The moody, humid, and mysterious Lynch-ian undertones of “True Detective” are a lot more muted than some would like to suggest. Episode six, “Church In Ruins,” briefly tapped another sinister atmosphere, with some elusive nods to “Eyes Wide Shut.” Leaving formalism aside for a moment, it may have been one of the best episodes of the season thus far––full of genuine anguish, a welcomed sense of humor and a nerve-racking ending that rivals the intense shootout of episode four, but with less chaos. This episode was more controlled, but still chock full of shit hitting the fan. Of course, this is a relative “best,” if it is one at all; there are certainly still problems, but it’s a compelling watch.
Stylistically and tonally, the episode begins in an opposite world. Full of standoffs, it picks up just moments after last week; Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) is livid and wants answers. So there he is, face to face with Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) in a glaring contest and both are packing in this anxious tête-à-tête. At the end of episode five, Velcoro learned his wife’s rapist was finally caught, DNA matches and all. Who did Velcoro kill some eleven years ago when Semyon gave him a tip-off as to who assaulted his wife? Irate, Velcoro believes it was all ruse to entrap him into his venal life. But coolly, and calmly—Semyon’s done the dance with a gun stuck in his face before, clearly—the gangster asserts that he had good intentions and thought the intel was legit. It all simmers down pretty quickly and the former cop and gangster see eye to eye, more or less. There’s a warning as Velcoro leaves, and Semyon says next time Velcoro’s going to sit back down on him with a pistol again, “don’t let me see you coming.”
Frank: “You might be one of the last friends I got.”
Ray: “Wouldn’t that be fucked up.”
Chuckle all you want at some of the moody-broody, ham-fisted dialogue of this season (and yes, some of it is scoff-worthy) but “Church In Ruins” drums up some gut-wrenching emotional pain, most of it centering around orphans, arguably a theme since all this season’s players have been left to fend for themselves. Semyon visits Joyce, the widow of Stan, the construction manager who was killed off in gruesome Ben Caspere-like fashion in episode three. While he and his wife Jordan (Kelly Reilly) are comforting Joyce, Semyon quickly gleans that his sketchy lieutenant Blake Churchman (Christopher James Baker)—who he already knows is double-crossing him—had Stan killed. The scene is really about Semyon and Stan’s son, an adolescent boy now without a father. As much as Semyon is a brutal mobster, he does have a soul and sense of compassion. Like he told Velcoro at the breakfast, guns stashed beneath the table pointing at one another, he thought narcing on the rapist, or at least who he thought was the rapist, was the right thing to do.
Vaughn has several monologues and pep talks as Semyon this week. and for the first time they don’t feel very clunky coming out of the actor’s mouth. Sure, they’re more of Pizzolatto worldview—one of the problems of this season is that every character sounds like they share the same showrunner voice—but Vaughn seems a bit more comfortable in this skin six episodes in. At that meeting, Velcoro wants to blame Semyon for essentially ruining his life, but the mobster drops some sober talk: he didn’t pull the trigger and Velcoro made all the choices he made.
This rattles the cop too. He sees his son, the pudgy redhead, one more time (under child services supervision, scribbling notes even when they’re talking about banal things like “Friends” on TV) and then goes on a huge, practically suicidal bender. Booze, liquor, coke and then rinse, repeat again and again. Decimating his apartment, Velcoro makes a deal with his ex-wife Gena (Abigail Spencer): he’ll drop the custody suit and never see his son or that family again if the wife vows to never tell the boy the true results of the paternity test she feels she must take.
Elsewhere, there’s still just too much plot. It’s easy to understand why there are complaints of this season’s murder procedural being far too convoluted. And while all the dots are starting to connect, there are still too many antagonists and open threads.
There’s the Santa Muerta Mexican gangsters who are connected to Leo Amarillo, the thug who was killed in the epic shootout. They’re fucking with Semyon again, and that’s eventually going to get really ugly. Semyon’s main goal is to get back into the Railway Corridor deal and he’s been promised from the Catalyst executive Jacob McCandles (Jon Lindstrom) that if he can return a stolen hard drive with “sensitive” materials, Semyon’s back in with five million in free grandfathered-in parcels (the same hard drive Velcoro almost found in episode two). This means Semyon needs to find Irina Rulfo, who was pimped out by Leo, and pawned a bunch of Caspere’s stolen goods. However, when Semyon goes to meet her fact-to-face to get more information, he arrives to find Irina dead, with her throat slit, at the hands of the Mexican gangsters. However, she did give Frank one clue before she died — the man she received the stolen goods from was a tall, white, thin cop.
We can’t forget about the stolen diamonds that Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) is searching for. These diamonds will connect to the overall core conspiracy that is driving season two, but for this episode, it’s once again about lost children. Woodrugh’s investigation leads him back to a 1992 jewelry store robbery in Los Angeles during the time of the Rodney King riots. Legitimate professionals executed the two storeowners, a grizzled and retired LAPD officer tells Woodrugh. In the wake of the slaying, the jewelers’ children were found, traumatized and in hiding, having heard and possibly seen their parents’ death. It’s grim, stomach-churning stuff that emotionally affects the old cop. It could be just personal fodder for Woodrugh, who’s about to be a father, but it wouldn’t be very “True Detective-y” of Woodrugh to not track down these kids, now surely adults, and question them to see what they remember. The haunting photograph of the two devastated kids huddled under blankets is telegraphed too much for the show to just leave it at that.
Some things are starting to become clear: the larger conspiracy involves the sleazy mayor Austin Chessani (Ritchie Coster); his son, Tony; the Catalyst douche bag, McCandless; the Russian mobster Osip Agronov (Timothy V. Murphy); Semyon’s assistant Blake and the Santa Muerta Mexicans. Pieces of this are low-level junk, running whores for rich men (Blake and Chessani’s son deal), others have to do with corrupt land deals (Chessani Sr., McCandles and Osip), and of course, the killing of Ben Caspere, which started it all.
Directed by Miguel Sapochnik (he directed “Game of Thrones” now-famous “Hardhome” episode from this season), the tether of this thorny plot becomes tighter in the episode’s last act. Bezzerides, with the help of her sister Athena (Leven Rambin), a former sex webcam worker, plans to infiltrate the high-end sexcapades mansion acting as a Russian prostitute. Security is so tight she won’t be able to bring in weapons or a phone and she’ll be deeply exposed and vulnerable. It’s a dangerous operation, so Velcoro and Woodrugh come in as backup.
This is where we enter the “Eyes Wide Shut” segment of the episode––a big orgy that Bezzerides gains inside access to (it should be said for an orgy and what they show, it’s all rather tame). Her covert mission goes awry early on when she and all the other girls are given some pure Molly, “to make you feel better” which distorts her senses, makes her paranoid, and forces her to flashback on an unpleasant memory of a childhood sexual assault in the hippie commune she grew up in.
Meanwhile, Velcoro and Woodrugh are dressed in black sneaking around the grounds, trying to position themselves to act as Ani’s backup, while doing some reconnaissance of their own. In what may be the season’s worst moment, the two detectives overhear Osip and McCandless discuss their conspiracy and how they fucked Semyon out of his parcels. Perhaps it’s meaningless information that one could have guessed, but for them to eavesdrop and hear the bad guys spell out their plans is something out of a bad cable thriller (wait, this isn’t that yet, right?).
As Bezzerides starts to lose it from the drugs, shit starts to hit the fan, but not before she conveniently finds Vera, the missing Mexican girl, who is also all doped out and punch-drunk. She tries to make her escape, but not before encountering a huge Russian bodyguard who tries to choke the life out of her. Unfortunately for him, Bezzerides found a knife among the charcuterie and like she’s promised earlier in the season, any man who puts his hands on her usually bleeds out in under a minute thanks to her knife-wielding artery precision. He does, and she, Vera, Woodrugh and Ray make their escape in their Velcoro’s getaway muscle car. They drive off with a full moon rising in the sky, a fairly corny omen, considering there was already a cheesy line about full moons earlier in the episode. Black Angels’ “Black Grease” plays us out and we wonder if Pizzolatto only exclusively listens to these guys, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and other black-leather-jacket-rock.
Questions and quotes
Who was Irina trying to tip off to Frank? We know the now-deceased Teague Dixon was a crooked cop, but he was far more tumescent than thin. The only thin, emaciated dick we can think of is Woodrugh, but he doesn’t seem bent. The plot thickens.
“You bang my door down for a staring contest?” – Semyon pissed that Ray’s interrupted cuddle time and still doesn’t have anything to say.
Ray: “I could have been different.”
Frank: “Of all the lies people tell themselves, I bet that’s the most common.”
“If that’s the kinda thing that keeps you out of heaven, I don’t want to go.” — Frank Seymon on payback logic.
“You ain’t have the nerve for this for a while.” — Semyon seemingly lets Velcoro get off the informing clock, but they sure still share a lot of information
“On the ropes ain’t the same thing as bleeding out, you know that.” — Semyon says he’s beaten, not broken.
“I thought I killed you eleven years ago.” — Velcoro greets and looks in the eyes of the man who raped his wife.
“I don’t really get art.” — Bezzerides keeps it simple.