The world-weary Vinci detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) is a piece of shit, but he may be just as disgusted with himself as everyone around him is. And this comes to a head in episode two. One second Velcoro is encouraging his son Chad’s self-esteem and then the next—after drinking himself silly from the self-loathing of intimidating a journalist and being the stooge for a crooked businessman—he is on the edge of humiliating his son in front of his entire school. Armed with good intentions and gifts, but inebriated, Velcoro quickly turns hostile when he discovers the sneakers he bought for his son were ruined by school bullies. Frightening his already anxious boy, sickening his ex-wife’s current boyfriend and new father figure, as we saw in episode one, “The Western Book Of The Dead,” Velcoro didn’t just stop there.
Fueled by booze, self-hatred and a recognizable revulsion in an ineffectual son he’s not even 100% sure is his–denial is another corrosive eating away at Velcoro’s broken soul—as we saw in episode one the crooked detective went to the house of the bully who victimized his son and beat the living shit out of his dad right in front of him. It’s perhaps the most ridiculous moment of the season thus far, veering the show close to the suspension-of-disbelief breakpoint—though there certainly are some wish-fulfillment fantasy aspects to it. But as over-the-top as the beating is, it does explain who Ray Velcoro is and part of the reason he’s bloated with self-contempt and shame.
Velcoro is not only a morally bent and venal cop; he’s a terrible father. But Ray’s only relationship to human decency—and conversely the motivation that keeps him caught in his own feedback loop of self-destruction—is his son. And in episode two, “Night Finds You,” the impetus for change rears its head when Velcoro’s son is taken away. Velcoro’s ex-wife Alicia (Abigail Spencer) shows up when Chad is supposed to spend the weekend with his father and the incensed wife has reached the end of her tether. She’s heard about the incident with Chad (the drunken Ray threatening his son if he didn’t squeal on the kid who ruined his kicks) and the subsequent vicious beat down and has had enough. She’s vying for sole custody and if Velcoro contests, she’ll petition him with a paternity test (deep down he knows Chad is not his) which will boot the police officer out of Chad’s life for good.
The already downtrodden Velcoro’s world crumbles around him in this brief scene as he reaches his spiritual rock bottom. Chad is the only thing he’s got left in his shitty life and Alicia knows this to be true as she delivers her final blow: “Don’t you know he deserves better” than being his father’s only hope? And as we see later on in the episode, Velcoro losing his son may ultimately be a freeing gift to rediscovering his true self once again.
While the layers of intrigue in this season’s murder mystery case begin to unfold, “Night Finds You” is the legwork/putting-more-pieces-into-play episode and it’s a fairly tedious and exposition-driven one. While deeper character dimensions of all three core detectives are unveiled—Velcoro, Ventura County detective Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), and California Highway Patrolman Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch)—the rest can be a bit of a narrative slog.
Certainly the jurisdictional dick measuring of all the law enforcement agencies and politics surrounding the case is convoluted, full of exposition and likely confusing to most viewers. After all the chest puffing subsides, a three-pronged law enforcement taskforce is put together, but with a duplicitous agenda: the State’s Attorney General is investigating Vinci PD and Vinci City corruption. Caspere’s death is really just an excuse for law enforcement officials to investigate the shady goings on of Vinci City and its sleazebag mayor Austin Chessani (Ritchie Coster). This means Bezzerides and Woodrugh both have two jobs: trying to solve this murder case, as well as fulfilling the confidential mandate of keeping a side-eye on Velcoro and all Vinci PD moves.
Slightly less tiresome is how Caspere’s death sets off a chain reaction of events and the ramifications start to unfold. Squeezed harder than anyone is career criminal Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn), who is totally fucked. As the Catalyst Group capitalist says bluntly, “You’re in the unenviable position of being owed money by a dead man.” Caspere, the city manager murdered in episode one, was acting as a holding company for Semyon, and he never paid the mobster’s five million to Catalyst, so his entre to the California Railway Corridor deal looks dead. This is a transaction that Semyon went all in on, his “lifework,” so he’s desperate and on the ropes to recover the money. Semyon’s self-preservation instincts kick in as he now has a vested self-interest in discovering Caspere’s killer (the episode opens with a fairly heavy-handed omen to Semyon’s current predicament; a longwinded, existential tale of a drunken father, a locked basement and a hungry rat).
Semyon’s financial quandry means he in turn is squeezing Velcoro and may impede the investigation somewhere down the road. Without letting him in on the underpinnings of the land deal, the gangster presses the detective to solve the case; whoever killed Caspere also has his money. Frank goes to visit the Mayor for some financial respite on kickbacks, but he finds no mercy. “I need a direction to turn, Austin,” Semyon warns the Mayor. “Or I may just start pulling down walls.”
Meanwhile, the detective trio investigate the murder and in the morgue learn the super grisly and bizarre details of Capere’s death: hydrochloric acid used to burn out the eyes and a point-blank-range shotgun blast to the groin pointing to torture and something far beyond the average murder.
Bezzerides and Woodrugh’s various existential troubles don’t get a lot of airtime in this episode. Though through pounding the pavement with Velcoro, we glean a little bit more insight into Bezzerides’ hippie commune upbringing: five children raised in a questionable and suspect setting. Two are dead, two are in jail and one, Bezzerides, has become a detective. Her fascination with knives is explained too; an equalizer against a larger species. “A man of any size puts his hands on me is going to bleed out in under a minute,” she warns Velcoro while on the beat. Perhaps their strongest moment arrives in the almost-come-to-Jesus scene. Velcoro hints that none of these law enforcement agencies really want to solve this crime and if they did, there would be a much bigger taskforce at work. In the name of transparency, Bezzerides asks Velcoro point blank how compromised he is, but he doesn’t answer the question and bids her goodnight.
Woodrugh’s tenuous relationship with Emily (Adria Arjona) crumbles under the weight of his intimacy-challenged mien and emotional aloofness. Already taking Viagra in the first episode before he has sex with her (this is why he sat in the bathroom for thirty minutes), there is also something eating away at Woodrugh that is deeper and darker than the Black Mountain Securities force that he refuses to discuss. When he leaves for Los Angeles, after checking in on his boozy, welfare-check-reliant mom (Lolita Dadovich), Emily says it’s over. Perhaps hitting closer to home than she realizes she says through tears, “there’s something wrong with you,” but Woodrugh has had enough and is out the door, possibly for good.
“Night Finds You” is ultimately about fragility and the capacity for vulnerability in all our lives—from a mobster who likens his existence to papier-mâché, to a detective who’s son, his only form of goodness, is wrenched from his grasp. To use Pizzolatto parlance, the darkness is closing in on all the main characters and how they react will manifest itself in many forms.
The writing is still a little hammy and on-the-nose at times. A therapist in the episode reveals that Caspere was suffering from a “painful past” and that the man felt tremendous shame and self-loathing, resulting in further damaging tendencies. The line is said over Velcoro’s reaction and he can’t slink in his chair any lower.
Like season one, there’s a larger conspiracy plot at work. There’s the corrupt Vinci PD and mayor, the landrail deal that Semyon’s trying to muscle in on, there’s a State’s Attorney General probe into Vinci and then of course the wicked forces behind Caspere’s murder. They all might be connected, they may not be, but it’s a lot of plot narrative to weed through and it can be overstuffed. That’s not even accounting for each detective and their spiritually-heavy stories of baggage that will surely be revealed. Pizzolatto really has his work cut out for him this season and its possible he’s just bitten off more than he can chew.
“Sometimes a good beating provokes personal growth,” Velcoro hisses at his wife self-defensively during their argument. He means to say the boy who bullied Chad deserved his own humiliation and fright, but it’s ironic how much the words apply to the burnt out cop.
With Chad and his ex wife out of the picture, Velcoro’s motivation for his vice and iniquity—paying lawyers for custody battles, buying favor into his son’s life—has also suddenly evaporated and it hits him like a fog that has lifted. When he later meets Semyon in the bar—yep, that same dive with the haunted chick belting out similar morose downer tunes, but thankfully more background wallpaper this time—there’s a gleam in his eye we haven’t seen before.
At the end of episode two, Velcoro doesn’t quite bite the hand that feeds him, but he certainly snarls and lashes out. Velcoro doesn’t necessarily need to be in Semyon’s pocket anymore, but he doesn’t quite have the full conviction to break free. Semyon takes the metaphorical newspaper to the halfhearted rebellion and whacks him on the head and Velcoro’s barking threats end with a whimper. But we’ve seen the flash in his eye; he no longer wants to be kept on the leash. As he intimates, Velcoro is spiritually exhausted and it’s a time for a change.
Based on Semyon’s own detective work and tip, Velcoro goes to investigate Caspere’s solo digs in Hollywood. There he finds a sex device and a pool of blood that suggests something more depraved than the city manager’s other sex den. He also discovers perhaps what might be the season’s biggest clue so far: a camera connected to a missing hard drive. Whatever’s on that drive likely will have documented the sex act and may have more keys to who killed Caspere. Unfortunately for Velcoro he’s a little slow on the draw and he gets picked off by a masked freak who steps out of nowhere and plugs him with a shotgun. This shadowy figure’s got the drop on Velcoro and as he moves in for the kill, it looks like it might be lights out for good.
-While there’s no mention of anything malevolent, an early synopsis of Season 2 revealed that Ben Caspere’s body had Satanic markings etched into his chest. The coroner’s scene in this episode makes no mention of any carvings, wicked or otherwise, but perhaps that early outline has tipped us off to what we’ll see down the road. It certainly appears the sexual degeneracy orbiting around Caspere and the occult-ish masked men responsible for his death are pointing toward something beyond your sinful criminal activity.
– Ben Caspere’s gaunt therapist, the one that Velcoro and Bezzerides interview in an attempt to glean further information about the dead man: he’s played by Rick Springfield. Yes, that Rick Springfield.
– Semyon reveals the true reason Velcoro is indebted to him: when Ray killed the man who raped his wife he turned to the mobster to help him dump the body. It’s exposition of course, but a bit par for the course in this episode.
– What’s the story with the knife-scarred Mexican barkeeper? It will be interesting to see if/when that backstory comes into play.
– For those keeping score at home on the little details, the man who shoots Velcoro is wearing the same freaky black crow mask that was in the backseat of the car that drove Caspere’s body to get dumped off in the Ventura County hills.
– I may have confused Vera—this missing person that Bezzerides and her partner Detective Elvis Ilinca (Michael Irby) are investigating in episode one—with Emily, the Latina girl that Woodrugh is dating. Some have posited they are the same person and Emily has shown no family or signs of connection to the outside world yet, but it may just be a coincidence.
– It’ll be interesting to see where exactly the kinky side of Bezzerides is going in this show other than tying into the sexually transgressive theme hinted at so far. In episode one, it’s clear her cop boyfriend was taken aback from some anal play and in this episode it appears she’s staring just a little too intently at pornography in her spare time.
– The scene where Woodrugh visits his mom seems to be rather throwaway, though there is a visual tease we can’t talk about until next episode. We suppose the point of is it to show the concern of how his mom will make ends meet, but it almost seems to be an excuse to showcase that eerie pause to the window outside. It’s as if Pizzolatto and episode two director Justin Lin are saying the spectral pull of the psychosphere is somewhere out there in the ether. But that scene feels random and doesn’t really work.
– The episode’s best line: “Well, just so you know I support feminism,” Velcoro says. “Mostly by having body image issues.” It makes even the dour Bezzerides crack a faint smile.