With “True Detective” wrapping up, there’s a possibility we might even miss this show. Yes, it’s easy to make fun of, but that’s just the thing: there’s some fun to be had, even if it’s at the show’s expense. You can’t say they didn’t try, and if it was a big swing and a miss, a big swing is at least worth discussing. The penultimate episode, “Black Maps and Motel Rooms,” directed by veteran TV director Daniel Attias, was, in a way, one of the best of the season. But like many of the episodes, while it had its moments of real intrigue and suspense, it also drifted into a noir fantasy-land where the characters in no way resemble or act like real people. If one thing is consistent, though, it’s the season’s nihilistic worldview, which truly comes into focus in this episode.
Attias brings some interesting directorial choices to “Black Maps and Motel Rooms,” including intense close-ups drifting too close for comfort. These shots discern the intense emotions, pain, and confusion lying underneath our true detectives’ poker faces. He also utilizes slow motion in a bold way that could almost be cheesy, but feels like a decisive aesthetic choice. It suggests the auteurist possibilities that could be used by a singular directorial vision to balance Pizzolatto’s writing, rather than the hired gun approach that has marked this season’s inconsistencies.
In the wake of the Hooker Party™ fiasco of last week, Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), Velcoro (Colin Farrell) and Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) find themselves detectives without a nation, left only with a motel room and a detoxing escort, Vera (Miranda Rae Mayo). They’ve also got those Documents With Signatures On Them, and discover that Caspere’s land deal shares were divvied up among holding companies owned by Tony Chessani (and if he’s such a lynch pin, why haven’t we seen more of him?) and Osip Agronov (Timothy V. Murphy), Frank’s gangster nemesis.
Ray runs right to Frank (Vince Vaughn) to inform him of the info, effectively confirming, that yes, he was screwed out of the land deal, and to make matters worse, his boy Blake (Christopher James Baker) is the treasurer of these companies. Frank, never one to waste time or a good opportunity for revenge, summons Blake, who dutifully turns over 15 Gs from the party to appease him.
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Frank is over Blake’s bullshit. He knows Blake killed his favorite henchman Stan, taking his eyes to make it look like Caspere’s murder. He also knows Blake screwed him behind his back. With just one whiskey tumbler to the face, Blake uncharacteristically crumbles under Frank’s (kinda lame) torture and admits everything, including the identity of the innocent man he gave away to Ray, and that Osip bought all of the liens on the casinos and clubs in Vinci. Frank gets the intel that there’s a $12 million handoff taking place at Crystal Ranch with McCandless and Catalyst the next day before he blows Blake away, leaving him to writhe and bleed out on his carpet.
Vera, once she wakes up, tells Ani about the blackmail photos, which were taken by the mysterious Tasha, Caspere’s favorite Hungarian prostitute. That blackmailing got her a trip to the infamous Kill Shed Ani discovered up north, and that’s probably her DNA all over that chair. She was escorted there by none other than Tony C., so that solves one piece of the puzzle, but the other piece is a mysterious Laura, who is also seen in one of the photos. Turns out though, Vera doesn’t want out of the life, at all. She’s deep in it, despite appearances at the Hooker Party™, and she has no interest in living with her sister even if she is in danger now. She has the right to be mad, though––she wouldn’t be in danger if it weren’t for the rogue detectives’ massive cock-up of a special ops mission.
There are far-reaching repercussions of that mission, including an ABP on Bezzerides for killing a security guard, and even more troublingly, their one connection to authority who knew what they were doing, Davis (Michael Hyatt), turns up dead in a car. Bezzerides and Woodrugh quickly put their loved ones on lock down. Woodrugh installs his mom (Lolita Davidovich) and Emily (Adria Arjona) in a hotel room. Bezzerides insists on sending her dad and sister to Oregon, but not before she has a chat with dad about her childhood rapist, whom she finally remembers from that molly flashback (but not the four days she was lost in the forest with him). God, ‘70s parenting was the absolute worst.
Frank, as soon as Blake is dispatched, goes into action, setting up funds, getting fake passports, and even hitting up a travel agency for tickets to Venezuela. Does the internet exist on this show? Ever heard of Travelocity, Frank? I’m starting to think Woodrugh is the only character who knows how to use a computer.
Frank is surprisingly cool with Osip waltzing into his casino bar and repo-ing the place, maybe because just prior, he got to kick out a soused Mayor Chessani (Ritchie Coster), and inform him of his son’s nefarious blackmailing and holding company-ing. Can we have a Chessani-True D spinoff? A web series? There’s entirely not enough of them for how important, and colorful, they are.
While Frank cheerfully bends to Osip, even smiling at a demotion to manager, it’s only because he’s got another plan—he evacuates the building due to a “gas leak,” takes every stash of money in the house and then Molotov cocktails the place to bits.
Woodrugh is called away from the detectiving motel stew room, where they have been puzzling through the holding companies, the diamonds, the 1992 jewelry store robbery, the late Dixon Teague, Captain Holloway, etc. etc. Someone’s been texting Woodrugh pics of him in the act with his lover Miguel (Gabriel Luna), luring him to a meeting, where Miguel greets him as a guard for a secret security company. In fact, that whole meeting of theirs was a set up by this company for Miguel to check on him. The meeting is in the tunnels underneath Vinci, naturally, and police chief Holloway (Afemo Omilami) wants his Documents With Signatures On Them back right now.
Woodrugh fakes a call to Ray to get the Documents With Signatures On Them, and flips the script on Holloway, making a break for it in the tunnels. Meanwhile, Velcoro and Bezzerides are holed up in the motel room, in a whiskey and cigarettes k-hole, figuring out that Laura from the photo is both one of the orphaned kids of the jewelry store robbery and also was Caspere’s assistant, the one we met on the movie set.
Even though they received a sketchy call from Woodrugh suspecting his set up, Velcoro and Bezzerides just stay chilling in that motel room, staring into the distance, drinking whiskey and ominously saying things like “you’re not a bad man.” How much reassurance of this do we need? Who are you trying to convince when you have Ani say that? They are all terrible men and women. Fortunately, Bezzerides and Velcoro sidetrack this inane conversation by going at it. Worst backup ever.
That leaves Woodrugh alone to special ops his way out of the dark tunnel, and though he takes out everyone, even using his lover Miguel as a human shield (cold), the second he walks outside, he’s shot and killed by Lt. Burris (James Frain). RIP Woodrugh, you tortured soul. Heartbreakingly, before cutting to the final shot of Woodrugh left for dead, we see Emily, crying in the motel room watching Natalie Wood in “Splendor in the Grass.”
“Black Maps and Motel Rooms” was an episode for Frank to shine—as he takes some action to get himself out of his situation, finally getting the confirmation of his paranoid suspicions. Compared to the three other main characters, who spend the time stewing, mulling, and covering their asses, Frank’s forward motion is a refreshing counterpart.
The show still suffers from dumping massive amounts of exposition in convenient speeches, such as Vera’s reveal about Tasha, Blake’s all-too-easy confession, and the discussion about Laura/Erika. If this information were parceled out over a longer period of time, it would be easier to digest as a viewer, and feel more compelling as we figure it all out. A larger issue is that the suggested mysteries are far more interesting than what actually ends up being the case. Where is the gangster-bird-fetish cult? The Santa Muerte gang? The damn sex tape? All I see is police corruption, organized crime and corporate greed, which, at the end of the day, is pretty standard stuff.
As much as Pizzolatto has overcompensated for the strong female character role with the stab-happy Bezzerides, she’s still a victim who needs a man to save her, before she fucks him, which isn’t much of a strong character at all. Kelly Reilly’s Jordan is a one-dimensional moll defined only by her infertility and unquestioning dedication to Frank, while the inverse could be said about Emily. Woodrugh’s mother is a terrifying shrew, even if she does have great taste in movies. But, it’s not like the men are all that much better.
It’s starting to feel like Athena (Leven Rambin), Ani’s sister, is the only “real” person in this—at least she seems to have a semblance of a life (and is the only person who says and does sane, logical things). Yes, this is a hyperreal noir fantasy—realism is not on the docket. You wish they had really leaned into the weird fantasy that was promised at the beginning: the birds, the Conway Twitty tunes, the sex tapes, the plastic surgery center. It might have felt too much like a “Twin Peaks” rip-off but “Twin Peaks” is great, so…
Who knows how this will all wrap up in next week’s 90 minute (!!) finale. Something tells me Frank has Crystal Ranch business to take care of before he jets off to Venezuela, and if they make it on the plane, it will be a miracle. Bezzerides and Velcoro will be out for vengeance for Woodrugh no doubt, so we have lots of fireworks to expect. It will be interesting to see how the Laura/Erika development shakes out too.
Some quotable quotes:
“You want me to roll a joint?” — Velcoro’s always got a cure.
“I worked at one once. They give you a shift meal.” — Jordan extolling the virtues of Applebee’s.
“You’re too far out of my league anyway.” — Ray initially turning down Ani’s molly enhanced proposition.
“Everything is fucking” — Vera. That nihilism tho.
“A whore can still have integrity.”— How progressive of you, Frank.