Welcome back, True Detectives. A quick recap of last week: the season’s investigation kicked off in earnest as our three main detectives – the corrupt Ray Velcoro, the rebellious Ani Bezzerides, and the unstable Paul Woodrugh -were joined together in a taskforce to find the killer of kinky, duplicitous Vinci city manager Ben Caspere, who had his eyes burned out with acid and his dick and balls blown off with a shotgun. Joining the fray was career criminal Frank Semyon, who discovered his business partner Caspere had stolen his life savings – $5 million – which he had planned to invest in a huge superhighway construction deal.
The most-talked about moment was the ending. Velcoro, following up on a lead from Semyon, found Caspere’s secret fuck pad in Hollywood, complete with a sex swing and creepy animal masks. His investigation of the crime scene was cut short by a shotgun blast from a bird-headed perpetrator, presumably Caspere’s murderer. The killer – henceforth referred to as the Bird – walked up to Velcoro and fired again into his chest at point-blank range. Did True Detective just pull a Ned Stark, killing off its main protagonist early to allow the supporting characters to flourish? Or did it defy reality and allow Ray to live after what looked like a clearly fatal shooting?
The answer was the latter, though not without some convenient plot contortions.
See, Ray was apparently hit with rubber buckshot, the kind riot officers use to subdue mobs. Instead of his death, Ray’s left with cracked ribs and “heartache,” in his own words. That doesn’t mean his death wasn’t creepily alluded to throughout the episode, from the opening dream sequence with his father set in Frank’s bar to Frank’s line about Ray’s terrible, no-good, very bad day: “Somebody murdered him.”
Backing up for a quick second, there was not nearly enough time spent pondering why the Bird would a) use buckshot, other than a passing reference that cops use it and b) why the fuck would he leave Velcoro alive? If we go into theory-mode for a second, it’s plausible that the killer wants Caspere and his shady dealings exposed. This would explain why he meticulously positioned the body to be found in the first episode. There’s further evidence to back up in Frank’s story further below.
One thing we didn’t talk about last week was Paul’s fucked-up relationship with his mother, with clear incestuous vibes between the two. She called him a stud and ladies’ man, facts not lost on Velcoro and Bezzerides who had him questioning prostitutes. Bezzerides again put Woodrugh on working-girl-detail this week, pointing out his pretty face will serve him well. It’s a curious flip on sexual objectification.
Bezzerides and Woodrugh pay a visit to the Vinci Mayor Austin Chessani’s mansion which, despite his role as a loyal public servant, is located in Bel Air. It looks like the aftermath of a frat house party, but apparently, that’s just the Mayor’s decorative style. We meet his wife and his douchebag son, who reminds me of a news article I read this week of another douchebag descendant of a douchebag Russian businessman running around London asking women to drink his piss for money. Yes, life isn’t just stranger than fiction; it has become fiction.
On Frank’s side, he’s finally done with his “Tell All My Gangster Friends How Fucked I Am” tour, which, in hindsight, wass probably not a good idea for a vulnerable mobster trying to go straight. Not that his problems aren’t piling up; he can’t even get it up when his wife blows him. This season’s theme of emasculation and male impotency continues. Poor Kelly Reilly is the Michelle Monaghan of this season, a wife unable to have a plot-line without her husband beside her.
Speaking of which, Bezzerides lays into her obsessive hook-up, the CHP officer we saw in the premiere. Personally, I like the gender flips that Pizzolatto does with McAdams’ character, from the above objectification of Woodrugh to the strong put-down of this creepy dude who just can’t seem to take ‘no’ for an answer. “You talk to me like that again, you’ll carry your teeth home in a baggy,” she says.
The flip-side is her character is that she’s yet to be defined in any meaningful way, other than in contrast to her male counterparts. Even her father flat-out told her in the premiere her problem is her anger at men. Yeah, I’d wager most women have justifiable anger at men at some point but it shouldn’t be a defining trait. And if it is, can it not be her sole trait?
Woodrugh’s hooker rounds finally turn up something Woodrugh’s inability to make eye contact with the male john only further fuels the suspicion that this guy has no idea who he is or what he wants. The club, Lux Infinitum, is a front of sex trafficking. Woodrugh’s contact points out the whole “tortured cop” routine won’t get him in, so he takes the lead. The club, it turns out, is the same one Frank used to own and Paul briefly brushes shoulders with him on the way in.
It’s pretty great watching how uncomfortable Paul is in the place, downing drinks like he’s Velcoro all of a sudden. For a show as light on humor as this one, you gotta find amusement somewhere. He connects the previous lead on a hooker named Tascha, a favorite of Caspere’s, to the club and to secret sex parties that are hosted around town. Methinks these are the same parties that Mayor Chessani’s douchebag son puts on. Looks like we’re leading up to this season’s already-infamous orgy party.
Frank, meanwhile, has his deal with his mob connections falling through. Adding insult to injury (or injury to insult), one of his men, poor Stan, is found murdered with the same MO as Caspere: eyes burnt out, presumably castrated. Somebody is seemingly coming after Frank. I like how Pizzolatto is backing Semyon into a corner, making him more unpredictable like a wild animal, ready to fight or die. Vaughn excels here, in a way he absolutely did not during last week’s opening monologue about water stains and paper mache or whatever.
He orders his current and former street connections gathered in one place so he can get the word out: find out who killed Caspere and took his money. Of course, the gross Samoan dude with the gold FUCK YOU teeth who inherited Lux Infinitum from Frank, learned from his sob story last week; Frank ain’t got the pull he used to. He challenges Frank, saying he’s out of the game, gone legit, and he won’t take orders from him anymore. He offers a delicious take-down that could just as easily describe Vaughn himself.
“Yeah, I know. Put them crazy eyes on and everybody’s supposed to shit their pants. Thing is, you ain’t that you was. Yeah you tall, but you really little and you old.”
This was the wrong thing to do.
Frank proves he’s still got the stuff, beating the shit out of him. Then, to the collective relief of audiences everywhere, rips out his disgusting gold FUCK YOU teeth and takes them home. Bezzerides had no idea how prophetic she was.
I unabashedly love the horns that billow through the scenes this season, recalling film noir and the classic fade-outs the camera uses to take us from one scene the next. There’s something elemental about these simple things that elevate the material beyond what the writing has captured so far.
Let’s be honest, this season has not captured audiences in the same way Season 1 did. In my opinion, not only is that OK, but it’s probably for the best. You can like this season more or less than the first but one phrase I refuse to abide by here is “sophomore slump.” I’d much rather Pizzolatto do his own thing once again than whiff trying to deliver the same product.
That said, I could use some more cosmic horror or weirdness to make this soap opera an epic. But hey, that’s me.