Thaddeus Mobley (Thomas Mann) lives! No, wait, saying that violates Aristotle’s law of non-contradiction, because actually, he’s still dead. Since Aristotle insists that “without the principle of non-contradiction we could not know anything that we do know,” then I’ll amend: The memory of Thaddeus Mobley lives!
This episode, directed by series creator, executive producer, and longtime Coen Brothers collaborator John Carpenter, is a capsule story that satisfies our itch to hear the backstory of award-winning science fiction author, and later stepfather to Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon). It also follows the thread of the Coen Brothers Hollywood obsession (Barton Fink, Hudsucker Proxy, and Big Lebowski nod abound) since the story finds Gloria traveling to Los Angeles to solve the mystery of who killed her stepfather Ennis Stussy (Scott Hylands).
Gloria takes a plane, on which she reads Mobley’s novel, The Planet Wyh, to L.A. under the guise of hunting for clues to who might have killed him. What she’s actually doing is attempting to square up the idea of the Ennis that she knows with who Mobley was. Can you imagine if you found out that someone you’d known for most of your life had another identity and had a whole slew of experiences they never told you about?
Side note: is it a coincidence that she sits next to and converses with Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) from Twin Peaks on the plane (he also pops up later, to save her)? He’s either going to show up again, in Minnesota, or this was just a lovely nod to David Lynch’s Los Angeles.
Upon landing, she goes to the motel she found a photo of in Mobley’s box of the past and finds a) it’s seedy, b) there are a bunch of Santas staying there for a convention (living nightmare), and c) L.A. is not her kind of town. Her suitcase is immediately stolen by one of the Santas. She gives chase, gets a license plate (of course), and asks the beat cop who comes to take her report to help her look Mobley up. He’s dubious, mocking her Minnesota accent, but obviously a little into her and says that if her plate numbers check out, he’ll bring her the suitcase and the info she wants. In her room, Gloria finds a pair of shoes positioned under the curtain (creepy much?) and a box with a switch. She flips the switch many times. Each time, a plastic hand pops out and turns it back off.
As we see in the flashbacks to ‘70s Hollywood, Mobley was a rube. He hooked up with a couple of scammers in producer Howard Zimmerman (Fred Melamed) and a redhead starlet called Vivian Lord (whose autographed head shot Gloria found in Mobley’s things in episode 2). Zimmerman quickly cons him into financing a film adaptation of his book. In no time at all, Mobley develops a taste for cocaine and a crush on Vivian. Gloria learns that he did at least manage to finish his script and join the Writer’s Guild. Gloria tracks both of them down, and they both pretend not to know who Mobley is. Vivian is now the waitress in an East L.A. (or, at best West Hollywood) diner for hipsters place, a la the 101 Coffee Shop. Zimmerman is in an assisted living facility and uses a machine to help him speak.
Officer Douchebag (you’ll see why in a minute) finds her suitcase, but it’s empty. He’s a creep, so he leaves an empty Whatchamacallit candy wrapper and a note asking her to go for a beer. He’s like your worst Tinder date plus a badge. Unexpectedly, Leland Palmer (who tells Gloria his name is Paul but whatever) shows up in the same bar to rescue her from the guy who just wants to know if he’s getting laid tonight. Yeah, he’s going to show up again down the line.
It becomes clear about halfway through the episode that this is also a reckoning with her life for Gloria. When anyone asks she keeps saying she’s the chief in her small town, or that the power structure is unclear. She flatly disobeys her new chief’s order to return home twice. Gloria is in Hollywood to see if the grass is greener as much as she’s there to solve a mystery.
In the end, Vivian finally tells her the full story. When she and Zimmerman confronted Mobley, he got angry and caused all the damage we saw to Zimmerman. He very nearly does the same to Vivian, stopping short to tell her she was not a very nice person.
In a lovely mirroring scene, flashback to present day, we see the man who will become Ennis return to his motel room, the same one Gloria is in today, and stick his head over the toilet to vomit over the thought of his violent acts. Gloria drops something and finds herself in the same position. There they both see the embossment on the back of the toilet: Ennis Stussy (still no indication if there's any relationship to Emmit and Ray Stussy there).
The episode is broken up by animated scenes that tell the story of The Planet Wyh, as seen in Gloria’s dreams. It’s a Wall-E kind of tale about an android named Minsky, with much more primitive animation and a gruesome look at the history of humanity. It’s also a parable about a life well lived, which is how Gloria seems to take it when she returns to Minnesota and her real life. The mysterious box, however, comes with her.