Welcome back, True Detectives.
This was by far the best episode of the season. Dominoes started to fall and actions that actually affect the status quo were taken. But it’s taken far too long and the dominoes were obvious from the start. For seasons as short as True Detective‘s are, it’s shocking how long the audience is kept in stasis. Even the ridiculously bloody shootout in Episode 4 did little more than reshuffle the cards. By now, viewers are alienated, hate-watching with gleeful abandon. We’ve been led on and teased and by this point it’s like (wait for it) blue balls; the release isn’t satisfying. It should be fun to see the pieces fit together as they are, adding meaning and layers to previous episodes. Instead, it feels perfunctory.
We start with our characters doing damage control. Ani is still high as a kite off molly, as is Vera. Paul is still marveling at “documents . . . with signatures all over them!” and Ray’s doing his Ray thing, sitting there looking puzzled. The documents prove that the Mayor’s son Tony, the Russian gangster Osip, the Catalast rep Jacob McCandless, and Caspere conspired to screw over Frank from the get. However, Paul is on the wrong end of some blackmail. Turns out the dearly-departed Teague Dixon had photos of his “encounter” with his former Army buddy and sent them to his fiancee.
Ray visits Frank to inform him of the bad news. You can see the fuse light in Vaughn’s crazy eyes, something that wasn’t utilized NEARLY enough this brief season. He rips the blackjack table apart with his bare hands after Ray leaves and begins planning his revenge. Meanwhile, Ani questions Vera, who turns out to be quite a bitch with a heartwarming life philosophy “Everything is fucking.” However, she does help Ani out with the photos of the orgy parties. She nonchalantly says Tascha, Caspere’s favorite girl, was the victim butchered in the shed found in the northern hills. She identifies a “Laura,” the same name as the girl from the 1992 bank robbery, whence the blue diamonds came. She’s not too happy about her reunion with he sister but Ani threatens to out her cooperation if she doesn’t lay low.
In a similar fashion to last year’s penultimate episode, we get scenes of our protagonists saying goodbye to their loved ones / hiding or sending them away. Paul takes his fiancee and mother to the same motel for safety, claiming the blackmail photos were from an undercover op and nothing more. Ani, who used her sister’s name as an alias last week (why she couldn’t choose Hera or another Greek goddess that isn’t a flesh-and-blood human related to her is beyond me), scares her into going.
She has a heart-to-heart with her dad revealing she remembered her abuser from youth. The theme of fatherhood looms large this year and papa Elliot decries his own old man, saying he was the father he was because of his own strict upbringing, yet it led to “hedonists” taking advantage of his openness. There is no right way in this world; we all suffer the same. Her old partner Elvis, good guy that he is, trails to the two Bezzerides north for safety, but not until Ani gets hugs from all three of them. Progress at last.
Life-or-death circumstances are the only thing that spark clarity in Nic Pizzolatto’s world. Otherwise, as we’ve seen, they dwell and seethe and hide. It’s a shame such extremeness is the only way these characters can open up. Not every viewer can relate to having targets on their backs to get out of self-destructive ruts. It’s another sign that Pizzolatto, for all his bluster and stabs at ambiguity, writes fairly traditional heroes and villains.
Ray goes to meet with Katherine Davis, the state’s investigator who coordinated the re-investigation into Caspere’s murder. “Have I got a story for you – ” is all Ray gets to say before he sees her lifeless corpse in her car. Ray makes like a tree and GTFO.
Paul – who is being watched – discovers Ani is wanted for her deadly interlude at the party last week and the three predict Davis was killed to set up Ray, making him as fugitive as well. Paul is the only one left with the access to keep the investigation going.
He unearths records that Burris and Dixon worked with Holloway, the Vinci Chief last seen at last week’s party, in 1992 and the diamond robbery was in their district. They theorize the diamonds were a buy-in to the corruption scandal for the two, even though Dixon seemed more-or-less left out of the whole “get rich from proving I’m a murderous dirtbag” scheme, maybe why he was tracking the diamonds down behind the others’ backs.
After Paul leaves, Ray and Ani realize Laura is also Erica, Caspere’s secretary from the premiere who is now in the wind. In a moment I was hoping to avoid, Ray and Ani hook up. I get it, their professional lives are destroyed, their actual lives are in danger, makes sense to seek some comfort. But I can’t help but feel it’s such a cliche for our two movie-star leads to do it by the end of this run that it comes off cheap and unearned.
Armed with Ray’s info, Frank finally goes Medieval on Blake the Number Two’s ass, smashing his face with a glass of whiskey. After one of the better Frank scenes of the year – wherein he grills Blake for info (crazy eyes!) – Blake seems to prove his usefulness with information, confirming the said-screw over. Osip and the Russian mob are moving to take over Vinci and the surrounding area. He claims nobody knows who killed Caspere, as its caused headaches for all involved in the land deal.
Then Frank shoots him in the stomach and lets him bleed out. Oh Blake, you slimy two-timing criminal, you’ll be . . . forgotten rather quickly.
Frank tells Mayor Chessani (oh, how I’ve missed his drunk highness “We’re a political dynasty, like the Kennedys!”) of his son’s behind-the-back moves and meets with Osip, the Russian-Israeli gangster, who has bought both the casino and club out from under Frank. He’s a little unnerved by Frank’s cavalier attitude yet goes along with the idea that Frank is OK with Osip fucking him over royally. Apparently, he fought to keep Frank alive as a business associate. But he’s never seen Frank’s crazy eyes. If he did, he might have seen through Frank’s mea culpa.
Frank makes big moves to liquidate his assets and inform his recently-remade allies that their re-partnership has re-ended. Whiplash indeed but he offers them ungodly sums of money to help his exit strategy. Which apparently includes torching both the casino and club to spite Osip.
Paul ill-advisedly goes to meet his blackmailer, who turns out to be his Army buddy. Paul’s old security firm Black Mountain has become Ares Security and now only has one client – the corrupt shell company Catalast (real-life Blackwater did the same shit after they were caught being violent sociopaths). Paul is surrounded in a dark tunnel by five Ares members and confronted by Holloway. Paul, the action hero that he is, manages to escape this death trap after feigning betrayal. He maybe-kills Holloway and definitely-kills the five operatives, including his Army buddy.
He makes it outside to freedom, preparing to call Ray and Ani . . . and is shot in the back by Lt. Kevin Burris. He crawls fruitlessly to his gun before Burris ends him and takes his phone. Is Burris the Bird? I say yes. Despite the season’s being completely difference in detail, structurally, they’ve been almost identical. We had the three episodes of set-up, the big gunfight in episode four, the time skip in five and six, the going-off-to-war goodbye/swan song in seven, now, a sudden reveal before the credits of a character we already know as the possible season-long murderer.
THEORY: Burris, like Dixon, is pissed off about being left out of the lucrative corruption. In retaliation, he wants to burn the whole thing to the ground. I’m reminded of the classic Rust Cohle quote “The whole needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.” Burris is a bad man, a villain, but perhaps like Frank and unlike Ray and Ani, he’s the only one without limits who can take the other bad men down.
Seems to me Lt. Burris is Caspere’s murderer. Until he’s not. We’ll see next week when we bid adieu to the corrupt hellhole that is Pizzolatto’s California.