It’s been 66 days since the shootout in Vinci that killed Ledo Armarilla and scores of innocent bystanders. 66 days and the team of true detectives has scattered to the wind. And 66 days is about as long as it takes before they can no longer stay away from this mystery. The title of “True Detective” season 2, episode 5, “Other Lives,” refers to the what ifs, the what could have beens, and the yearning for something else for which our central four characters ache. Irish helmer John Crowley, known for “Boy A” and the upcoming Sundance fave “Brooklyn” is behind the camera this episode, but there’s only room for one auteur in Vinci. This is a Nic Pizzolatto joint, make no doubt about it. No matter which director steps in, there will be aerial freeway shots, there will be amazing and ridiculous dialogue, and there will be a maudlin hipster chick strumming a guitar.
Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), in the wake of the shootout, has stayed close to what’s familiar—in this case Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) who, sadly, is the only person that Ray has in his life at this point. Ray’s working security for Frank, or “consulting,” as he likes to call it, but he’s basically one of Frank’s errand boys—doing bribe collections, issuing threats, the usual. He’s also deep into the legal imbroglio over the custody of his son, and his ex-wife, Gena (Abigail Spencer) has the claws out. Ray needs to undergo a drug and paternity test and have supervised visitation, and he needs more cash if he’s going to keep up the fight. Frank offers him a side gig tailing Blake (Christoper James Baker), a result of “listening to the hot feeling I got in the back of my neck.” In English: he thinks his man is stepping out on him for more lucrative business.
The thing is that the shootout, civilian deaths notwithstanding, was probably the ideal situation for the officials, businessmen and politicians farther up the food chain. They can call the case closed, blame it on low life criminal brown folk, and exchange cash behind closed doors. Attorney General Geldof (C.S. Lee) is even running for governor, an expensive endeavor.
Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) is in the midst of his own legal mediation, though he is newly lauded with a medal of valor for his cool under fire (Velcoro calls him a “god warrior”). That pesky actress DUI bj situation hasn’t cooled down yet, and she’s even retained the services of best legal counsel “Silicon Valley” has to offer (actor Matt McCoy, who plays her lawyer, also represented the guys from Pied Piper). He even mentions the shit that went down in Iraq, and it is insinuated that the actress’ PR team dug up that story and sent the media hounds after him.
But Paul’s just keeping his head down, doing insurance fraud work, and kissing up to his future mother-in-law. We can tell he’s miserable from the amount of little bottles of booze he needs to spike his iced tea at family dinner. His own mother (Lolita Davidovich) isn’t much support, either. She stole $20,000 out of his army backpack (Paul, there’s this thing called a “bank,” what kind of shady money is that?). Mom also implies some racist bullshit about Emily’s intentions, and accusing him of “weirdness” with boys. Guys, it’s 2015. Gay marriage is legal. You don’t have to use euphemisms. Also, it’s okay. Even teens know it gets better Woodrugh.
Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) is also doing her legal duty, attending the worst sexual harassment training of all time, which somehow reinforces the stereotypical offenders’ sexist behavior. When they question why she’s there, Ani trolls them all by saying, “I really like big dicks.” One has to wonder, was this entire thing just a long con to get Rachel McAdams to say that on film?
Another aspect of this episode is that it is exposition central, just dropping knowledge bombs all over the place. During a meeting with a passed out drunk Mayor Chessani (Ritchie Coster), Frank alludes to the fact that the waste management company he owned was used to “sprinkle heavy metals” in the interior valley that’s now worth billions for the high speed train. The new owner of the company just drove his car off a cliff. Things aren’t looking great for people involved in this deal, and Frank’s paranoia is serving him well. He tells Ray he’s looking for retribution but he can’t find his enemy. In fact, as he says, “it’s like, uh, blue balls, in your heart.” LINE. OF. THE. SEASON.
Frank works that retribution tip all the way to McCandless, the head honcho at Catalyst and the California High Speed Rail Authority. McCandless will let him back into the deal for five parcels of land, if he finds the missing hard drive that Birdman stole from Caspere’s WeHo fuckpad when he shot Ray. Seems there’s some compromising video on that hard drive he would be so grateful to get out of the hands of mysterious bird gangsters (never mind the fact that they could just make digital copies of whatever he doesn’t want people to see). Frank promises to track it down.
Bezzerides, even though she’s demoted to evidence, just can’t stop with the true detectiving. She is the One True Detective. She’s still on the case of missing woman Vera, and she’s got her hands on some of her photos of Chessani’s diamonds and creepshots of big wig senators at the Hooker Parties™. She even gets her old partner Ilinca to hook her up with the NorCal address connected to Vera’s phone number.
Ani meets up with Ray at at Black Rose Cocktails, Frank and Ray’s dive, and guess who’s back on the mic? Correct, you totally guessed it. Ani, meanwhile, has turned full Velcoro, drinking, smoking, getting the shakes. She wants to pull Ray back in, she’s pissed that no one cares about the missing girl, the people “shot to shit,” the pollution in the billion-dollar valley. Ray’s got some perspective, though, and is at peace with the system, corrupt or not. He doesn’t want to stick his neck out in any way, saying, “I try to limit the people I can disappoint.” But he also seems beyond it. He’s highly attuned to his own obligations and trying not to get sucked into anyone else’s.
But, this can’t last for long, and soon, Bezzerides, Woodrugh, and Velcoro are officially back on the case, thanks to Katherine Davis (Michael Hyatt), Bezzerides and Woodrugh’s old boss, who assembles the team of Alcoholic Avengers for a top secret, confidential investigation. Um, I don’t think this is how police departments work? This whole show is just an abomination of a representation of realistic policing. “The Wire” this is not. But, there are Hooker Parties™ to infiltrate and diamonds to investigate, people!
She gets Ray to commit by saying that she’ll help him get his kid back. She knows he’s a good guy and not a murderer because, good news, they just caught his ex-wife’s rapist and matched the DNA. Yay! The look on Ray’s face is a mixture of horror-nausea-panic (Colin Farrell is on point this episode). That can only mean one thing: he definitely killed an innocent man. And who set that up? His boss, Frank Semyon.
Ray takes out some of his frustration by beating the living tar out of poor Dr. Pitlor (Rick Springfield). In another delightfully exposition-y speech, Pitlor spills the beans (and a mouthful of his teeth—I’m sensing a motif here). Pitlor admits to surgically enhancing the goods—the women trafficked around California, making “eights into tens,” as he puts it. He says that Ben Caspere and Tony Chessani (you remember him, Chessani Jr.) are the masterminds behind the bashes, using the opportunity to gather blackmail fodder on the “men of influence” who attend. He even mentions the McCandless tape. Must be some pretty freaky stuff.
Paul and Ani do there detective work with a fewer punches—she gets her sister to get her a hookup into the Hooker Parties™ and he does what he does best, which is question pawn shop owners. Turns out Mr. Deceased Drunken Teague Dixon (W. Earl Brown) had been interviewing the same guy about the diamonds before they even found the diamonds in the safe deposit box.
They set off on a road trip to the address that Ani got from Ilinca, and it turns out Caspere’s GPS had also paid a visit to that place. Based off the weirdos on the street that they pass, and a couple of cryptic mentions that Ani makes to the commune where she grew up, we are to understand it’s like right around the corner from wherever they’re going. When they arrive, the vultures are circling, “carrion birds.” Good sign! Finding an empty house, they follow the birds and stench to what can only be described as a kill shed, where they find a bloody chair with tape restraints. Using detective skills, let’s hazard a guess that someone got murdered there.
“Other Lives” is one of the stronger episodes of the season. Though not as action-packed, it colors in some of the missing pieces that are essential to keeping us locked into the central mystery, as well as further developing and complicating our character’s personal journeys. Though I could honestly do without the Frank/Jordan will-they-or-won’t they adoption story that this episode spent a lot of time on, it’s good to see them acting like normal human people and not soap opera robots. Glendale’s proving good to them.
Farrell is the clear MVP of this season, and in this episode, as Ray is taken to the edge, learning about his set up, his performance is not just stellar, it’s almost inhuman. The shimmering rage and fear and panic that travels across his face is something to behold, and speaks to what is sure to be an even more volcanic explosion to come.
While there have been guesses and discussion that Season 2 might in some way link up with Season 1 (Amarilla, Yellow King, etc.), with only three episodes left, and a heavy lean into the statewide political corruption, I’m guessing that’s not going to happen, though I’d happily be proven wrong. Right now the focus is on the Hooker Parties™, the Men of Influence Gone Wild sex tapes, and linking up the missing girl, the bird men, and the diamonds. That’s a tall order.
Questions and Quotes
Frank shows himself to be a somewhat casual racist, but without any commentary, or character insight to back it up, the show feels like they’re having their cake, eating it too, and enjoying it a bit much. Frank’s racist, what does that tell us about him? Nothing much.
What’s the deal with the “Cisco Kid,” as Frank calls him, and pal, who show up to make good on Santos’ arrangement?
Frank clearly killed Santos, no?
“You deal with pimps, you get pimpish results, Frank” — Mayor Chessani. Add “pimpish” to the Oxford English Dictionary
“Better to walk, before they make you run.” — If HBO doesn’t make a Ray Velcoro wisdom of the day daily desk calendar they are missing out on a serious merch opportunity.
Also on the calendar? Everything he says into his tape recorder for his son:
“Loyalty’s important and usually painful.”
“Pain is inexhaustible, it’s only people who get exhausted.”
Great pep talk, Ray!
“I’ll dig into this facelift and yank.” Ray to Dr. Pitlor
“Because my powers of influence are so meager in this sublunar world of ours” — RAY ALL DAY