Welcome back, True Detectives. This episode didn’t click for me until the end. Pizzolatto’s flourishes may come under fire for his flowery dialogue and such, but hell if he doesn’t know how to end an episode. It’s the beginning and middle he’s got to to work on.
With every episode, it became more and more clear what my buddy Mike told me the day after the premiere. “Dude, Paul’s gay.” All that from one Viagra pill. Well played, Mike’s gaydar, well played. At the very least Woodrugh is bisexual as he wakes up after his booze-fueled investigation at Lux Infinitum in his war buddy’s apartment, nearly naked. Paul looks spooked by the Gaysper the Homosexual Ghost and flees for “work.”
Speaking of the club, Frank has re-assumed control of it because ripping out the previous owner’s teeth is the criminal way of exchanging leases. He is quick to set up product and distribution through his former connections while performing shakedowns on his previous businesses, the same ones he sold to all in on the land deal with Caspere. Frank’s re-descendant into crime and slum lord worries his wife, who nonetheless aides her husband’s quest to reclaim what’s his and leave a legacy. All this while he can’t seem to have a straight conversation with her about their inability to conceive and his reluctance to adopt.
Ani and Ray rework the case in the wake of last week’s car burning murderer chase. He warns her of the fallout from her Mayoral visit last week. Here, we find Ani’s self-righteousness is both her strength – and her weakness. She reiterates she’s there to solve a murder but Ray is far too cynical for that sort of straight-forward thinking. Rightfully so, given his time in the corrupting sphere of Vinci.
After his “encounter” with his war buddy, Paul runs back to his ex-girlfriend, the same he had to pop pills for. He wants to apologize but gets much more than that from his ex – she’s pregnant. The pill is not 100 percent, she reminds him (and the audience). She tells him she doesn’t believe in abortion and will be keeping it. But for Paul, this is great. He immediately proposes. She’s skeptical initially but eventually overcome by his pledge. As he kisses her, it’s relief across his face. An excuse to be the person he thinks he’s supposed to be.
They find a connection between Caspere’s doctor Pitlor, Mayor Chessani and Ani’s father’s past so of course once again we find Ani is connected to everything. Any excuse to see David Morse with that hair again. Her sister also makes a reappearance, supposedly on the straight and narrow to an art school after her time as a cam-girl.
Velcoro hands off his father’s badge to his maybe-son, away from his ex-wife’s prying eyes. His talk is typically brusque and masculine, reminding him of his heritage and history. Perhaps this recurring though of legacy is Ray’s attempt to imprint on his son, despite the possibility he is not his. It’s another personal aside that sags the middle of this episode.
Back at Ventura Sheriff’s, Bezzerides discovers her ill-gotten fling with Steve has resulted in a formal complaint, an IA investigation and her suspension. It doesn’t help when it’s revealed she previously slept with her partner Elvis as well. Bezzerides wants to say it because of her gender, but the boss and I aren’t buying it. You don’t shit where you eat and you don’t fuck your coworkers. Unless you’re in a romantic comedy. But sadly, you’re in True Detective, which means you will only experience the two feelings of angst and more angst between the hours of 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. every Sunday.
The fifth character of this show is that of murder victim Ben Caspere. The investigation into his death was disappointing white noise in the background until the climatic ending. Ray and Ani perused the land Caspere had bought with Semyon’s money, diseased tracks overrun with pollutants. Woodrugh meanwhile tracked down missing possessions of Caspere’s to a pawnshop and obtained footage of the sellers: Ledo and Irina Amarilla. Ledo was supposedly a pimp, fitting the characterization of the perpetrator put forth last week by Velcoro’s corrupt Lieutenant, as he subtly set Ray on a path away from the truth for a case close.
The same lieutenant and perpetually-drunk Vinci mayor Austin Chessani see off Ani’s taskforce to capture Ledo. As you can imagine, they both give less-than-encouraging words, leading to a steely-eyed look from Ani and a gut feeling in the audience.
Now, that ending, which is the spiritual sister to last year’s infamous one-shot brilliantly filmed by Cary Fukunaga, set in a housing project descending into, as McConaughey put it, “Mogadishu.” Here, Ani, Ray, and Paul lead a team of cops to apprehend Ledo at an abandoned building. But no sooner do they locate them that everything descends into a war zone. They are hit by machine gun fire from high ground, the same high ground that soon ignites in an explosion seen for miles around Vinci, including by Frank and his wife.
The gunfight moves to the street, complete with a crash through an ongoing protest (of Frank’s railway land, mind you) and bus-full of victims. It becomes clear these are no pimps, but most likely Mexican cartel members. And it becomes clear to us, the audience, and Ani, that this was firefight was staged. But I don’t think anyone could have anticipated this.
The body count is astronomical, with at least a dozen, possibly two, dead in the middle of Vinci. For a town size of 95, that’s a ridiculous percentage. The only cops to seemingly survive are our protagonists (Dixon’s last words: “What the fuck?” Classic). Ray and Ani keel over at their first taste of war. Paul stands tall, never more at home.
For all of Pizzolatto’s grit and grimness, his world’s deals with the mythical. Epic battles raging in modernity. Masked villains. The classical Western on-the-frontier attitude, only Pizzolatto dwells not only on the apocalyptic but existentially nihilistic. It’s a moral edge he teeters on but at the end of the day, he proves his predilection for classical conflict.