True Detective Season Two: The First Four
I was first thinking about doing an episode by episode review of True Detective upon completing the first episode review. It seemed to make sense and what a lot were doing. Then I recognized, through reviews of episode two, it was pointless.
Even this is sort of pointless.
It’s not pointless in that you won’t get to see my thoughts displayed and how they might change with subsequent viewings and by eventually seeing the big picture. But True Detective in season two is a show where I miss so much, I don’t really piece it together until later. Watching episode four, “Down Will Come”, I missed so many details upon watching at midnight and only caught them in later viewing and reading. I found that many people miss out on a lot of details, mostly because the episodes try to pack 45 minutes of talking and then shock your attention with an exciting ending. Episode two ended with Ray Velcoro shot and left presumably for dead. Episode three had a burning car and attempted chase of a masked person. Episode four is a raid on a drug house falling into the street.
For most (including myself), there was an expectation of an exciting finale to episode four. The reason most kept their attention in S1 on the mumblings of Rust and Cohle was the one shot spectacle in season one’s “Who Goes There”, so it was expected for a big moment in season two to happen around the same time. It did, but writer Nic Pizzolatto is purposely subverting the expectations of his audience. In season one, Cohle fell into bad habits but proved to be exceptional, even high on drugs and surrounded by murderers. He was still smarter than anyone else. In season two, nobody was supposed to come out of this looking like a great cop, let alone a great detective. It was a setup. It was a trap. They didn’t just fuck up. They got fucked.
The first season of True Detective immediately introduced time jumps in order to let you know that things were not going to be solved in the 90s. Things would be solved present day, when all of the details have been uncovered and the duo of Rust/Cohle have a clear path to solving the mystery. The second season has yet to introduce a time jump, but after innocent people, police officers and gangsters were shot down in the middle of the street with a news crew filming, it doesn’t feel like they are going to get a chance in present day to solve the case. The case is being solved for them, temporarily. If episode three was about taking inspiration from David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, episode four is taking inspiration from Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential (loosely inspired by a James Ellroy novel, undoubtedly an inspiration of Pizzolatto), right down to the combination of corrupt police officials, a prostitute conspiracy and a case being cleaned up by pinning it on minorities. This isn’t by accident. This is Los Angeles.
While I don’t know where the show plans to go after this, I can see that after the first four episodes, they are setting us up a false point of no return. They teased that in episode two when Velcoro looked to be shot dead by point blank blasts of a shotgun. It turned out to be less death shots than death reflections, but it was to let people know that this show is going to make you think there’s no way it can continue, only to do so. That’s what true detectives do: they continue with a case that’s supposed to be solved, or supposed to be unsolvable. Chris Ryan didn’t care for the scene on Grantland, and has been questioning why the show is going down the path that these are not good detectives. I guess I see it in a very different light. This wasn’t just an “action wakeup call”, this is a wakeup call to the fact that the protagonists are not in control. Not of their sexual urges, not of their company holdings, not of their personal lives and certainly not of the case of Ben Caspare’s murder.
This lack of control holds the hand of generational sin. While Frank Seymon struggles to create a new generation, Paul Woodrugh is ready to raise a child under a lie. While Velcoro is finally at peace with his past and tries to continue the family tradition of police with his estranged son, Ani Bezzerides continues to live orphaned from her family, only connecting when it matters to the case. We learn that Mayor Chessani comes from a family of generational corruption, a corruption his daughter is all too aware of in the fourth episode.
Following the generation sin and lack of control is the idea of becoming who you truly are. The Chessani children try to live without the shadow of their fathers. Seymon suggests Velcoro that his bad self is his true self (probably the heaviest lead of a line so far in the season) while seeing himself slowly become the gangster he was trying to put away at the beginning of the show. Velcoro is becoming a better cop and father figure (more to Paul and Ani than his son, but he blew that one in the first episode) as he stays sober, but the destructive nature is still inside of him. Paul might run away from his homosexuality but he runs straight into the killing machine he was in Black Mountain during his military time. He might run from reporters to answer questions but he has no issue seeing dead police around him in a fire fight. Ani is the most interesting for me. She has been presented as the most level headed of the four, the one most in line with knowing whom she is. But as the fourth episode progressed, it seemed clear she was falling apart after everything she tried to keep at arm’s distance was ready to punch her in the gut. Ani has the most to lose at the end of episode four, even if she didn’t lose her life like Detective Dixon (I mean, he was shot in the head but IMDB has him listed for eight episodes. I don’t know).
I like the show. I like it far more than season one. That’s not some contrarian “I gotta like it more because people say they like it less” but because I think the character profiles are done far better and I like these simple, pulpy stories of corruption. Caspare isn’t close to being solved by the fourth episode, but the roads to solving it are far clearer. The circling of poisoned areas of LA near the expected location of the Corridor, the conversation between Ani and her sister on the sex parties and Semyon’s mistrust in his own men are details I glazed over when they happened in the episode, only to consider them later on and realize how important they will be. As much as Semyon’s story feels disconnected, his entire plot is driven by the fallout of Caspare’s death. As he rebuilds a crumbling empire, an existing empire continues to break the bricks. It’s the debris that hits Velcoro, Woodrugh and Bezzerides. It wasn’t just a meth lab exploding at the end of episode four. It was their control over the investigation. Losing control will lead to clearer eyes as the dust settles. There’s a reason they miss the conspiracy in front of them: how can you see the lies of others when you’re still lying to yourself?
Interesting enough, there’s one question I can’t answer four questions in and nobody else seems to bother asking: who killed Ben Caspare? It’s still shrouded in so much mystery, nobody is even attempting to approach the question. Maybe like season one it ends up just a lowly groundskeeper, someone you never suspect in the first place. I have my doubts (I also have my suspicions on Ani’s father Elliot). I also have my doubts we’ll know this answer until everything comes together in the final episode. That’s what keeps me interesting, and ready to re-watch an episode for missed plot points.