Fargo: The Law of Non-Contradiction
May 4, 2017 11:48 AM - Season 3, Episode 3 - Subscribe

“Well he was something to somebody.”
posted by jazon (19 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I can help!
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:29 PM on May 4, 2017 [8 favorites]

Alan Sepinwall:
Though Gloria is thousands of miles away from home, “The Law of Non-Contradiction” does a nifty job of still feeling like Fargo, both in the sense of the movie itself, and the ways the two previous seasons were influenced by it, and how Noah Hawley has turned the series into an extended tribute to the entire Coen ouevre. There are echoes of The Big Lebowski (LA noir conventions turned on their head), The Hudsucker Proxy (naive young man gets involved in big business where he’s meant to be a dupe), and Barton Fink (“legitimate” writer moves into an LA hotel to try his hand at screenwriting, and things go awry), yet the Coen moment that kept coming to mind was Marge Gunderson having drinks with Mike Yanagita.

Hawley has frequently cited the Mike Yanagita scene as an important creative touchstone for the show, since its seeming lack of connection to the plot (even if it inspires Marge to reconsider whether Jerry Lundegaard is telling her the truth) helps maintain the “This is a true story” illusion.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:33 PM on May 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

i understand that this has been a divisive episode but it's one of my favorites that the show has ever done. i think, after two tightly wound brilliant seasons (three if you count legion), if noah hawley wants to take some time, stretch his legs, and tell what is looking like one long shaggy dog story, well, he's earned the benefit of the doubt.
posted by JimBennett at 5:45 PM on May 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

I loved it. And knew immediately what was the inspiration for the animated segments (which is still streaming at Netflix, btw). What's the point of a supposed New Golden Age of Television if you can't experiment a bit? Or a lot? The episode flowed well and was highly entertaining, regardless.
posted by raysmj at 7:36 PM on May 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

"You want two beers?" I wish I had used that line, even once.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:26 PM on May 4, 2017 [11 favorites]

I loved it. It was fun for me to get an extended pay-off for my identification of the Hugo-like trophy from the first episode, which none of the recaps or even anyone else here apparently noticed. And it's all a shaggy-dog story, which is delightful and cogent (more in a sec).

On the other hand, I totally don't know what to think about the animation sequences. Not only is it in Don Hertzfeldt's visual style, but the story (in theme and approach) and narration is just like his, too. And the subject matter, even. It's at least as straight-up obvious homage as the TV show Fargo itself, except that, unlike the show with the Coens, it doesn't involve or acknowledge Hertzfeldt in any way.

This replication is in the spirit of the show, undoubtedly -- Hertzfeldt would have been a brilliant choice to handle the animation, were he willing, and it's very much in the spirit of the show to riff on someone else's work in a clearly admiring manner. But I find I am damn annoyed at the complete lack of acknowledgement.

Which really sucks, because I think the episode is basically perfect and amazing and the animated segments an essential part of what makes it so special.

Because I love Hertzfeldt's work so much, I think that It's Such a Beautiful Day [Slate review] is an even better film than World of Tomorrow1 [Hertzfeldt's site/blu-ray], and I already have felt very simpatico with Hawley's work, as I was watching this I began to suspect that maybe I'm Hawley and don't know it 2, or (more likely) Hawley is someone here, in the house. He's calling from within MetaFilter.

Well, not really.        ...but maybe.

I think one of the things I love about the Coens, this show, and how Hawley handles this homage, is how fractal-like it is in many respects. As several of the recaps discuss, this episode seems like a dead-end, a stall in the narrative, superfluous -- but just as the Yanagita scene in the movie functions, so, too, this episode. It's thematically completely appropriate. The use of synecdoche is constant and deft.

As I wrote in my earlier comment about stories and truth, the show is all about both the truthiness and falsieness of stories. Stories, even supposed "true stories" are inevitably false, they are not reality, they are a mirage conjured by the desire for meaning and coherence. But, in that, they make themselves and meaning real. And also unreal. This episode (as one of the recaps discusses significance of) is titled "The Law of Non-contradiction" and yet includes an incoherent invocation of pseudo-QM (without mentioning or even alluding to the wave/particle duality) that both asserts and denies cosmic meaning, just as the show and movie themselves both assert and denies their truthfulness, as Gloria asserts and denies her marriage, Minsky doesn't help and yet helps, and as this episode asserts and denies that it's relevant to the show's narrative arc. We have a mysterious box, not Schrödinger's, that exists only to function as a switch that (not instantly) turns itself off, once turned on. (un)Like Gödel's Theorem, the assumption of objective truth, and life itself.

The Coens' irony can veer into detached condescension and while there were these tendencies in Fargo, the film had such evident and deep affection for Marge Gunderson that it belied any nihilistic subtext. Well, the denial is text, it's her little speech at the end:
"...and it's a beautiful day.

[long pause]

Well. I just don't understand it."
...oh, look, there's a roundabout chance connection to Don Hertzfeldt. Marge doesn't understand "it", and, for that matter, neither does Hertzfeldt's protagonist "Bill" ... because he's losing his mind and, in the process, both appreciates the small details of life while also becoming deeply confused about their significance or, indeed, about what is happening at all. What is real? What is true? What is a story? Stories exist to make sense; what if they don't make sense? A shaggy-dog story's waste of time is not a waste of time, in being what it is, it affirms what it is not. Howard Zimmerman is wrong, it does mean something even though it means nothing, that's why we're watching this story, it's what he was trying to tell Tad when he asserted that the falsehood of the con was, really, if you think about it, a good thing for Tad.

Though, being beaten nearly to death with a putter wasn't such a good thing for Howard, and he's pretty bitter -- but in the Coens' universe, where awful things happen for stupid reasons, because of unfathomable pinheadery, it's still the case that the bad guys get what's coming to them. And good guys, too, if they're willing to accept it. Marge was. Molly, Gus, Greta, and Lou were, in the first season. It's not clear yet whether Tad/Ennis learned to -- it looked like he was trying a bit, there at the end. But maybe it was too little, too late and, you know, he wasn't so good, as Vivian said. He beat a man nearly to death with a putter, then ran.

What do we get from our stories? What do we give with our stories? What's waiting at the end of that 2.38 million year long journey?

1. I bought that Blu-Ray -- it's directly from Hertzfeld, it includes an HD version of both WoT and ISaBD, as well as some other stuff, and I've rarely felt better about buying anything as much as I do it. I wish I had the money and we lived in a world where I could just buy all such work directly from the artists.

2. I'm a fan of Hawley's shows, I read his recent book, I come from a party/contract/duplicate/tournament bridge-playing family (maternal) and a Norwegian-American family from WI/MN (paternal), I grew up with and love all of his musical choices, I love the Coens (who doesn't?) and I love Hertzfeld (everyone should). I've also had a fan-crush on Winstead for a while (Mercy Street was pretty good, too bad no one watched it, so sorry PBS). And I'm the type of person who'd recognize the pseudo-Hugo trophy. This show is weirding me the fuck out.

posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:53 AM on May 5, 2017 [7 favorites]

A motel and a flying saucer. This looks mighty familiar.
posted by hwestiii at 7:05 PM on May 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

My boyfriend and I disagree as to the likelihood that this LA investigation will tie in to the rest of the season, but it will be interesting to see.

I am not familiar with Herztfeldt's work, but I liked the animation segments and have Netflix, so maybe soon I will have a new neat thing I like.

I also was unfamiliar with the box Gloria found, but when my boyfriend googled it to remember the term for that class of objects, we discovered that the originator of the useless box concept was named Marvin Minsky.

I probably missed a bunch of other references too, but I still enjoyed the heck out of this episode.
posted by the primroses were over at 3:01 PM on May 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh, meant to add, thanks for the info on Hertzfeldt to raysmj and Ivan Fyodorovich!
posted by the primroses were over at 3:06 PM on May 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

" There are echoes of The Big Lebowski (LA noir conventions turned on their head), The Hudsucker Proxy (naive young man gets involved in big business where he’s meant to be a dupe), and Barton Fink (“legitimate” writer moves into an LA hotel to try his hand at screenwriting, and things go awry), yet the Coen moment that kept coming to mind was Marge Gunderson having drinks with Mike Yanagita."

My three favorites were:

A.) the screening room with the writer in attendance as call back to Barton Fink
B.) the desk bell ringing into infinity until stopped by someone's hand, Barton Fink
but more than anything
C.) the embrace of A Serious Man and its willingness to stretch "embrace the mystery" / Schroedinger's Cat into an entire movie. The box that is on and turns itself off. The producer's description of a quantum universe. She is the chief, but she's not the chief. She's married, but she's not married. The soldier goes off to war and simultaneously is and isn't divorced.

Somewhere in Fargo S02 I arrived at the conclusion that I didn't even care about anything any more, I just wanted to watch this show wherever it goes. S03 hasn't done anything but root me even further to that spot. I am along for whatever the ride may be.
posted by komara at 7:52 PM on May 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

I've just found out that the present day and 1975 Vivian Lord's are played by a real life mother and daughter pair. That's some clever casting.
posted by mmascolino at 8:26 PM on May 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Wow, y'all are enjoying this season a lot more than I am. I love experimental television, but this wasn't experimental. It was mostly incoherent, felt random and unfocused, and had so many direct "homages" to other work it seemed to disappear up its own ass.

Sure, it is entirely possible that this week's digressions, like the It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia sexist cop guy, will turn out to be more than Barton Fink momentary weirdness, but after the brilliant realism-with-occasional-UFOs of last season, I'm not even close to being sold on this pale, trying-too-hard version.

Looking forward to being proven wrong next episode, of course. Last season was one of my fave shows in a long time.
posted by mediareport at 6:14 AM on May 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

This episode was brilliant, and I loved that the Useless Box was also a perfect encapsulation of the plot arc of the episode as well. 'Stussy's murder was completely unrelated to anything, other than he had the same last name as an imbecile's intended target. Investigating his life was a complete dead end - following that lead accomplished nothing except resolving as a non-starter, returning Gloria back to the start with nothing gained... except the Useless Box itself.
posted by FatherDagon at 6:22 AM on May 8, 2017

I agree, mediareport, compared to previous seasons the plot hasn't coalesced coherently or artfully yet.

Maybe there are too many threads or that there hasn't yet been any one thread is super compelling (although the company being "invested in" might be).

Ewan McGregor has been very good, but it's almost as if he's channeling Brian Cranston.
posted by porpoise at 8:12 AM on May 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

May we all love something as much as Donny Mashman loves even the idea of a trip to Arby's.

I loved the episode. It's a shaggy dog story, yeah, but only when it comes to plot - when it comes to the character of Gloria, it feels like something that needed to be told. Just like Marge's Mike Yanagita scene, it takes the character out of the box of the plot to show their interactions with a wider range of events, emotions, personalities - it shows a depth and breadth of character that lets you know them more closely, and makes them, as the lead, feel bigger than the characters trapped in the mechanics of the main story. Without that sense of having the ability to move freely outside of the edges of the A-to-B-to-C movements of the plot, Marge and Gloria would feel a bit more like the robot Minsky, observers drifting through the story only desiring to help, and switched off at the end, their purpose fulfilled. We haven't seen Marge since the end of the movie but we know that her life had many more stories before, around and after what little we saw, and now we're getting more of that with Gloria.

They feel like real people, and the story as a whole is better for the reality they lend to it - and that also allows the show to more easily get away with diversions into unreality. The UFO would have been a failure if it wasn't for the character of Lou Solverson there to experience it, because Lou felt real and grounded us.

A tangent, but: if I were pressed, I'd say Lou's Yanagita Scene was the conversation with Ronald Reagan. His trip out of the confines of the story wasn't to another locale for a dinner with an old friend or to Los Angeles to track down leads, but to some tiny bubble of our reality that found its way into a fictional men's room, to interact with this version of a real historical figure that the audience experienced themselves through media portrayals of the man which were no less fictional, heightened and managed than this fake real Reagan in a fake real story. Something about Lou trying to bounce his real, secret inner thoughts off of the idea of Reagan like it was a confessional and getting nowhere because, of course, this Schrödinger's real/unreal meta-Reagan can do nothing with a man's real, secret inner thoughts gave you a moment where you got the contours of his inner landscape and it was not unlike seeing yourself in a mirror. Lou had a deep fear that the world had a literal, tangible sickness that invaded the body of the woman he loved, he could not voice this to any of the characters in the main plot because it doesn't fit what the plot is trying to do and doesn't even fit the in-story character of Lou Solverson as the people in his life see him (strong, stoic, etc), and it felt like the experience of praying out of desperation even if you don't believe, right down to not getting an answer. A diversion out of the plot to experience other things in a scene with no resolution or plot purpose brought about a real feeling for the viewer that made Lou feel real which made it so the story could get away with having an extremely tonally jarring UFO, that may or may not be real in the world of the story, invade a gory shootout at a motel in a version of Sioux Falls that bore no resemblance to reality.

In both Fargo and Legion, Hawley has shown a mastery of these Yanagita moments that really elevate the story, grounding his characters in reality to allow him to push the unreality of other story elements, and it's one of the things I love most about his work.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:06 PM on May 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Minor tangent: in multiple Fargo threads I've seen people mention Hawley's most recent book Before the Fall but there wasn't a FanFare post about it so I made one, which is what that there link leads to if you want to go talk about it some.
posted by komara at 12:39 PM on May 8, 2017

Investigating his life was a complete dead end - following that lead accomplished nothing except resolving as a non-starter, returning Gloria back to the start with nothing gained... except the Useless Box itself.

I guess that most work that real detectives do involves the pursuit of blind allies - often quite lengthy and interesting ones. But we don't see that often in film. I like that we see Holly making hard won and fascinating discoveries when we know they are utterly irrelevant - and so - finally does she.

At least - I presume!
posted by rongorongo at 5:24 AM on July 4, 2017

So I'm just watching the season now that it's all stacked up and I'm on vacation. Surprised no one here mentioned Tad's apparent age in 1975. If Ennis died at 82 in 2010, he would have been 47 in '75. Tad looks at most barely out of his 20s and is called kid over and over again. I'd chalk it up to sloppiness but this is not a sloppy show, and this season began with a seeming non-sequitor of a scene in which a character was encouraged to embrace a name, age and identity that was not his. We know Ennis's name and identity were changed, so...

It feels like the information provided by this episode won't be of much practical use to the story going forward, but it feels like this inconsistency is scratching at something.
posted by yellowbinder at 8:37 AM on July 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

There's something perversely satisfying about not watching a show when it comes out, but later, after all the buzz has fizzled away.
Season one - I gotta confess that I think 'Legion' is some of the finest story-telling I've ever seen on television and I came to season one ready for more of that loose but focused story-telling and was kind of let down. It was good, no doubt, but it was also only good.
And I only watched the first episode of season two before deciding 'nah.'
And the first episode of this season I picked up because I'd finished something else and was folding laundry and figured what the hell and dammit but I didn't get any of the socks paired up.
There's something about this kind of storytelling that I find delicious. That gives the viewer room to watch the 'Useless Box' in all its banality and glory. I find it a kind of tonic.
But something happened to Hawley, I don't know what but something turned his head around and set him off on this direction.
Always figure that any review that doesn't really address the plot of a movie but rather the themes and or maybe some action of one character is often a sign of a better than average thing. And look at the comments in this thread ! Man you people are all so smart and there is, absolutely, something totally inspiring/instigating/provoking about this show.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:03 PM on January 26, 2018

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