It’s time to call it, even though many already have, starting with the first episode. As the second season of “True Detective” heads into its second half with episode four, “Down Will Come,” we have to admit that having given it a fair shot, this thing is bad. At least it’s entertaining, interesting bad at times, though the Lynchian ripoff weirdness of last week’s episode three is sorely lacking in episode four. There’s been a pattern of using cliffhangers to keep us coming back week to week—a rather “meh” episode capped off with an insane event, and “Down Will Come” definitely delivers that. Directed by TV journeyman Jeremy Podeswa (“Game Of Thrones,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “The Tudors,” “Six Feet Under,” “Queer As Folk“), there’s a slowly measured pace to the first half of this episode that is livened up in the last part only by a meth lab exploding in a gang/SWAT fire fight that makes bodies rain on the streets of downtown L.A. Podeswa isn’t afraid to let it slow way down, before he jacks it up, and the majority of this episode works in an almost lethargic groove. Excuse me, but I was promised Colin Farrell screaming at children.
Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) is still being moody and impotent and lashing out at everyone around him because his fancy land deal got bonered by Caspere’s untimely death. Honestly, Caspere got the raw deal here, Frank, so stop whining about your avocado trees and throwing racial slurs around. He’s trying to go back to his old biz—dealing drugs at the club and being a slumlord/casino boss—but no one takes him seriously even though he pulled out Santos’ teeth. As for the kid issue, his wife Jordan (Kelly Reilly) suggests adoption but Frank “doesn’t want to do somebody else’s time… somebody else’s grief.” The scenes between Vaughn and Reilly are so stilted, as they stand awkwardly posed among mid-century modern furniture, talking to each other in a way no normal person has ever talked to another person.
Semyon’s also having an issue with his muscle, as poor Stan ended up partially dissolved in goo last week, and he’s clearly not trusting Blake (Christopher James Baker), telling him “you’ve got a real Roger Moore thing… Johnny Unflappable.” He suspects Blake might be mixed up with the Russian mobster Osip Agronov, because he is paranoid and convinced everyone’s against him, much like every other character in this show. He punishes Blake by making him be the pit boss for the night. In the bar with the Worst House Band Ever—Maudlin Hipster Chick—Frank even tries to recruit Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) to serve as a heavy for him. He tells Velcoro his talents are being wasted, and in a terrible sales pitch for the job says, “black rage can go a long way… sometimes your worst self is your best self.” But the thing is, Velcoro actually seems to be pulling himself out of the darkness a bit, while Semyon just sinks further, faster. He lobs back “a long way to where?” at Frank, saying he doesn’t want to follow him where that rage might take him.
Velcoro is practically chipper this episode, happily doing detective work with Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams). Maybe it’s his newfound sobriety? He encourages her to not fuck with Mayor Chessani (Ritchie Coster), because she’s the expendable one in this equation, especially if the state’s investigation is just a veiled way for the attorney general to get a handout from that train money. Bezzerides and Velcoro do some digging into the Fresno land plans she spotted on Chessani’s desk, and a friendly EPA dude tells them this soil is filled with chemical contamination, driving families and farmers away. Are bird men polluting this land to buy it up cheap for the high speed train? Anything’s plausible in Vinci. Or Fresno.
There’s more! Velcoro and Bezzerides also question Chessani’s daughter Betty (Emily Rios) in a weed shop, because did you know that they have those in California? She tells the dynamic duo that she doesn’t know who was calling Caspere from her house, but that her dad is “a very bad person,” and her mom died from suicide after being committed to a facility run by Dr. Pitlor aka Rick Springfield.
Things really are as interconnected as those freeway interchanges we get to see so often, as Velcoro and Bezzerides pay a visit to her Big Sur guru dad (David Morse and his wig). Turns out he goes way back with Pitlor and Chessani and Caspere because they all went to the same seminars and on beach vacations in the ‘70s. He’s super nonchalant about it, even though Velcoro and Bezzerides think it is a crazy coincidence (these plot contrivances never are). What he finds crazy though is 1. his daughter is a sheriff’s detective and 2. Velcoro’s aura, “one of the largest I’ve ever seen, you must have had hundreds of lives.” Of course, Velcoro shoots back with “I don’t know if I can handle another one.” Coupled with a glance at an old childhood photo of a serious toddler Ani, they really are trying to impress upon the audience that these two are a couple of old souls.
Ani spends some time pondering the memory of her mother at her sister Athena’s (Leven Rambin) place, mumbling such greeting card epithets as “these moments… they stare back at you… you don’t remember them, they remember you.” Athena mentions high-end hooker parties, and something tells me we are going to end up at one of these sooner rather than later, and five dollars says Daddy Bezzerides is there. Also, apparently Ani took her mom’s knife, and one has to wonder if it’s the lethal blade she keeps tucked in her boot.
Bezzerides’ also has a huge problem at work, a sexual misconduct complaint filed against her after her relationship and breakup with Mercer (Riley Smith). It also turns out that she had sex with her partner, Ilinca (Michael Irby), and she has gambling debts. When Ani tries to flex some feminist muscle, complaining that this wouldn’t happen to a man, her boss swiftly harpoons that theory. She’s suspended from the office but allowed to keep working on the case because that seems ethical. She and Ilinca have it out in the parking lot, and Bezzerides is left completely alone. Seems Velcoro is the only one she can depend on at this point, and that sure is a sad situation.
Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) isn’t having the greatest of days (does he ever?), having woken up in his Army buddy’s bed after blacking out at Santos’ Rave Brothel (which is now Frank’s Rave Brothel, and is apparently called “Lux”). Yes, those two totally did it, and even though his buddy (Gabriel Luna) encourages him to just be himself, he hightails it out of there half-dressed to grab his bike, pausing to cry in a cab because being gay makes him cry. His bike is stolen, and he gets ambushed by a bunch of reporters. Nic Pizzolatto, tell us how you really feel about the press: “they lie without blinking.” Got it! Velcoro picks up Woodrugh, and furnishes him with a ride, a bizarre pep talk (“you’re a survivor, everything else is just dust in your eyes”) and a selection from his Glove Compartment Hangover Kit. When Woodrugh sighs that he just “doesn’t know how to be out in the world,” Velcoro for all his pulpy wisdom in the scene, isn’t yet able to pick up what he means by “out” in that specific instance.
Woodrugh meets up with his ex-girlfriend, Emily (Adria Arjona), who it turns out is pregnant. He’s super excited because a pregnant beard is perfect for his image right now! He proposes, tells her he loves her and is ready to get back on the case. He and the awesome detective who clearly doesn’t give a fuck (W. Earl Brown) track down the pawn shop where Caspere’s watch was pawned and ID the perps through footage: a woman and a man named Ledo Amarilla (Cesar Garcia). Now that is some true detective work right there.
Feeling like they got their guy, Team True Detective suit up in their SWAT gear and get ready to kick some Mexican gangster ass, in an industrial part of downtown where Amarilla has a loft. They go swaggering down the middle of the street, a very chill way to sneak up on their target, when one of the gangsters lights them up with a machine gun from the window—tip off. And thus, a daytime urban gun battle unfolds. It’s pure chaos. Cops are getting shot in the head left and right, the loft meth lab explodes, and Bezzerides runs through a sweatshop in pursuit of an SUV filled with machine gunning gangsters. The gangsters—who are, by the way, costumed in the most stereotypical Mexican vato gear, looking straight up like members of Cypress Hill—want to only shoot everyone in sight, including a transportation protest and a city bus filled with people. The body count is huge. When Amarilla kills a bus passenger, Velcoro and Woodrugh (a soldier who is cool under fire, naturally) take him out. Guess we’ll never know if he killed Caspere for a watch. When the dust settles, the three detectives just look at each other like “ohhhh shit.” The trio is bonded by fire now. Any hope for them still working this case just got blown out the window, like the ones in that meth lab that’s probably still on fire.
So will the team be taken off the investigation just before they get to the freaky high end hooker parties? Maybe some off-the-books undercover work is needed? It will be interesting to see how pollution, hookers and creepy bird gangs are going to be wrangled together in the next four episodes, as well as the Chessani-Pitlor-Caspere-Bezzerides connection. But if it’s as predictable as a New Age Sex Cult thing, perhaps not, because that’s what’s being telegraphed from a mile away.
They also need to figure out a way to incorporate Frank into the main story aside from his meeting with Velcoro in the bar. Right now it feels like two different shows, and the Frank Semyon is a Terrible Sad Gangster show is not working. It’s repetitive, dull, and Vaughn is not compelling in this particular performance register. The other three leads have gelled into a cohesive unit, but at this point, Frank just feels ancillary and unnecessary, and the themes explored in his story land with all the subtlety of a ten-pound weight.
However, Frank does get some of the best Pizzolatto dialogue lines, which are priceless, if overwrought. Leave your favorite line of the night in the comments below!