*WARNING: The following recap contains spoilers*
I read a review yesterday, not worth citing, but accurate nonetheless, that Season 2 of True Detective is confusing and relatively difficult to understand, that the show writers have “thrown us into the deep end”, and we must either sink or swim. I agree with this sentiment. Characters talk fast, act fast, and the plot thus far has been barreling forward at not only at a rapid pace, but also with a network of intricacies and loop holes, new characters coming in an out, and tons of dead-ends just when we, the audience, think we are getting somewhere. I consider myself a rather astute viewer, and I had to lean forward and focus diligently during pivotal conversations. A TON of information is thrown at us in episode 2, “Night Finds You”, and by the end credits, we realize this episode is appropriately named. But we will get to that.
So what happens in episode 2? We learn plenty about the history of the city of Vinci and how it’s an industrial wasteland and so on. We learn how City Manager Ben Caspere died (tortured to death by acid in the eyes and a shot-gun to the genitals). We learn that our three leads– Ani, Paul, and Ray– have been assigned to investigate the murder and we learn through a strange series of intertwined meetings with their superiors the reasons why each of them has been assigned, and what is desired from their investigations. We learn that Frank is financially screwed because Caspere never invested Frank’s money, something like $7 million, into some arcane company and instead had it with him when he was murdered, so whomever murdered Caspere has literally all of Frank’s assets. We learn that Ray’s wife is still alive and she hates him because he’s a violent alcoholic psycho, I guess. We learn that Caspere was waaaay into young escorts and was seeing a shrink to curb his rampant sexual addiction. We learn that Paul’s mother is a trailer-trash alcoholic, that he definitely has sexual problems, and he is probably gay. We also learn that the show writers hate articles and rarely pen a line of dialogue that begins with “the” and “a”. Seriously, I’m sure detectives, no matter how gritty, for the most part do not begin their sentences with verbs. We learn that California has big freeways.
Lastly, True Detective might be getting a little Game of Throne-sy on us. Let’s take a look.
I want to begin with Ani because not a whole lot happens to her character this week. I believe that she is the most grounded and realistic of the characters, and that Rachel McAdams is the strongest actor of the bunch, so far. There is something very intimidating and genuinely tough about her, from her gait to her monotone speech, to her stone-cold look which seems to be saying “you are such an idiot” to everyone she comes across. She takes to the psychiatrist Caspere was seeing, played by Rick Springfield, and reveals to him that her “hippie shit” father raised her and four other kids in a single house, and two of them are in prison and two others killed themselves. She smokes an e-cigarette and according to Ray, pulls it off. She also calls Ray out for compromising himself, presumably for being a sell-out for working for gangsters. She works her ass off. At the end of the episode, she watches online porn to aid her investigation while drinking whiskey in a bathrobe, and as the camera closes up on her emotionless face, it’s difficult to tell whether she is distancing herself from it, or subtly intrigued by it. There is definitely more to Ani than meets the eye. I like her, I trust her, and think she’s the best character.
Paul is one weird dude. He’s reticent and cold, and seems to be thinking about deep secrets in ever scene, thanks to Taylor Kitsch’s brooding gaze and tight-lipped countenance. He takes care of his mother, bringing her fried chicken, and she reminds him that all the girls “were nice to you Paul”. But he’s very much an ass. He is prone to gay slurs, telling another cop that “some fag” hit on him, and how he almost clocked him. He leaves his beautiful girlfriend in the cold after she accuses him of being distant (he obviously is) and she ALMOST blurts out something about him zoning out during sex. That scene is heartbreaking, as he points a finger at her and repeats, “This is you doing this, not me”, when it’s very obviously he that is ruining the relationship. At the end of the episode we see him drinking on a balcony, watching young party-goers stumble along the street, and the camera focuses Paul’s POV on one young man, who walks alone. It appears Paul is gay and in the closet. But we will see.
First of all, what is up with his last name? Secondly, Vince Vaughn appears to be struggling with this role, often standing awkwardly and out-of-place, like he doesn’t know what to do with his hands, and saying his lines in very forced manner. His character isn’t clearly defined, despite the show’s attempts to give Frank depth and complexity with stories about his childhood (trapped in a basement and killing a rat) and his anger over losing all his money to Caspere’s murdering. He is supposed to be thoughtful and intelligent and business savvy, but Vaughn looks simply like your average joe. When Vaughn says “I went liquid for this deal” we want to groan. When Vaughn smiles, amused, when a strip-club manager flashes his grill, it comes off as a desperate attempt on the actor’s part to infuse his character with some personality. Frank’s final scene with Raymond should come off as suspenseful, and we should think of Frank as a dangerous individual. But I just couldn’t buy into it. Come on Vince Vaughn! Step up your game a notch.
I have saved the best for last. Was anyone else a wee bit heartbroken when Ray’s ex-wife tells him that she’s filing for sole custody and she will get a paternity test to establish that Ray isn’t the biological father of their child? That scene was heartrending, either because Farrell’s is excellent at tapping into his characters’ internal sadness, or because we know Ray has the best intentions at heart, despite always fucking them up. Ray is arguably the main character of this entire fiasco, but I don’t always buy Velcoro’s strange Aspergers-y dialogue, like when he equates an e-cigg to “smoking a robot’s dick”. His character is both psychotically violent and empathetic, and this contradiction doesn’t always come through. At the end, when he enters his own house which has clearly been broken into, I wanted to yell “turn around!” about a dozen times. Sure enough, in a truly shocking and disturbing final scene, Ray is shot twice by the person in the bird’s mask . I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume he’s dead, because when you are shot in the gut close range by a shot-gun, you die. However, IMDB bills Colin Farrell for 8 episodes, so I don’t know what’s going on. But I wouldn’t be surprised if True Detective, in the grand scheme of Golden-age of Television shockers, has killed off it’s main character in the second episode. It’s quite brilliant, if you ask me.
The central question is this: who is behind the bird mask, and what does he/she want? Obviously he/she has a vendetta against Frank Seymond, and since last season was all about corruption flowing down from the top, we must infer that motivations are bigger than merely getting back at Frank. So, in summary, yes, the dialogue is a bit cheesy. Yes, Vince Vaughn can’t play tough-guy like the role calls for. But I remain repeatedly impressed by the skillful directing, batch of interesting and idiosyncratic side characters, and the completely engrossing cliff-hanger so early in the season. I’m going to defend TD here and finish by writing that I can not wait to see what happens next Sunday.