It’s not common to see a show like Fargo do a stand-alone episode. Given what Noah Hawley crafted in the first two seasons, one has to believe that the flashback-heavy “Law of Non-Contradiction” will play into the season thematically, but it feels almost purposefully diversionary when it comes to plot. Like the animated robot who travels through the universe only to shut itself down, the episode tells us the story of Thaddeus Mobley, only to reveal in the final moments that none of it means anything. As we knew all along, Stussy-Mobley was killed by an idiot who later had an air conditioner thrown on his head. Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) finally discovers this fact in the closing moments, but not until she’s had an eventful, philosophical, and beautifully shot trip to Los Angeles.
“The Law of Non-Contradiction” cuts back and forth between the mid-to-late-’70s and 2010. We start in the former, meeting a young Thaddeus Mobley, a.k.a. Tad (Thomas Randall Mann), at an awards show for sci-fi writers. He’s accepting a trophy for his book The Planet Wyh, and he runs into a producer named Howard Zimmerman (Fred Melamed), who calls him “the Cheddar.” Howard wants to turn his book into a major motion picture, but we quickly see that Hollywood in the ’70s was a sea of traps for a young writer like Mobley, including an abundance of cocaine and the allure of a leading lady named Vivian Lord (Francesca Eastwood). It’s a Hollywood spiral story, done in a montage of Tad signing away his book advance, debaucherous parties, and bumps of coke.
At the end of the first Hollywood montage, Tad starts to write and we see an animated version of The Planet Wyh. It’s about a robot named MNSKY (nicknamed “Minsky”) who travels the universe. To say the animation, done by Floyd County Productions, the studio behind Archer, looks inspired by Don Hertzfeldt’s work would be an understatement. I thought for sure that it was Hertzfeldt at first. (Side note: If you’re not familiar with Hertzfeldt, watch World of Tomorrow as soon as possible. It’s one of the best animated short films ever made.)
We transition from the ’70s through the animation to Gloria, on a plane headed to L.A. to investigate her stepfather’s murder. She meets a man on the plane (the always-welcome Ray Wise), who speaks of evolution much like the animation. He describes how we once swam, then crawled, then walked, then ran … “and now.” The first visual cue is to people sitting on a plane, but the line lingers into Gloria stuck in L.A. traffic, which is what a lot of us do now more than anything else.
Gloria arrives at the Hollywood Premiere Motel at the same time as a Santa Claus convention, only to have her luggage stolen by an evil elf. A police officer (played by the great Rob McElhenney of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) offers to help, but he really just wants to get laid. Before Gloria’s horrible date with the L.A. cop, she goes to a diner to find Vivian Lord, now played by Francesca Eastwood’s mother, Frances Fisher. Vivian claims not to remember Tad, suggesting that he was just a fan. We know that’s a lie. What is she hiding? Gloria gives Vivian her card.
After the bar scene in which Gloria dismisses McElhenney’s police officer — he says he “has to go drop the kids off at the pool” before asking if he’s “going to get laid or what” — we go back to the animated world of MNSKY. The robot has wandered the universe for millennia in search of meaning. When he stops to recharge his battery, he is attacked. Is Gloria the robot, wandering the wasteland of L.A. and getting nowhere? Offering to help but being ignored?
Gloria’s investigation takes her to the Writers Guild of America, where she finds a Wyh script with Zimmerman’s name on it. She tracks him down to a nursing home, where he’s particularly surly. He says Mobley was a failure. It feels like a throwaway scene, but may contain the philosophical undercurrent of the entire season. Through a tracheotomy speaking valve, Zimmerman speaks about how we’re all just particles floating through space. It’s only when we collide every once in a while that we have any meaning. But what if the collisions don’t mean anything either?
After another animated interlude in which MNSKY is taken aboard an alien ship, Gloria gets a call from Vivian Lord. We finally see why Tad fled to Minnesota. He went to Vivian’s apartment one night only to find Howard there. The money was all gone. He was swindled by the producer and the femme fatale. He was a “piggy bank.” After Howard almost strangles Tad and throws him to the ground, the young man fights back. He beats Howard brutally with a golf club, but spares Vivian, calling her a “bad person.” We later see Tad packing to leave, puking in his hotel toilet. As Gloria is packing she sees what Tad saw that day — the toilet logo for a company called Dennis Stussy & Sons, with the ‘D’ worn off. That’s where he got his fake name. Again, just consider the “music of chance” of this show: If the D had been on that toilet, he might still be alive.
And so MNSKY shuts itself down and Gloria returns to Minnesota for Ennis’s funeral. She learns from her deputy that they got a match on Maurice’s prints at Ennis’s house, and she’s immediately suspicious about that air conditioner falling from the sky in the middle of winter. They’re gonna get some Arby’s and ponder the future. “We may solve this thing yet,” she says.
• After hearing the truth about her stepdad, Gloria sits on the beach in a shot clearly designed to mimic the iconic image from Barton Fink.
• In Zimmerman’s room, there’s a poster for “Pleonexia Pictures.” Pleonexia means “extreme greed for wealth or material possessions.” Talk about truth in advertising.
• Most of this episode’s music cues are in the opening scenes, where we hear “Orisa” by Moncho y Su Wawanco Gitano, “Liar” by Three Dog Night, and “Jingo” by Santana. Playing “Blue Shadows on the Trail” by Riders in the Sky as Gloria gets to L.A. is pretty great too.
• A thought to leave you with: We’ve been wondering how this season will tie in with season two. Well, Gloria says that Mobley got to Minnesota in 1980. Last season took place in 1979. Perhaps there is more to Mobley’s story yet to be learned that involves characters from last season.