Based on the consensus thus far, the second season of “True Detective” has gotten off to a rocky start — some love it, some hate it, some are giving it the benefit of the doubt. Trying to replicate the mystical bayou phenomenon that gripped audiences last year hasn’t been quite as easy in this LA noir world, and at times, the Herculean efforts of writer/showrunner Nic Pizzolatto and directors to make it dark and edgy are plainly apparent. But for some damned reason, Episode 3, “Maybe Tomorrow,” directed by Danish documentary and TV director Janus Metz Pedersen, is more compelling than the other two episodes, possibly because it’s clear the show is drifting squarely into High Camp territory. I mean… that opening??
Another struggle for the show is that the four leads are all acting in different registers — they haven’t disappeared into their hard-bitten roles, particularly Vince Vaughan, who seems caged up, his manic energy tamped down as he concentrates hard on pronouncing the mouthfuls of flowery, ridiculous vocabulary with which Pizzolatto has saddled him (never forget: Rat Goo). However, in episode 3, he’s slowly being let off the leash. Rachel McAdams does fine work as the overly tough female detective, but her naturalism doesn’t match everyone else. Taylor Kitsch has barely done anything other than silently brood. The notable exception in quality is Colin Farrell, as corrupt cop Ray Velcoro, who is as tightly wound as he is strung out. Wild-eyed, puffy-faced, and mumbling, his performance honestly makes you worry about Farrell, and he’s the best thing the show has going for it at the moment.
So THANK GOD they didn’t off Velcoro in the cliffhanger from last week, when he took two point blank shot gun blasts to the torso. In the beginning of this episode, in a sequence that is a some kind of homage/ripoff/mashup of the Coen Brothers and David Lynch that is so baffling it’s awesome, it’s touch and go for Velcoro. He’s in his favorite booth in his favorite bar, this time being serenaded by a Conway Twitty impersonator (Jake La Botz) with an insane pompadour and powder blue rhinestone suit, belting out “The Rose.” (We know this isn’t real because the live entertainment in this bar is finally not that maudlin hipster chick). Ray spends a few minutes talking to an older man there, his dad. Is he in heaven? Purgatory? Dad tells him he got there first, which doesn’t seem good. But as the song crescendoes, Ray gasps back to life on the floor of Ben Caspere’s WeHo fuckpad, his body miraculously un-penetrated, thanks to rubber riot bullets, “like cops use,” we find out.
Given the tip by gangster Frank Semyon (Vaughn), who got the intel from a prostitute at Santos’ (Pedro Miguel Arce) club, Velcoro’s secret creeping into what turns out to be Caspere’s murder scene illustrates the many interests he’s having to balance in this case. Semyon, exerting his power over Velcoro, wants him to find information about the land deal that he got screwed out of due to Caspere’s untimely passing. Though Velcoro wants out of this relationship, and he’s suspicious that Semyon set him up, Frank still wields Ray’s murderous past as a threat to keep him in line. Ani Bezzerides (McAdams) is pissed Velcoro scoped out the joint without her, though her higher ups are more interested in the investigation as an opportunity for her to find out just how bent Velcoro is, and how far up it goes. His bosses in Vinci, on the other hand, want this case closed as quickly as possible to get the state’s corruption inquiry off their backs. With his custody battle, broken ribs, bad habits (he tells his doctor he drinks “all I can”), and shady relationships with Vinci’s gangsters and politicians, it’s no wonder Velcoro’s hanging on by a thread. When the doctor asks if he actually wants to live, his ambivalent silence speaks volumes.
This episode colors in more of Velcoro’s background for us, as he goes to visit his father, the man he chatted with in his near-death vision. A former cop himself, his dad drinks and gets high while watching Kirk Douglas noir flicks, complaining about the way things used to be, rejecting his PD status, even tossing his badge in the trash. He mentions that after the riots and OJ, the cops “couldn’t do the job right” in LA, and migrated to the outer environs such as Vinci. He growls that this is, “no country for white men.” Nic, come on, is that your id showing?
Velcoro finally realizes that his past is well out of his control, in the hands of others, including state investigator Katherine Davis (Michael Hyatt), who is anxious to root out the truth among the rumors. She encourages Bezzerides to cozy up to Velcoro, to make him think she’ll sleep with him, which has Bezzerides feeling “like a cheerleader on an oil rig.” Still, Ani bluntly dumps her cop boyfriend in the office, once again demonstrating the performance of her decidedly unfeminine cold black heart. It behooves Velcoro to get close to Bezzerides too, to find out what the state has on him. His ex-wife (Abigail Spencer) shows up on his doorstep with $10,000 to make him drop the custody battle, hoping that the fact that investigators have been questioning her about him will make him take the money and run. Of course, it doesn’t.
Bezzerides puts the stoic Woodrugh (Kitsch) to work, and they take it upon themselves to pay a visit to Vinci mayor Austin Chessani’s (Ritchie Coster) Bel Air manse, after discovering many phone calls between his house and Caspere’s WeHo fuckpad. There, they find the much younger Mrs. Chessani (Agnes Olech), stoned out of her gourd in a formal gown, the house littered with party trash, before Chessani Jr. (Vinicius Machado), a specialty events planner, chases them out for entering without a warrant. Something sure is up with that Chessani fam!
Woodrugh’s also pounding the pavement talking to hookers, trying to get intel on Caspere. Putting “those looks to work” as Bezzerides instructs him, he connects with some male hustlers who take him to Vinci’s hottest club, Santos’ Rave Brothel, and tell him about Caspere liking “to watch,” as well as Tasha, one of his favorite gals, who’s been off the grid. We finally learn about what happened in the war with Woodrugh when he and an army buddy share some beers at a motorbike rally. Seems those two got a bit cozy in the desert when they got separated from their squadron — a real Brokeback Iraq situation. This is something his buddy wants to talk about, a place he yearns to return to, but the closeted Woodrugh violently throws him to the ground at the smallest mention. This gay sublot has been executed in the most boneheadedly obvious of ways. There’s far more nuance in the gay subplot of “Unreal.”
Another puzzle piece gets put into place when Bezzerides and Velcoro link the car that dumped Caspere’s body to a film production on which he hooked up a few permits for a producer credit. They don’t turn up much new intel other than that Caspere and the film director liked to party with hookers, which is just a given at this point. But when checking out a transpo driver who quit, an anonymous masked troublemaker fire bombs their car. They pursue the hooded intruder, who appears to be wearing a white paper plate on his face, through a homeless encampment, but lose him.
“Maybe Tomorrow” is the episode where Frank Semyon really starts to crack, the land deal falling down around him, and his influence eroding. His impotence is literally illustrated by his own sexual impotence, unable to perform in the collection room of a fertility clinic. When a deal with a Russian, Osip (Timothy V. Murphy), seems to go south, and one of his enforcers turns up dead, Frank starts to suspect that someone is really out to get him, and it’s plausible the Caspere murder could have been part of that (he also wonders if Osip might have had a hand in it). If not, no matter, his persecution complex causes him to violently lash out at those around him, grabbing at any shred of power he once had, trying to wield influence over anyone and everyone. The gangsters at Santos’ Rave Brothel don’t take him seriously anymore, and honestly, who would? Vaughn’s “threatening” mode is weirdly mild and laughable in this, like Trent from “Swingers” play-acting at gangster stuff. Still, it ends in fisticuffs in the club basement, Frank showing his old mettle, having to resort to his old low-brow tactics, just when he was trying to go straight. The old man’s still got it though, but all he has to show for it is a handful of Santos’ gold teeth.
Velcoro’s assailant took the hard drive and camera in the WeHo fuckpad, which may hold Caspere’s snuff film.
The Chessani family portrait is EVERYTHING.
Those diamonds in Caspere’s safe deposit box…
Every episode brings a new forehead-slapping visual metaphor. Last week, Justin Lin’s geode orifice, this week Pedersen’s “American Sniper” billboard looming over Woodrugh on the street. Oy.
There were less aerial nighttime freeway shots, thank you baby jesus.
“I’m feeling a little bit apoplectic myself”- Frank to Ray
“I took one in the sternum, so my heart aches.” Wow, Ray.
“Is that a fucking e-cigarette?” Woodrugh to Bezzerides. Is Stephen Dorff sponsoring this?
“I ain’t ever exactly been Columbo.” Velcoro Forever.
“He looks half anaconda and half great white.” One of Frank’s heavies, about Osip.
“This angsty cop drama you’re rollin’.” Male hustler to Woodrugh LOL. “True Detective” might as well be called “Angsty Cop Drama.” The call is coming from inside the house.
“You ain’t that thing no more, what you used to was.” RIP Santos’ Fuck You grill.