This True Detective review contains spoilers.
True Detective Season 2 Episode 2
Talk about a cliffhanger. By the end of True Detective season 2, episode 2, you won’t be able to wait until the next episode.
The newly assembled True Detective team is given their crime, but we don’t know if they’re supposed to solve it. Each member of the squad has a different agenda and most of them are at odds with each other.
Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) is a deep thinker for a California gangster. He must have had a lot of time for it when he was young and locked alone in the cellar while his old man went on benders. Frank tells his wife Jordan (Kelly Reilly) about one particular incident where he was forgotten for days until the lights went out and the food ran out and the rats came out. In a revealing memory that underscores both his violence and nihilism he explains that when he woke up the it gnawing on his finger he went nuts, smashing it until it was goo. And that’s just one of his stories. He’s got a million of them.
”What if I died there?” Semyon asks. That is one dark thought to go through someone’s head. It is so nihilistic and yet so horrific, like a subliminal nightmare. What if Semyon died in that cellar and the rest of his life is a dream? I love that as a concept. Semyon is Caesar in early March and he’s having his own premonition. It casts a surreal haze on the police procedural and on the criminal motives.
This is more than a murder investigation. One of the biggest suspects is the community Caspar served. Vinci went from an unassuming village of vice to an industrial powerhouse without changing a single regulation. Vinci is a success story in a depressed economy. Because of their City Manager, they keep almost all their taxes and pocket about $900 million annually. The city boasts a number one positon on the state’s air pollution rankings. Go team.
The town was counting on some cash from an imminent Hollywood movie in deal City Manager Ben Caspere was helping put together. The deceased was last seen with a woman named Miss Tasha at a party where pictures are discouraged. Caspere had an active social life. He certainly thought a lot about fucking, as Officer Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) observes.
The mayor of Vinci, Austin Chessani (Ritchie Coster), has a nostalgic take on vice. He remembers when it was all about consciousness expansion, but now it is costing his son his mind. When Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) asks what his real job is on the Caspere murder case, the mayor is amused, indulgent and understanding. He just doesn’t want any surprises. But Ray understands that duality serves the public interest.
All murder probes begin on a slab. Caspere’s body was bound upside down. It could have been torture, as Semyon suggests later, but there are people who pay by the hour for that kind of torture and this didn’t have a happy ending. The city manager apparently saw too much and someone burned out his eyes with hydrochloric acid. The coupe de grace is the point blank pelvic blast that ripped off his genitals. (Is it still considered full frontal nudity when the naughtiest bits are blown off?) This guy pissed someone off very much. Semyon takes it as a sign, a personal IOU with millions of dollars in ghost cash as collateral.
Semyon doesn’t know what to do with money. He knows he should buy land, but what’s the point if you don’t take anything with you but yourself. He left pieces of himself scattered like free finger food at a casino opening. The gangster ponders his relevancy in a paper mache world. He is running the investigation even harder than the mayor’s office. He has more at stake and has a better working relationship with the burnout cop representing Vinci on the task force.
Velcoro is really at the end of his psychic rope. It’s been frayed for a while. Farrell is good when he’s dubious, but he’s best when he knows beyond any shadows of doubt that he’s gone too far. The scene where his wife tells him that’s it, he lost custody, is brilliant. It’s painful because he never really gets it. He deflects everything and is even confused by some of the charges. How could his son be anxious before seeing him? We see Velcoro admit it to himself, internalize it and reject it. When Velcoro talks on the verge of crying, his voice catches, he shudders in his breaths. His brain is breaking.
Rick Springfield is the therapist with the dangerous tan. Caspere’s shrink looks like he could be a major cause of the dead man’s problems. Ani spots the problems right away and Dr. Pitlor confirms her suspicions by recognizing her as her guru father’s daughter. Little Antigone Bezzerides is the only one of her bunkmates to live free. Two of the girls she grew up with are in jail. Two of them committed suicide. The self-help community is insular in the area and there are more secrets there than Caspere’s sexual peccadillos.
Velcoro, the detective who never met a bad habit he didn’t like. Detective Bezzerides doesn’t distinguish between good and bad habits, she is a creature without habits and no natural habitat. How dirty is Velcoro? He gives signs that he knows he needs a bath. If the state has its way they’ll have the privilege of turning on the hoses. Semyon and the Mayor each seem willing to give him enough soap on a rope to hang himself and Velcoro’s new partner, who is sitting in the driver’s seat on this case.
Last season, Harrelson and McConaughey kept a steady repartee of quips and snide asides. This is an ad hoc team of strangers with mixed chemistry. It’s kind of like replacing cigarettes with E-cigarettes. The unnaturalness makes it feel like they smoke you. As Velcoro observes, “It’s like smoking a robot’s dick.” Velcoro gets in some subtle introductory wit with his line about supporting feminism because he related to body issues. Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) comes off as so uptight it looks like any chuckle will turn into a kind of maniacal laugh that never ends.
What’s the motorcycle cop doing on the case? He was a civilian when he called in it in. He doesn’t want to be there and the seasoned investigators have already discounted him. With someone so laid back as Lolita Davidovich as his mom Nancy Simpson, how did he turn out so uptight? I get nervous watching him and it’s only on a screen. The Lancy Lindel (Ashley Hinshaw) blow job accusation doesn’t make sense because Woodrugh has to pop blue pills to get it up. Apparently, according to his mother, he has a lot to live up to. The young veteran is just not right. He hasn’t been feeling himself lately and he needs an erector set to get in the mood to feel anyone else. This isn’t me, he says.
This is the second time in two episodes that True Detective has mentioned the Black Mountain Security team that Woodrugh was part of in the desert. It is probably based on the American private military company Blackwater USA, who were ambushed while making a delivery for food caterers ESS on March 31, 2004. Scott Helvenston, Jerry Zovko, Wesley Batalona, and Mike Teague, were killed, their bodies were beaten and burned and the burnt corpses were hung over the Euphrates after being dragged through the streets. The private security force apparently had a bad rep in the region for mistreating POWs. The ambush, which is studied in military magazines to this day, led to the First Battle of Fallujah. After convictions came down in the early 2010s, Blackwater changed their name. We’ll get into that later.
Bezzerides is a thorough investigator who has pegged Velcoro as a lackadaisical flatfoot. She continues questions after her jaded partner signs off. Bezzerides probably knows she’s going to bust her co-pilot with the drumming fingers and she’s playing with him in some ways. Like a cat plays with its prey. McAdams brings a completely clear-eyed incision to a bleary procedural. Velcoro is content to lay the Caspere killing at the feet of some hungry pimp, but Bezzerides and her E-cigarettes are sure it’s something deeper and darker.
Bezzerides knows bad people from Good People of Gurnville and will never be caught under-armed in the dark again.
Semyon the character gets to show off his chops as an actor when he puts on the tough sucker voice as a witness to a curbside beating. He masterfully turns it into a bookmaking shakedown without threatening a single thumb.
Velcoro and Semyon both go on the record as loose cannons tonight. Velcoro says he will burn the whole town to the ground before he loses custody of his son, regardless of a paternity test, and Semyon says he can pull the city of Vinci down with a secret handshake.
They’re giving Semyon no wiggle room. He’s bleeding and the sharks are circling. He calls them all together for a taste. It looks like Semyon was set up by the very legitimate world he was trying to enter. That is a gated community with its own secret handshakes whose lack of remorse is criminal. When Catalyst Group development investor Jacob McCandless (Jon Lindstrom) tells Semyon “we’re not gangsters Frank,” I wanted to crack him in the mouth.
Under threat of promotion to chief cop, Ray Velcoro finally gets to pull a Rockford and winds up getting filed. Did Semyon feed his burnout investigator into the shredder? Someone was staking out that address in a black sedan. If you’re not hooked by the end of the episode, I feel bad for you, and if you are, next week can’t come fast enough. I gasped. The episode builds slowly and relentlessly and ends with a bang, several.
“Night Finds You” was written by Nic Pizzolatto and directed by Justin Lin.
Want to go in-depth on the episode? Our True Detective Season 2 Podcast is on Soundcloud.