This True Detective review contains spoilers.
True Detective Season 2 Episode 7
True Detective season 2, episode 7, “Black Maps and Motel Rooms,” was a dense and satisfying and upheld the HBO tradition that no one is safe on their series. The true detectives on True Detective follow black maps and real estate contracts as they untangle an intensely complicated web of intrigue that led to a fairly simple crime: A 23-year old robbery and double homicide. The quartet, because Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn), has as much gum on his shoe-heels as the badges, traversed double and triple crosses and an underground maze that moves the underworld. Semyon even found the elusive hot diamond and ass peddler Irena Ruolfo, well, sort of, she was there and gone, at the same time.
Last week ended with a bang. While Detective Ani Bezziredes (Rachel McAdams) bled out the hooker party security guard with the stealth of a stoned serpent, quite a few bangs were going off around her. The orgy of the ruling class, seen through the dark glass of pure liquid molly, in spray form no less like a Binaca blast, opened her eyes to her own repressed memories. When the smoke cleared, she fouind herself a fugitive in a murder rap.
McAdams has been phenomenal all season. She brings suspicion and amusement to every blink until something actually gets into her eyes. Bezziredes can see the face of the man who abducted her, but can’t focus on what was done to her to make her so different from her sister Athena Bezzerides (Leven Rambin). She’s been hiding the image since she “ran out of the woods and they found me.” Bezziredes uproots her whole family tree.
“You want me to roll a joint?” Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) asks Bezzerides and it looks like he could use it as much as she could. Drugs have been at the forefront of the season. They are the second biggest cash industry in Vinci after eastern bloc hookers. Bezzerides doesn’t respond well, and even when she responds properly, she is shot down.
The thing with Bezziredes is that, like all cops, she made something very simple, very complicated. The missing woman that she rescued was neither missing nor wanted to be rescued. Now her life, which she was enjoying, even with the occasional bad trip, is destroyed. Regardless of the outcome of this case that even she doesn’t want solved. The two children, made orphans by a crime within a world of crimes, uncovered by Woodrough, could have been this woman and Bezzerides eyes will never adjust to someone else’s vantage point. Cops only see victims and perps, they don’t see the grey.
Everything is fucking. That’s the one thing Ani will never let herself believe. She knows the ugliest side of sex and anything less is as unimaginable to her as it is unimaginative. But sex sells and it’s an open market, especially at the Illuminatish sex trade show she crashed, where she saw the crème de la crème making deals with the cream of the crumbs. She is disgusted that she even shook the hand of one of those pieces of unholy shit. But still waters run deep and she is swallowed by the excremental tide by the time she wakes up.
“Could they make me for that security guard” and would they? Would the death of the security guard even be reported at a party like that where pictures are so off-limits and the help is strip-searched before serving, The cops were made by the powers that be in Vinci and the thumbs come down.
The wheels of government may turn slowly on Washington’s capitol hill, but in Vinci they are fast as lightning greased by the grubbiest of palms. Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) is hit with a blackmail text with photos and the cutest of captions and he dumps his pregnant fiancé on his mom (Lolita Davidovich). An APB goes out on Velcoro for the death of the secret task force’s lieutenant before the ink is dry on the one for Bezziredes.
I love stories where the main characters get caught in the pincers of forces larger than they imagine. This season of True Detective is a caper film in reverse. The Caspere task force ran a scam on a big-time mark and came away with more loot than they can handle. But the mark is the mob and this episode plays out like a high voltage List of Adrian Messenger. Everyone in the cops’ circle is at risk. Their whole world is on the lam.
But not Frank. Sure, he’s going to take a powder, but he’s got the time to tap the whole keg. Semyon is an enigma, highly intelligent and imminently combustible. After Velcoro delivers the news that Semyon has been royally gang-banged dry in a conspiracy that involved every one of his closest associates, he asks the cop, one of the last people in the world he can trust, to leave so he can process the information. As soon as Ray leaves the casino floor, Frank rips the rim off the poker table. His face was calm but his grip could turn coal into diamonds. Looking at it again, Vaughn threw subtle hints, but he tossed them out of bounds like a foul tip.
Ever the entertaining host, Frank breaks the ice and tension along with the glass he smashes across Blake’s face. Semyon is a professional visage grinder and we see that he made his bones in torture. He’s a pro at it. Other people’s pain doesn’t make him blink an eye. It’s all just another day at the office. Last week, he casually told the Mexican book club gangster that it was going to hurt when NailsNails (Chris Kerson) pried his hand from the table it had been hammered into. This week, Semyon plays Blake like an arrogent landed fish, squeezing his wounded head against the wall or under his foot to get the most out of his smashed tumbler. Semyon wants to look in Blake’s eyes as the lights go out, for keeps. This is enough for Blake to break out everything he’s got on the money deals. Semyon even gives Blake a last drink before he blows a hole in his stomach to let it out.
Semyon’s wife Jordan (Kelly Reilly) really is his soul mate. He would go to hell for her and she would happily follow him there. She’s got his back. “Keep it holstered,” she warns Velcoro as he’s coming to deliver much anticipated bad news. When Frank shows Jordan Blake’s body and says, this is where we’re at, she just asks what he needs her to do. She and Nails are unconditionally loyal and ready at a moment’s notice to change course mid-stride.
Mayor Austin Chessani (Ritchie Coster) is drunk again, blind to the machinations of his own son, who is in the process of usurping his father from his lofty, if precarious, perch. Semyon is filled with disgust as he kicks Chessani out of his casino, just in time to miss the changing of the guards.
Osip Agronov (Timothy V. Murphy), the half anaconda, half great white shark, finished his plate and is dipping his bread in Semyon’s gravy. Russian Israeli mobster has been moving in on Semyon’s territory in a play that’s been in the works for a year. He owns the club and casino that Semyon has made home base and was part of the cabal that took Caspere’s land deals. Caspere’s been in league with the big leagues since he bought in with Teague Dixon and the precinct commander. They bought in with the blue diamonds taken in the chaos of the LA riots.
It was Ben Caspere’s steady rent-a-date Tasha who was strapped to the chair in the woods. Tasha wanted to blackmail the ruling committee. They don’t really take kindly to that. They’d already taken back their membership dues by torturing Caspere for his precious blue diamonds.
In the modern gangster classic The Departed, Martin Scorsese crosses off each character before their departure by framing them in front of, or next to an X. This itself was reminiscent of Francis Ford Coppola showing an orange before every violent scene in The Godfather. Woodrough undercuts an underworld of Xs before he arrives at safety only to get Scorsesed by Lieutenant Burris, another cop. Cop on cop violence has been on the rise since the consumer revolt of the white noise band Cop Shoot Cop. It looks like the finger behind all the triggers has been unmasked. He also left his partners high and dry, stranded with nothing but each other.
The two fugitive cops bond over a bottle of Dewar’s. We kind of figured they’d get it on after the love drug was wearing off. Bezziredes may be out of Velcoro’s league now, but he wet a lot of seats when he was young and HBO never misses a chance. The love scene was off-kilter, emotionally fragmented and seemed to be out of time, even though it was in sync with the enemies below. All the time Woodrough was running through the tunnels I was yelling “serpentine,” like Peter Falk advised Alan Arkin in The In-Laws.
An eight-episode arc doesn’t give a lot of wriggle room to change the rhythms of a show and linger on small moments. A show like The Sopranos, which had the power to write itself as many or as few episodes as it liked, could savor character development. Last week’s scene between Velcoro and Semyon, for example, could have gone on for the entire episode as far as I cared. It could have been Tony and Paulie on the I95 on the lam to Florida. Farrell and Vaughn fill that kitchen with a full character study.
I’m so glad we didn’t see the explosions as Semyon walked out of the buildings with the burners on. It was much more satisfying to watch him take it all in from above as the flames were already dancing. I’m waiting to see how he takes the drop next week.
“Black Maps and Motel Rooms” was written by Nic Pizzolatto and directed by Dan Attias.