“Nobody can carry a slow farce like Carrie Coon”

Fargo seriously stepped up its game with a surreal Barton Fink tribute.

Over the past two-and-a-bit seasons, Noah Hawley has dipped into various areas of Coen Brothers history: No Country For Old Men, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Blood Simple, even True Grit. With the casting of Michael Stuhlbarg, it seemed the third run might be the A Serious Man season, but this week’s outstanding episode flipped that theory on its head.

A Serious Man is probably my second-favourite Coen film. My favourite? Barton Fink. And “The Law of Non-Contradiction” was full Barton Fink. Regular animated intervals telling the story of a sad robot who only says “I Can Help!” are intercut with 70s flashback, as a young sci-fi writer (Thomas Mann) is brought to Hollywood, hooked on coke and sent packing by a sleazy producer (Fred Melamed-- of A Serious Man!).

In the present, Carrie Coon’s good cop Gloria visits L.A. in an attempt to connect her stepdad (Mann’s character)’s murder to his former life in the film world. Now, as viewers of last week’s Leftovers know, there are few things more compelling than an hour of Carrie Coon visiting a city, staying in a hotel and encountering strange characters. Nobody, NOBODY, can carry a slow farce like Coon, who’s officially threatening Sarah Paulson’s title as the best actress on television (if only Emmy voters would agree). In L.A., Gloria meets a sexually forward officer (Rob McElhenney), an enigmatic traveller (Ray Wise) and the actress who once wooed her stepdad (Frances Fisher). Best of all, she comes across possibly the greatest toy I’ve ever seen: a small box with a switch. Press the switch on, and a small hand reaches out to press the switch off, before closing again. Marvellous.

This is the sort of Coen-riffing television Noah Hawley should be making every week, not the sub-Season 1 material of the past two weeks, dominated by Ewan McGregor’s appalling accent and a criminal underuse of Stuhlbarg that’s actually making me violently angry. With shades of Leftovers, Lynch and his own Legion, “The Law of Non-Contradiction” is a legitimately distinct hour of TV. I somehow expect this was the peak of Season 3.