after his attack. It turns out the name Ennis Stussy came from the maker of the toilet at the hotel, which Gloria also finds out.
One more animated sequence shows the robot’s abductors thank the robot for all the data it collected before asking it to shut down. Gloria and her son leave Ennis’s funeral and one of her officers arrives with an ID of prints from Ennis’s house. Which, of course, belong to Maurice.
The episode ends with them driving off, the Useless Box from the hotel inside her cop car.
At best, this episode’s relevance to the overall plot for Fargo’s third season is in question. Considering the nature of the robot’s story, the show might have blatantly told us it holds no relevance. This may be nothing more than a story of Hollywood seduction and exploitation connected only by its victim and Gloria’s presence.
And I loved every second of it.
After two episodes spent mostly on the sidelines in favor of the Stussy brothers and their various accomplices, Gloria Burgle (and the amazing Carrie Coon) finally received her moment to shine. Whether this episode is relevant to the main plot or not ultimately doesn’t matter; this episode more than justified itself purely because of her. While the episode may have revolved around Ennis’s past, this was all about Gloria’s need to find out who her stepfather truly was.
The contents of the box she found revealed a side of Ennis Stussy she never suspected. She didn’t even know his real name. A recurring aspect of Gloria’s character so far is her tendency to interject her personal feelings into the need to solve this murder. Which, of course she would. This is her stepfather. She makes clear that a murder should be solved regardless of the victim, but that she has a personal interest in the solving of this victim.
The various plot points of a story do not matter if the characters do not connect you to them. This episode set out to connect you to Gloria. Yes, she sought leads into one of two murders driving the season’s plot. She also sought to understand a father she realized she did not know, and in the process provided the audience a greater understanding of her.
As much as I love Molly and Lou Solverson from Fargo’s first two seasons, the complaint can certainly be leveled that both were too perfect. They were both super cops who basically always had the right instincts and had no real flaws in their personalities. The worst you could say is Lou might have spent too much time in the job, but his wife didn’t care. Molly may have been lonely, but not really because of any fault of hers. Neither was ever truly fallible.
At first glance, Gloria appeared shaped in the same mold. This episode showed differently. She is divorced. She’s behind the times. The county takeover of her station has sparked a certain pride in her methods causing her to rebuke her new chief. She does so in the nicest way possible, but she rebukes him all the same. Her relationship with her son appears tentative.
When she landed in LA, I assumed she would find some lead worth following regarding Ennis’s murder. The fact she found nothing, returned home, and learned that her department had instead found Maurice’s prints was incredible. It both confirmed Gloria’s fallibility and the deeply personal nature of her trip to LA.
The animated segments with the robot strongly paralleled this journey to a highly effective degree. The robot wandered the planet for millions of years only to observe and learn. Gloria did much the same. The man on the plane gave the same kind of “we learned to crawl then walk” speech as the animated segment. She learned of her stepfather’s past without coming any closer to solving his murder. The Useless Box also plays into the futility of her investigation.
I’ll be honest, and anyone who has read my reviews probably realized this already, I love episodes like this.
Nothing matters more to a story than the characters, and Gloria Burgle received amazing character work. I may not know more about the plot, but I know a lot more about her. Moving forward I will understand her decisions and actions better because of this episode. This was one of my favorite episodes of this incredible show to date.
And it is highly possible these events will matter down the line. Fans have speculated as to the nature of Ennis’s death and whether Maurice would go through such trouble considering his state at the time. Regardless, I have a feeling this episode will be dissected for years by Fargo fans for its foreshadowing of the season to follow.
Was the robot’s irrelevance to the events it witnessed meant to foreshadow the inability of the police to eventually do anything about VA Varga’s organization? Will Gloria’s failure with old-fashioned police methods, only for modern tech to ID Maurice, be a recurring theme? The episode did continue the season’s strong technology theme (no malfunctioning automatic doors, unfortunately).
Whatever the case, this was as good as Fargo has ever been. Whether sunny or cold, snow or sand, LA or Minnesota, Fargo’s status as one of the best shows currently airing translates uninterrupted, and in large part due to its incredible characters. Give me more Gloria Burgle, please.
- As a recent Facebooker, I know the conversation Gloria had with the officer very well.
- Speaking of the officer, I love how Rob McElhenney basically played Mac. By the way, both Mac and Dennis have now played guest roles on Fargo. When will Charlie Day and Danny DeVito follow suit?
- I also think his mocking of Gloria’s accent was at least partially aimed at fans doing the same, as well as the attempts various actors make to pull the accent off.
- Howard’s monologue about the meaning of particles colliding and separating and these collisions with others throughout his life was fantastic.
- I know tales of Hollywood sucking people dry are old hat at this point, but this episode showed the power such stories are still capable of.
- The animated segments this week were brought to you by Don Hertzfeldt.
- I bet the crew of Fargo was glad to leave the cold behind to film this episode.
- The ending apparently means Fargo was brought to you this week by Arby’s. I’ll let Jon Stewart take it from here.