“The Law of Non-Contradiction” is undoubtedly the most atypical episode of Fargo thus far, and that’s saying something for a show basically filled with atypical episodes. In an unexpected move, especially this early on in a season, it takes a break from the Stussy feud that’s shaping up to anchor the season so that Gloria (Carrie Coon) can travel to L.A. and learn a bit of info about her late stepfather that in no way moves the plot forward. Yet despite that seeming pointlessness, or perhaps because of it, it may be one of the most fascinating hours of television I’ve ever watched.
The titular law is a logical theorem which states, more or less, that a thing cannot be both what it is and what it is not. The concept is exemplified in a few ways in the episode: Gloria can’t be both chief and former chief, Ennis couldn’t have “sorta” been her father, and Thaddeus (Thomas Mann) seemingly couldn’t have been two completely different people.
Yet there’s more to it than that—the law of non-contradiction is an idea which seems obvious as soon as it’s on paper, yet still needs to be written down to be considered an idea in the first place. In a sense, this is why the episode exists at all. We know that Ennis’ murder had nothing to do with his secret past, though Gloria doesn’t, but Gloria coming to terms with this fact is still necessary for both the case to move forward and her own closure.
Throughout the episode, we get animated glimpses of a novel written by Ennis/Thadeus back in the 70s entitled The Planet Wyh. It tells the story of an android named Minsky, left on Earth in prehistoric times, who witnesses the rise and fall of humanity without ever being able to intervene, or indeed help as he repeatedly claims he can. This is, in essence, another reflection of Gloria’s dilemma. By the end of her trip, she learns that Thaddeus abandoned his life to escape retribution for an act of violence he committed, and the events she is investigating have long since sorted themselves out.
Thankfully, amid all the futility, we get a lot of great character moments. We get to see Gloria feel out-of-place in a superficial, technologically-inclined metropolis. We get to see her turn down a fellow cop (Rob McElhenney) whose off-putting forwardness and obsession with social media represents everything she abhors. And we get to see her grapple with the fact that maybe, just maybe, there are some elements in this changing world worth latching on to.
Plus, in the end, it all seems to tie back into this idea of fate/dumb luck that has been pervading the show since the first season. To wit, Ennis Stussy got his name from the inside of a toilet bowl; it read “Dennis Stussy and Sons,” with the D having rubbed off. That seemingly random choice then, 35 years later, led to him being mistaken for a man with a similar name and murdered for it. Karmic justice for the crime he ran away from? Or just random chance?
As always, it’s impossible to know. We can only assume it can’t be both.
- Unusually for Fargo, and perhaps intentionally, this episode didn’t contain any standout musical cues (unless I missed something).
- We got a cameo from another Coen veteran, Fred Melamed, as Thaddeus’ producer/eventual bludgeoning victim.
- Interestingly, the device Gloria finds in her hotel room is called a “useless machine” and was invented by a man named Marvin Minsky. Its design is reflected when the android of the same name switches himself off.