Welcome back to the heart of darkness, True Detectives. We’re back in Vinci, California, finally ready to dig deep into this season’s murder case and free of the glare of this acclaimed show’s return.
Quick recap: we left off last week with our three cops finally united. Dirty cop Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) was investigating Ben Caspere’s disappearance. Suspended CHP officer Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) was dealing with suicidal tendencies and erectile dysfunction (fortunately not at the same time) when he discovered Caspere’s body, his eyes burnt out and his genitals blown off. Since the body was found in Ventura Country, it drew rebel cop Antigone “Ani” Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams). Meanwhile, Velcoro’s mob boss Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) was at his wit’s end with Caspere’s disappearance, whom he needed to help close a major highway construction deal that would let Frank go straight. And so we return to the dark world of creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto.
Vinci is almost comical in its role as the asshole of California. Director Justin Lin and Pizzolatto paint it as the cesspool of humanity, literal and figurative, with associated phrases every city wants like “toxic waste,” “high pollution,” and “sweatshop economics.” Winding highways stretch ever-onward and chemical waste towers belch white smoke into the sky. Translation: this is not a nice place.
The show does a good job at setting up the intersecting interests at the heart of the investigation: Velcoro is ordered to partner with Bezzerides so he can keep the corrupt mayor and Frank in the know about Caspere’s killer. Bezzerides is told about the state’s investigation and how bent Ray really is. Paul is offered a detective shield if he acts as a state investigator for the State Attorney, who are coming after the corruption in Vinci will everything they have after Velcoro silenced the journalist last week.
Meanwhile, we find out Frank not only went all-in on his deal with Caspere, but Caspere didn’t even follow through. Frank is out $5 million; his life savings. He’s leveraged to the hilt. Vaughn is given a Rust Cohle-esque monologue about his abusive, drunken father locking him in the basement for days on end and how it relates to a water stain on his ceiling. McConaughey might’ve made the stylized dialogue sing, as he did in Season 1, but Vaughn can’t seem to find the rhythm or cadence that Pizzolatto’s writing requires. It doesn’t help that Lin pushes in on his face with increasing closeness, offering little to no reprieve for the actor outside of establishing shots of his sterile home.
The perpetually-drunk mayor of Vinci played Ritchie Coster remains my favorite character and he has a better time selling words that nobody would ever say “Children are disappointments. Remain unfettered.” For some reason it works better coming out of a boozer’s mouth.
On the other hand, the best scene of the episode had the worst dialogue. Velcoro and Bezzerides share a back and forth in the car reminiscent of the classic Season 1 scenes that played McConaughey and Harrelson off of one another. A lot of it was good stuff, allowing the characters to finally play off of one another instead of dwell in their own separate, miserable corners. McAdams almost cracks a smile when Farrell mentions trying an e-cigarette was like “sucking a robot’s dick.” But we all know smiling is not permitted in True Detective.
That said, this exchange had me laughing.
Velcoro: You know the expression, “like flies to honey?”
Bezzerides: The fuck do I want with a bunch of flies?
Velcoro: Well, if you don’t have flies, you can’t fly-fish.
He’s ostensibly talking about Woodrugh finding the prostitutes that Caspere frequented but come on. It’s like a parody of hardboiled dialogue. Speaking of parodies, Ani must feel like she’s living in one because she runs into the third person in these first two episodes that wants to remind her about her past and who she is. I get it, story, time, pacing all that, but it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Woodrugh makes a random passing reference to a “fag” at a bank he visited while following up leads. Both us and the character in the scene feel the same: me thinks he doth protest too much. My buddy called me after last week’s premiere to call Paul out as gay, after seeing him pop Viagra to get it up with his (now ex)girlfriend. I said nah. Apparently, he’s better at my job than I am. I’m liking Kitsch more and more in this role, a more interesting male archetype than Velcoro. Which is appropriate, considering the episode’s ending.
We meet Velcoro’s ex-wife for the first time and, like all people Velcoro meets, she’s not happy to see him. His extremely inappropriate confrontation with his kid and his new stepfather – and following beat-up of the bully and his father – come back to haunt him. She’s suing for full custody and supervised visits. She’ll even demand a paternity test. “You’re bad; you’re a bad person,” she says plainly and we the viewer almost feel vindicated. Pizzolatto likes to stylize a lot of things, but the immoral actions Ray’s taken are pretty bad and it feels justified that the story comes down hard on him.
We’re later treated to another barroom meet-and-greet with Frank and Ray, though not nearly as haunting as last weeks “My Least Favorite Life.” This time though, Ray has balls. His ex-wife’s words ring in his mind. He doesn’t like who he is or what he’s become. Frank offers him Chief of PD – Vinci, if it all pans out. But Velcoro doesn’t want it. He doesn’t want to go further on his slide into Hell. At this point, Frank drops any pretension of caring for him; he just wants him to investigate a fuck house Caspere kept in Hollywood. Ray leaves the bribe and follows up on the location.
He walks in Caspere’s secret home, oblivious to the unknown person casing it already. He enters to find a pool of blood and a harness. We have ourselves a crime scene. We see a mask is missing off the wall (the show likes its villains in masks, i.e. the Yellow King cult). Two and two equal four and soon enough, Velcoro is thrown back by a shotgun blast.
My first thought was: Ned Stark. My second thought was: I’ve seen promo pics with Farrell in scenes that haven’t happened yet. As if to quell my mind, the bird-headed perpetrator (Caspere’s murderer?) slowly walks up to Velcoro and fire another round into his chest at extremely close-range. Now my mind is waging a civil war: no way he survives those wounds vs. no way Farrell leaves us this soon. We’ll find out next week. Damn you, True Detective, damn you.