Thursday, May 4, 2017


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There’s a box with a switch on the top.  You flip it, and a panel opens next to it, and a hand extends, flipping the switch back to where it started and retreating.  Such is the entirety of Gloria’s sojourn to Los Angeles. It’s the Mike Yanagita scene from the movie stretched out to an entire episode, complete with a clumsy come-on from an unhelpful cop played by Always Sunny star Rob McElhenney (whose fellow Gang Member Glenn Howertown must have recommended him, after his turn as the overtanned, extremely ill-fated gym rat in season one).

Gloria Burgle doesn’t know why Ennis Stussy was killed.  But we do, inasmuch as there was a reson, and what’s more we know that it had precisely nothing to do with a prior life as science fiction writer Thaddeus Mobley.  Now, in most detective stories, the point of a red herring is to mislead us, the audience.  I can’t think of another one that devotes so much real estate to the detective chasing a lead that we know from the start is not just a dead end, but the wrong direction entirely.  It should have us howling at the TV, impatient for her to get back to the actual story already.  But Fargo makes liberal use of flashbacks, Fred Melamed and shockingly poignant animation to turn this narrative cul de sac into a melancholy novella.

I imagine a lot of people were bored (rather than moved) to tears by it, particularly those that don’t write TV blogs preoccupied with the vagaries of narrative structure.  But as part of that latter group, I found the audacity of taking an entire hour from a season that only has 10 to work with to leave the entire overarching plot and ensemble behind to watch a single character chase smoke where we know there is no fire.  I have generally not been a fan of when prior cable dramas would send Don Draper or Christopher Moltisanti out west to spin wheels for an episode.  Somehow, with the looser formats of those shows, those tangents carried a vague feeling that the writers had become bored with their own story, and were trying to goose their interest in the characters by throwing them into a drastically different environment.  But in the context of a story as tightly-plotted, and closed-ended, as a Fargo season, it feels like a bolder, more purposeful choice, even as the storyline is explicitly about futility.  

This episode also more explicit than ever about the quantum nature of Gloria’s existence as Schrodinger’s Cop. She is still the chief, but she isn’t.  She is divorced, but still married to a man who is not her husband, while she is sort of on a date but not with a dingbat who just assumes she’d require two beers at a time.  She is in Fargo even as she is thousands of miles away from Fargo, investigating the murder of a stepfather that wasn’t even her stepfather, while getting no closer to any truth about it.  In fact, she may have gotten further from the truth, because she was digging after the past of a victim that isn’t even the victim.   

Because the math says grandpa Ennis and Thaddeus Mobley can’t be the same the person, as Gloria assumes. At the funeral home last week, her son noted that Ennis was 82 when he died.  Which would mean that when fresh-faced Thad Mobley was winning extremely phallic Golden Planet awards in 1975, he would already have been pushing 50.  Either this is a large and uncharacteristic continuity flub, or this entire goose chase was based on another case of mistaken identity in a season already rife with them, and she is mistaking her stepfather for Mobley just as much as Maurice mistook him for Emmit.  When you layer that on, it becomes a very bleak joke that even when she figures out that the whole thing was a waste of time, she still doesn’t realize the actual reason why it was pointless, or full extent of that pointlessness.  But that mechanical finger doesn’t realize it’s only purpose is to shut itself off either.


  • Fred Melamed is a a one-of-a-kind comic performer, who has Coen experience from playing the uniquely unctuous Sy Abelman in A Serious Man.  That role of a devout Minnesotan Jew would seem to be the opposite of his tinseltown sleaze here, but both actually share a way of fleecing a poor shmuck while couching it in paternalistic teachability.  If the Oscars weren’t hopelessly biased against comedic performances, he would’ve gotten a Supporting Actor nom for that one.  

  • Meanwhile, the elderly version of Howard Zimmerman is reminiscent of the decrepit senior partner in Intolerable Cruelty.  That one is not known within the bros' filmography for its deep thematics, but it seems apropos to reference it in relation to the '70s storyline featuring a glamorous gal bleeding a poor sap dry.  Said gal is played by the mother-daughter duo of Francesca Eastwood (1975) and Frances Fisher (2010).   

  • I have family in LA, and while I love them dearly, I do always leave that town feeling like my suitcase got stolen by a Santa Claus at a cheap motel.

  • Officer Hunt has found that even the wonders of Facebook cannot prevent cases of mistaken identity, as the “smoking hot” chick he met there turned out to be a Nigerian guy who wanted money.  Sad trombone.
  • Assuming the time frame isn’t a flub, the real Mobley should still be alive.  He’d probably be in his early 60s, possibly flying up to six times in a single week, and repeating bits from his book about man’s progression from swimming to crawling to flying.
  • The bell droning until the Guild attendant comes to steady it is a beat lifted from Barton Fink’s arrival at the Hotel Earle. And Gloria sitting on the beach in her city clothes is an image lifted from the same film. 
  • The 8-bit version of the Fargo theme music that quietly plays during Minsky’s animated adventures is a wonderful touch.
  • And in sad news, next Wednesday I will be traveling for my sister's wedding, so if I am able to post anything it will be more brief and addled than usual.  

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