Just as the the tracking-shot drug raid in “Who Goes There?” set the buzz for “True Detective’s” first season aflame, so the shootout that climaxes last night’s “Down Will Come” seemed to still, at least for some, the doubts that have plagued its second. For eight minutes or so, there was none of Nic Pizzolatto’s dialogue, which has somehow managed to become both overcooked and half-baked, no Taylor Kitsch crying closeted tears or Vince Vaughn trying out vocabulary words (“Do you know what ‘louche’ means?” — is this an HBO drama or the SATs?). There was just action, solidly if not rivetingly directed by “Game of Thrones” vet Jeremy Podeswa. The reasons why Velcoro, Bezzerides, and Woodrugh ended up raiding a warehouse in the propped-up town of Vinci weren’t especially clear, as little has been in a season that has consistently mistaken convolution for complexity, and it sure didn’t help that the episode continued the season’s penchant for caricaturing Mexican thugs. “You ain’t that thing no more, that you used to was” is a horrible line, but it’s better than the treatment afforded “Down Will Come’s” mute gangsters, who are so cartoonishly evil that one of them shoots a civilian point-blank in the head when he realizes he’s cornered.
Fortunately, none of our heroes sustain so much as a scratch, nor, after the fake-out at the end of “Night Finds You,” do we expect them to: Fool us once, etc. The detective trio’s ability to survive as their brothers in arms drop all around them is pure action-movie nonsense, but there’s at least a skosh of realism in the way the gunfight turns into a civilian-annihilating clusterfuck; our heroes might have survived, but their careers may well not. (Velcoro may have given away his dad’s badge at the last moment it still meant something.) Although many disliked the episode’s closing freeze-frame for its evocation of cop-show cheese (not to mention “Police Squad!“), I liked the way it caught the shootout’s survivors flat-footed and mouths agape, not at a moment of victory but of utter incomprehension. It’s clear enough who won the gunfight, but as for the rest, we’re as confused as they are. The reference to “Chessani’s Lodge,” run by Vinci mayor’s elderly father, seems to confirm the theory that this season will end up riffing on Bohemian Grove, the top-secret Northern California brotherhood of the country’s power elite, but the line went by so fast that only a handful of recaps even made note of it. The occult undertones of “True Detective’s” first season bought Pizzolatto a lot of slack, encouraging fans to craft their own theories that in some cases made more sense than the show itself. (I’m still clinging to the idea that the killer’s green ears referred to his lawn-mowing ear protectors rather than stray licks of house paint.) Without it, season two merely feels like a jumble, requiring multiple viewings to tease out its obscure plot but providing little impulse to re-watch. Even some “True Detective” fans have downgraded the show to a hate-watch, and at this point, many are just sticking around to see if it can possibly get worse.
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Reviews of “True Detective,” Season 2, Episode 4, “Down Will Come”
Erik Adams, A.V. Club
The closing shootout of “Down Will Come” is the second round of “True Detective” in a nutshell. As the detail wastes ammo and people in the pursuit of Ledo Amarilla, it’s five seconds of “Whoa, cool!” followed by two seconds of “Whoa, really?”, on a loop. The episode aims to impress with its gonzo gun show, but the amount of carnage borders on self-parody. In the hands of someone like Edgar Wright, the big finale would be the comedic set-piece of the year. Helmed by Jeremy Podeswa, the man behind the camera for 2015’s most controversial “Game of Thrones” episode, it’s so over-the-top it can’t help but entertain.
Kenny Herzog, Vulture
This iteration of “Detective” is not the buddy-comedy riff that resonated throughout our time in Erath, and some would argue it’s suffered for that. But familiar patterns are beginning to emerge, one that might create a groundswell of buzz deafening enough to overwhelm the vocal consensus of diminished expectations. Season two’s third episode, much like its predecessor’s, braced us for what the bad guy might look like. Yet again, he/she hides behind a mask and lets lethal weaponry do the talking. Then, after 45 minutes of by-the-books and ho-hum in “Down Will Come,” we get our adrenaline shot in the form of a climactic gunfight. Directed by the very capable Jeremy Podeswa (for all ye Justin Lin haters), our protagonists’ melee with Mexican gang members suspected in Caspere’s murder — an anarchic scene that spilled out into the streets of Vinci and claimed an untold number of civilian and PD casualties — was a truly shocking spectacle of ultra-violence. And like Marty Hart and Rust Cohle’s aforementioned, bracing escape from an undercover infiltration-gone-haywire, Paul and Ani and Ray are now brothers and sisters in arms and harm’s way.
Sarah D. Bunting, Previously.tv
The firefight sequence does create tension — albeit cheaply, and it soon becomes evident that nobody in the credits is going to get clipped — but the real shame of it is what the actors are doing with it. Again, the cast chooses thoughtful, non-stock responses that track with their characters: Woodrugh is weirdly cool, but almost energized by what’s going on, not frazzled or doubtful for the first time since we met him; Velcoro is fatalistic during the shootout and shattered afterwards; Bez knows it’s fucked, so that’s the only thing she says. McAdams’s rendition of the physical shock Bez is in in the aftermath is nicely done, and I was pleasantly surprised that the director didn’t literally have her puke. Farrell’s trembling hand is everything. It’s good work from all three, and it’s in the service of a cynically showy reset (I think, based on the previews? I don’t know anything more than y’all) that isn’t realistic, doesn’t really move the investigation forward that I can see, and shows the show’s ass in terms of its inability to find new, felt-understanding takes on tired genre banalities.
Sonia Saraiya, Salon
The enormous gunfight at the end of “Down Will Come” is the first glance we’ve gotten of something more coherent tying together the individual threads of this show. The firefight offers a tense, long sequence of these cops actually fighting crime together, instead of just trading barbs about e-cigs; what interested me was that the three of them are good at it. Everyone else on that scene dies. The freeze frame at the end of the episode offers a glimpse of the three of them, out of their minds with adrenaline, trying to face the carnage they’ve both witnessed and instigated. The heavy moments right after the shooting ends, where first Ani and then Ray let waves of exhaustion and terror and pain hit them, after sustained minutes of anxiety, were some of the finest moments of this season so far.
Ben Travers, Indiewire
The final 10 minutes of continuous action were a welcome respite from a dialogue-heavy but still engaging first 45 minutes. Pizzolatto seems to be finding his feet a bit in the last two weeks, settling into the straightforward narrative structure he so boldly incorporated after a freshman season layered with flashbacks. Now halfway through Season 2, an enticing ending seems far more likely than it did two episodes prior, and that’s in part due to the balance between character study and cop drama he’s found in recent weeks. We’re equally engaged with each element right now, and there are still plenty of possibilities for what’s next in both stories. As for now, I’ll happily take a little action paired with a lot of plot advancement before looking forward to what comes next.
Daniel Engber, New York Times
As for the lengthy shootout itself, it started off in gripping fashion but lost its way around the time the world’s slowest S.U.V. — unless Ani happens to be an Olympic sprinter — collided with a city bus. From there it was lots of shooting shooting shooting and a rather odd anguished-cop freeze frame to end the episode. Along the way we lost some good men including, it seems, Dixon, the pickled dick who’s done more to crack this case than the three main cops put together. It’s a well-established cop drama move, the flashy action scene that resolves the case for the brass and the public, only our heroes know better. Sunday night’s shootout reminded me a little of last season’s killing of Reginald Ledoux and his buddy. Hopefully that doesn’t mean Ani will have to wait for eight years to solve it. (It’s worth noting that our introduction of Ledoux ended on a legitimately chilling freeze-frame. So it can be done effectively.)
Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic
The Vinci firefight had it all, if “it” is law-enforcement action tropes: machine-gun sprays, building explosions, a bus in crisis, a human shield, and a dead supporting character. Intense stuff, yes, but a few important things were missing — like villains that we knew, or stakes that we really understood. This was part of the point, no doubt; our true detectives walked into a far more dangerous situation than even their military-style equipment would have prepared them for, thanks to some mysteriously persistent and mysteriously vicious dudes who’d clearly been stockpiling bullets. The characters were disoriented, so the audience was disoriented. However, the show’s storytelling style needlessly made that disorientation worse.
Sean T. Collins, Rolling Stone
But the while all that killing was thrilling, forgive us if we’re not, ahem, blown away. For one thing, True Detective has already gone to the “white folks shoot their way out of a mob of murderous minorities” well once already. In this season’s edition, none of the anonymous, interchangeable Mexican gunmen were given even the rudimentary personalities or distinguishing characteristics that would make them interesting opponents in an action sequence, much less memorable characters in a drama. Dressing them all like Homies figurines certainly didn’t help — either with issues of representation or simply creating worthy enemies.
Chris Ryan, Grantland
In a vacuum, there’s nothing wrong with this shootout scene as a piece of filmmaking. From the setting to the way the gun battle plays out between overmatched cops and the crooks they’re pursuing, it owes more to Michael Mann’s bank robbery shootout in “Heat” than Fukunaga’s house party from hell. If you were looking for any signs of the occult in this season, Frank may have clued you in with a passing reference to Ledo Amarilla’s possible “Santa Muerte affiliation.” Whatever Amarilla believed in — he certainly seemed willing to die over it — proper bus safety was not one of them. And this wasn’t just a massacre, it was bad police work. Where Rust was able to save some lives and ultimately achieve his objective in last year’s raid, this season’s shootout ended in tragedy. Regardless of whether it was the result of the late Detective Dixon setting up his fellow officers or Ani going in without proper backup, this thing blew up in our heroes’ faces.
Jeff Jensen, Entertainment Weekly
Yeah, sure, there was that blood-pumping shoot-out to close the story. It was terrifying. The panic of heroes as they were pinned down by machine gun fire. The moment when one of the gunmen opened fire on the bus. The body count. But it lacked the bravura, subtext, and character-driven drama of the last season’s mid-point climax, the single-shot set piece, tracking Rust Cohle’s hellish trek through a Louisiana housing project. It was a furious, noisy sequence, but it failed to connect with the significance it was straining to reach. Which kinda sums up the entire season so far, actually.
Willa Paskin, Slate
That shoot out was a pathetic counterpoint to last season’s shootout, the Cary Fukunaga one-take masterpiece. That scene also involved dozens of characters we don’t know and was pretty ancillary to the main mystery, but it was gorgeously shot and taut, we knew why it was happening, and it advanced the heart of the show—the relationship between Rust and Marty. None of that can be said about last night’s fire fight, which left Bezzerides and Velcoro and Woodrugh in almost exactly the position they were in before: in deep shit, suspended and suspected. I will say I am so programmed to give ambitious shows the benefit of the doubt that as the episode ended, on all three cops, shaking, trembling, looking around at the bodies and, probably, their careers, I thought, “Oh, that could be interesting.” I think it’s not a coincidence that they were mostly silent.