Welcome back, True Detectives.
This show finds balance and subtlety banes rather than boons. Instead of getting to know our characters in any meaningful way, the show cuts between them in really off-putting edits, robbing itself of any momentum. Each episode reinforces how integral Cary Fukunaga was to the first season’s astonishing success. Without him, we get choppy interludes with an overload of characters and no impression whatsoever about what its supposed to mean.
The case itself, ostensibly the center of each season of this anthology, couldn’t be more obtuse, drowning in ambient noise about diamonds, call-girl parties, and a magical hard drive. Season 1 fired up viewers’ imaginations to speculate and theorize to the moon and back about how it was all connected. But, in the end, none of it was and writer Nic Pizzolatto revealed the story to be disappointingly simplistic.
Remember how Marty’s daughters arranged their toys in disturbing ritualistic patterns reminiscent of the villainous cult? Viewers including myself went “Oh my god, there’s hidden connections going on! This will pay off down the line!” But in the end, it wasn’t a clue, foreshadowing, or really relevant in anyway. It was dropped just as quickly as it was shown. It contributed the feeling of being burned many had by the time McConaughey had finished his finale monologue about light vs. dark or whatever.
This season goes in the opposite direction, attempting to knit together so many things that it doesn’t do anyone particular one the service or justice it needs. Ray’s story arc this episode reached heights of ridiculousness. Whether it was his gravelly, over-the-top macho meeting with his wife’s rapist or his insane self-destruction montage consisting of what looked like a half-pound of coke, a bottle of whiskey, and beer, it played like it was hitting bullet points, rather than organically emerging. True Detective is not a show that hints. It knocks you over the head with a baseball bat and lights you on fire while chanting, “Do you get it yet???”
It might be too little too late for Frank but these last two episodes have imbued with something resembling humanity. Noticeably, he’s the only one of our four leads to even hint at kindness or revelation so far. His scene with Stan’s son was moving in a way nothing else has been, barring last week’s reconciliation with his wife Jordan (who is still relegated to the sidelines as an extension of Frank rather than a character unto herself).
While Frank displays hitherto-unseen paternal instincts, Ray finally realized his desperate attempts to connect with a son he couldn’t be more different from, behaviorally and (maybe-almost-definitely) biologically, was doomed. After finding out he killed the wrong man and a sitdown with Frank, maybe he understood he was doing more harm than good with his son Chad. He told his ex-wife he’d be giving up the custody battle. He only wanted one thing: for Chad to never know the story of his birth.
Speaking of failing to connect with family, Ani feels much better handling knives than she does relationships, including one with her sister Athena. She arranged all the necessary information to prepare Ani to go undercover at the party, but got nary a word out of her that wasn’t brusque. Paul, as usual this season, got the short stick, relegated to chasing leads on the case no one in or out of the show really feels compelled about.
He discovers the diamonds were originally stolen during a robbery in 1992. The owners, a father and mother, were executed while their kids watched from a hiding place. Why we needed to know all of this or why these diamonds matter is beyond me.
Frank is focused on Caspere’s stolen hard drive and Irina, Ledo Amarilla’s working girl who pawned Caspere’s belongings. He raids a Santa Muerte stash house only to find its owned by the Mexicans he kicked out of his club last week. In exchange for a phone call with Irina, Frank relents and offers them access to his establishments to push drugs.
Frank gets his phone call, discovering Irina was paid by a white, thin cop to pawn the stuff. He manages to convince her to meet but he and his crew discover her body, freshly killed from a slit throat. The Mexicans didn’t take kindly to her cop admission. Frank gets stuck with a dead end and the drug deal. Not the outcome he wanted, I imagine.
The climax of the episode, pun intended, takes place at one of the oft-talked about sex parties, with a guest list including Frank’s duplicitous right-hand man Blake, gangster Osip, the Catalast rep, the Vinci PD chief, gubernatorial candidate Richard Geldorf, and assorted old, gross white men. I was disappointed by the whole affair. Eyes Wide Shut did a much better job at making this carnal debauchery seem weird and off-putting. I was hoping for a masquerade ball kind of feel, given the show’s propensity for putting its villains in masks. Alas, instead we got leering old white guys, who were disturbing by themselves I suppose.
The girls are all kindly “offered” a mouth spray consisting of pure MDMA, or “molly” as the cool kids call it. Ani reluctantly takes it and follows the rest of the girls into foyer. It doesn’t take long for this meat market to get underway and pretty soon, Ani, like everyone else, is high as a kite and confronted by what amounts to a giant orgy. The music was superb, as it has been all season, adding more to the ambiance than any one director has.
Confronted by the rampant fucking, Ani hallucinates a nameless, Charles Manson look-alike. In memory, we see the man leading her into a van. From the implications and imagery, it seems the drugs woke a repressed sexual trauma from Ani’s childhood, likely from her time growing up on her father’s commune. It would explain her intense distaste for her father and his work. Unfortunately, one of the old white guys has taken a shine to her. Let’s call him Gross Guy. Ani takes a cue from her own show and not-so-subtly grabs a knife. I have no idea how no one noticed in the crowded room or how she hid it as long as she did.
Paul and Ray tail Ani and the bus full of girls to the remote mansion to stake it out. They take out some security dudes and steal documents of the deal going on between Osip and the Catalast rep, presumably the same deal for the rail corridor.
Ani manages to slip away from Gross Guy and goes to puke in the bathroom. As she recovers from her near overdose, she finds Vera, the missing maid she’s been searching for since the premiere. Dropping all pretenses, she throws her over her shoulder and makes to leave. She’s stopped by Gross Guy and gives him a stab and a kick to the nuts. Her training comes in handy when she manages to cut one of the sociopathic security guards but he nonetheless nearly strangles her before succumbing to blood loss.
Miraculously reuniting with Paul, the three escape to Ray’s car and speed off. We’re left with the four in the car, Paul with the documents proving collusion and Ani with Vera but on the verge of a breakdown from the drugs and the fact she may have killed at least one guy. This should blow the case wide open . . . right? I can already see next week beginning with these powerful men coming down hard on our taskforce and negating all of their hard work.
As we hurtle to the end of this tale of rampant Californian corruption, its becoming increasingly clear we’re going to get a day of reckoning quite like the Carcosa confrontation that concluded last year. I’m both eager and fearful; I don’t want a carbon copy of that ending but it seems increasingly likely. Caspere’s murderer will be exposed but the system that enabled it will continue.
In a case of “be careful what you wish for,” everything connecting together in way that Season 1 did not is actually backfiring given the emotionless plot stasis the Caspere investigation perpetually remains in. The lesson here? Don’t give hints that ignite viewers’ imaginations while leading nowhere *but* don’t go the other way at 100 mph and give so many hints that they lack context, impact or even basic meaning.
Balance and subtly, like I said, are not this show’s strong suit.