This review contains spoilers for both released episodes of True Detective Season 2
Like the new sweatshop labor flooding Vinci, California, weekly reviewing of TV shows comes one piece at a time, one carefully sewn garment after another until they join a larger bundle that eventually can be viewed in totality. It’s a tempting proposition to give too much of a benefit to television. We hopefully rationalize that “It will all make sense. It will all make sense in the end.” But sometimes future planning comes at the cost of present understanding, and the (potential) Red Herring offered last night was dressed in black, but no less an avian distraction to perhaps the “true plot” of a season that is largely mired in its own murky industrial waste. Like Vinci, True Detective could use a good scrubbing.
Sidebar–Tough few weeks for HBO crows: when they aren’t Caeser-ing Lord Commander’s, they are burning eyeballs and shooting genitalia off. You know nothing, Ray Velcoro.
“Night Finds You” starts with an unsure Frank Semyon doing standard True Detective things—theme narration through phrasal dialogue repetition. In one episode alone, the filthy and exploitative world is one “we deserve,” as well as one made from papier-mâché. While each speaker’s plotline flows separately, the reinforcement of theme through camera angles and dialogue finally does what True Detective often times does best, which is provide dichotomies of character and worldview that intersect and inform one another. Semyon’s flawless home is now literally rotting from the inside out, which parallels his business ventures and slackening grip on his world. The industrial waste spewing from factories mirrors the waste that is Ray, and indeed (if logic and any semblance of verisimilitude holds true), Ray’s prior moral crimes got their final absolution at the hands of The Black Crow.
But this narrative shift is cheap, and as a viewer, you should feel ripped off. Largely devoid of any other character development, Colin Farrell’s Velcoro was the one bright spot in a narrative (and landscape) of dreary boredom. Farrell’s performance gave light to the darkness of the script and the otherwise tonally polar McAdams or Kitsch. Farrell showed emotional grey, while McAdams and Kitsch were either disaffected or furious. Humans don’t behave this way, oscillating wildly from boredom to rage, which makes their characters thus far more caricatures rather than people. If indeed this is a potential Chekhov’s Gun scenario, Velcoro walked on stage, gave two hours of narration on his life, and then shot himself in the head for no reason. As I noted last week, three characters are doing the narrative function of one, and I guess two could keep a secret if one was (presumed) dead.
Velcoro problems aside, there was a lot to like in this episode. Finally, Vince Vaughn is doing what Vince Vaughn does best. His haughty and fast-talking salesmanship was friendly and inspirational in Swingers, and when given an edge of malice on the side of the road, his characterization finally began to make sense. As we delve deeper into Frank’s life and the trials therein, more of these set pieces highlighting his cruelty can play on our assumptions of Vaughn as a performer and Semyon as a character. These two things, unfortunately, can’t be unlinked, and finally we saw both sides used to their fullest potential. Our ever-dehydrated Mayor Austin Chessani, played expertly by Ritchie Coster, gave a sliminess to the episode that director Justin Lin’s camera was able to oppose and enhance with his often picturesque representations of the California industrial park. Clunkiness exists, to be sure (robots?), but some semblance of motivation and plot movement is finally evident. I’m not sure I quite care yet what happens to these people, but at least I know they are headed somewhere.
I suppose at this juncture I’m in someway contractually obligated to discuss the other side of the highly improbably coin—Velcoro’s alive. While at distance shotgun blasts aren’t fatal, logic would suggest that at close range, both in the back and in the stomach, getting shot twice would kill a person. There seemed to be some suggestion in the post episode teaser that Bezzerides was running from a currently ablaze vehicle, much like the one camera lingered on before Velcoro entered the second home. Furthermore, IMDB shows Farrell as being in all eight episodes of the series. It would seem unlikely to punch out a main character, particularly a star like Farrell, at such an early point in the narrative. But these sleight of hand tricks happen all the time, and mismanaging social perception isn’t that hard. Jimmy Kimmel does it for laughs, and as something as high stakes as the “business” of television (particularly premier television), tricking the viewers for more social media push isn’t out of the question.
But TV has rules, and a general rule for all television is as follows: if you don’t see the character die on screen, they are not dead in the narrative, however implausible. Game of Thrones does this to maddening lengths re: Stannis Baratheon, The Hound, The Mountain. But unless presented with some plausible reason as to why someone can “save” Velcoro in the intervening half hour he has before he presumptively would bleed out and/or why The Black Crow wouldn’t finish him off right then and there, the disbelief that’s already suspended to a breaking point might finally snap, dropping the audience into the great River of Bullshit, which coincidentally seems to be the main water source for the city of Vinci.
Essentially, there’s no way of knowing yet, and unfortunately, both ideas seem wrong-headed. Either we watched two episodes of character development that was solely to fill time and stall narrative only to end in a twist that wasn’t earned, or the true-to-life “reality” of the show, that makes it inherently engaging and skin-crawling, is thrown out the window and we should expect further nonsense and action that doesn’t jibe with what would actually happen in the real world.
This all will be explained in due time, but as I sit working on my one garment of an episode, I can’t help but wonder where it’s all going to go—if it goes anywhere at all.