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Review: ‘True Detective’ Season 2 Episode 6 ‘Church in Ruins’ Takes Us Inside An Orgy

Review: 'True Detective' Season 2 Episode 6 'Church in Ruins' Takes Us Inside An Orgy

Immediate Reaction: 

Finally! After six weeks of watching Rachel McAdams flash those knives around, Ani finally got to dice somebody up. While we didn’t need the added foreshadowing of her “workout” session in front of dear ‘ol sis, the payoff that’s been promised all season arrived at long last, and it was…exactly what we were told would happen in Episode 2, “Night Finds You,” when Ani said, “A man of any size lays hands on me, he’s going to bleed out in under a minute.” It took almost exactly that much time for Ani’s attacker to lose enough blood to loosen his death grip on her throat, thus allowing her to escape (a bit too easily) from that well-protected party. Within what was the most effectively atmospheric scene of the season thus far, audiences were given precisely what they wanted and, consequently, exactly what we shouldn’t have seen.

One of the problems plaguing “True Detective” Season 2 has been over-emphasis. Whether you spot it in the writing, direction or line delivery, things have been a little too buy-the-book. For everything that worked about “Church In Ruins” — and most of it did — there were very few surprises along the way to bolster the well-executed suspense. We knew going in that Ani would be infiltrating a sex party made up of rich, old white dudes (who, I must say, were perfectly cast in that they looked just the right amount of creepy), but did anyone expect it go any differently than it did? Ani thankfully didn’t have to use her body to extract information from any of the gross old rich guys (a concern of any feminist still watching), but her cutting up a henchman and fleeing with Vera, the missing girl first mentioned in the pilot, seemed right in line with expectations.

After last week’s listless hour of television, “Church In Ruins” still marked a step forward. NIc Pizzolatto and director Miguel Sapochnik were able to pace events evenly, and McAdams more than held up her heftiest dramatic load to date. But even by successfully following through on many promises made throughout the season — Ray’s decision to cut ties with his kid marked more needed progress — “True Detective” still hasn’t wowed us. With only two episodes left, time is running out to leave a lasting impression. 

LAST WEEK’S REVIEW: Review: ‘True Detective’ Season 2 Episode 5 ‘Other Lives’ Feels Like a Fake Story

Cracking the Case

Some astute viewers have noticed how Leonard Cohen’s song “Never Mind” that plays over the opening credits has been altered week-to-week to incorporate new verses that hold relevance to this week’s episode. Episode 6’s alteration reads as follows: 

“I could not kill the way you kill
I could not hate, I tried, I failed.
You turned me in, at least you tried
You sided with them, who you despise
This was your heart, this swarm of flies
This was once your love, this hole of lies
You serve them well, I’m not surprised
You’re of their kin, you’re of their kind.”

The lyrics could hold a number of applications, but I prefer to see them as a take on Frank’s words of wisdom for Ray. After the ex-Vinci police detective confronted the gangster entrepreneur about being purposefully given the wrong name of his wife’s attacker, Ray said, “I could’ve been different.” “Of all the lies people tell themselves, I bet that’s the most common,” Frank replied. He may as well be speaking the above lyrics to Ray, arguing that he became what he once despised, which is no surprise given he’s always had it within him anyway.

The duo’s relationship has been as fascinating as it is flawed (their kitchen table confrontation was less tense than it needed to be) in part because of the lack of a moral high ground. Typically, the cop would hold a superiority over his criminal contact, but Frank has shown just as many signs of empathy, fairness and understanding as his corrupt friend. Even in this episode, it was Frank becoming upset over a woman’s unjust murder and Ray snorting a pile of cocaine before breaking the models he built with his son. I believe Frank thought he was giving Ray the right name way back when, just as I believe Ray would’ve found his way to where he is now no matter who he’d killed that fateful day. But these two haven’t had their last stand-off. 

The Truest Detective (Episode MVP)

Just as we’d been longing for Ani to finally slice up some evil piece of meat, so had we been waiting for the best character of Season 2 to get more time in the spotlight. “Church In Ruins” provided both, as well as some insight into Ani’s sexual proclivities. You know, the ones alluded to with the infamous “erasers clapping” line and her unclarified bedroom demands of the all-too-innocent ex. During a bad trip on the molly sprayed into her mouth before the party, Bezzerides flashed back to when she was molested at her father’s hippie commune by someone who looked like he’d fit right in there, but not at the party that triggered Ani’s memory.

While it’s obvious the bad combination of drugs and sex triggered these repressed thoughts, the people at the secret orgy certainly looked nothing like the long-haired hippie haunting Ani’s life. Despite this small hiccup in logical transitions, the scene surrounding it was professionally handled by everyone involved and expertly acted by McAdams. After early reports of an “orgy scene” in Season 2, anyone who’s aware of the series’ ongoing issues with female representation have been dreading what turned out to be the climactic scene in Episode 6. Though I’m sure others will find fault somewhere, I was personally impressed with the lack of gratuitous nudity and sex. Sapochnik’s camera instead held closely to McAdams’ flustered face, keeping attention on the character and not the largely unimportant acts going on around her. We all knew what was happening at the party, so Pizzolatto wisely made the scene all about Ani — without making it about Ani’s body — and McAdams carried it admirably.

Exuding fear and ferocity with equal measure, McAdams continues to be the one reliable source of dramatic heft; never faltering under laughable dialogue (unlike Colin Farrell’s face-to-face with his wife’s rapist) and always holding our attention for all the right reasons. It’s a shame she’s not given more scenes of this magnitude, as her character is strong enough to support much more than one-fourth of the series’ emotional resonance. Still, for about 10 minutes during “Church In Ruins,” we got a glimpse of what that season might have looked like — and it looked damn good.

Comedic Relief

“Don’t you fucking shoot me, Raymond” – Frank Semyon

Yes, there were a few moments of unintentional humor scattered throughout the episode — including the opening confrontation between Ray and Frank — but Frank’s tension-breaking plea for peace wasn’t one of them. It worked, even if the implied pressure in the room was never as heavy as intended. It’s hard to establish a hard-edged tone when you open the scene with Frank asking if his gun-wielding guest would like “milk or sugar” in his coffee, and it never fully recovered from there. Still, Frank’s above line played to Vaughn’s strengths as an actor, just as Ray later telling Ani to hide the transponder “somewhere…” (implying God knows where) “…like in your shoe” produced a well-earned chuckle thanks to their established rapport. Even with the plot thickening as Season 2 enters its home stretch, instances like these prove a little levity can go a long way. 

Murder Mystery or Character Study?

The plot certainly moved forward smoothly this week, but two scenes showed why “True Detective” is better off when Pizzolatto emphasizes character over story. Ani’s entry into and escape from the sex party was one, as we learned very little knew information about who’s there and why — though it did set up a deluge of information for next week with Paul’s document heist and Ani’s missing person discovery — but did garner some background on Ani while remaining invested in the scene largely because of our concern for her well-being. 

Yet a smaller scene was just as crucial, and arguably more powerful. Frank’s sit-down with Stan’s kid was the one aspect of “Church in Ruins” I wasn’t expecting to see heading into Episode 6. Its inclusion illustrated the importance of fatherhood to Frank, and their back-and-forth was far more satisfying than the blunt exposition on fertility, family and the future between Mr. and Mrs. Semyon in Episode 5. “Bad as this is. Wrong as it is. This hurt, it can make you a better man,” Frank told a child in need of some straight talk. As cloying as their hug could have come off, it instead marked one of the season’s few truly tender moments. In a sea of darkness, this kind of light really shines. 

Grade: B

Random Thoughts: 
– I love that of all the shows Pizzolatto could’ve picked to make Ray’s son seem effeminate, he chose “Friends.” Can you imagine Chandler and Monica in the world of “True Detective”? Could they BE more out of place?

– I imagine when Pizzolatto coached Farrell through his cocaine-snorting, tequila-swilling relapse montage, he said something like, “Remember ‘Rocky IV,’ when Rocky found his inner strength by doing upside sit-ups and climbing a mountain? It’s like that, but the opposite.”

– The look Ani gave Paul for playing with her knife. That look, forever.

READ MORE: Why No One Can Agree On Anything About ‘True Detective’ Season 2

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