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Review: ‘True Detective’ Season 2 Episode 7 ‘Black Maps and Motel Rooms’ Makes Up A Lot of Ground

Review: 'True Detective' Season 2 Episode 7 'Black Maps and Motel Rooms' Makes Up A Lot of Ground

Immediate Reaction: 

That ain’t no buckshot. The long hold on (True) Detective Paul Woodrugh’s body to close “Black Maps and Motel Rooms” served as a reminder of how far we’ve come; yes, from Episode 2, when Ray was thought dead until his somewhat unlikely resurrection a week later, but more so in Episode 7 itself. While “Night Finds You” had virtually no other highlights, this week’s 67-minute adventure was packed to the walls with excitement, surprises and genuine emotion (even if Paul’s death felt a little overwrought with the shot of fiance, Emily, waking up and watching a baby on TV). And he’s most certainly dead, make no doubt about it. 

Set up by Davis’ death, Paul’s near escape was teased with enough subtlety to effectively build tension throughout the episode’s final 20 minutes. Combine that with Frank Semyon’s best episode arc to date, and you’ve got two solid storylines to bounce between. The only hitch? There were three storylines in the mix, and our two remaining detectives’ making whoopee didn’t work. While one could argue Ani and Ray’s hookup was inevitable given Ani’s established proclivity for physical contact and Ray’s general poor decision-making, the forced connection and intimate “love making” was wholly unjustified by what’s come before. 

What makes the coupling so unfortunate is its timing, and not just narratively (as Ani’s flashbacks to her history of sexual abuse shouldn’t serve as a trigger for romance). The long, exposition-heavy journey that is “True Detective” Season 2 finally felt worth the wait in Week 7. All those connections were really adding up to something, leaving Ani and Ray’s trip to Bonetown the sole outlier: nothing that came before this episode introduced the idea of a shared attraction, sexual or intellectual, between these two cops. As cringe-worthy as it was to watch Ani throw herself at Ray early in the episode, at least that questionable writer’s choice had precedent. It was part of her character, but falling in love with Ray — if that’s what happened — was never given that kind of necessary introduction. Still, even as if we dread the time Ani and Ray’s romance will take up in next week’s season finale, “Black Maps and Motel Rooms” finally gave us a reason to get excited for what’s coming next. 

LAST WEEK’S REVIEW: ‘True Detective’ Season 2 Episode 6 ‘Church in Ruins’ Takes Us Inside An Orgy

Cracking the Case

Many suspicions were finally confirmed in a week packed with productivity. First and foremost, the “thin, white cop” who gave Caspere’s stolen merchandise to Ilena (the prostitute Frank talked to who was then killed and left at the construction site) in order to frame Amarilla (the final gunman taken out in Episode 5’s shootout) was officially unveiled as Kevin Burris, a man many have suspected to be on the dark side for weeks now. He worked with Dixon (the deceased slovenly fourth detective on the original case) and under Police Chief Holloway back in ’92 when the jewelry store was robbed, connecting him to Caspere, who Woodrugh thinks helped “move the stones” because he worked at the same station. By shooting Paul, he outed himself for good.

The diamonds were used to buy into the corridor deal, which leads us to Frank, who was also given clarity behind who was trying to oust him from his not-so-high chair. Blake admitted he was working for Osip, who not only bought Frank’s shares of the corridor, but also secretly purchased the leans on all his businesses. We knew Blake was up to no good for some time now, but watching Frank deal with him in a grisly if not all that graphic fashion made the wait worthwhile. I’d argue Frank tipped his hand a bit with Osip by being all too eager to let bygones be bygones, but we’ll see how that plays out in the finale.

What’s left? Well, just the small matter of who killed Ben Caspere. The three detectives went around in circles trying to nail down a perp (all for our benefit, undoubtedly), but couldn’t settle on a singular suspect. Given Burris’ big reveal at the end of the episode, it very well could have been him, but — as Ani pointed out — why not torture Caspere to find out where the diamonds were and keep himself (and his colleagues) from getting caught up in this whole mess? He didn’t have motivation to kill him until he had the diamonds, and he never did. So who do you think did it? Vote now below, and we’ll all find out the true killer next week.

The Truest Detective (Episode MVP)

In loving memory of Paul Woodrugh, the truest detective who couldn’t be true to himself. Be it for his unexplained need for privacy and undistinguished Oedipal issues, poor Paul couldn’t come out of the closet. For his shame, he paid the ultimate price, which was a) deeply sad, b) aggravatingly disconnected from the plot, or c) both. I’ll admit: Woodrugh was always my favorite of the cast, and I have no good reason for feeling that way. Never the most well-developed (obviously), Kitsch’s cop still felt like the underdog in a cast of despondent lost souls (probably, in part, because of Kitsch’s own struggles to become the star people expected him to be). For that, I was constantly rooting for him to open up to someone and speak his truth — making his final phone call to Ray, where he almost confessed everything, all the more tragic.

Still, how Paul died is a bit hard to swallow from a story standpoint. Yes, Chief Holloway wanted to meet with him/kill him because he’d continued working the case that would land the chief in some hot water (those documents had signatures on them — can you imagine?), but Paul only went there in order to cover up his own sexuality. Working backwards: If he hadn’t been ashamed of his feelings, he would have never gone to that meet-up alone, there wouldn’t have been any pictures to motivate him going, and there wouldn’t have been any real conflict with his character outside of the case. Just as frustrating as this complex emotional manipulation was the fact we were never given a specific reason for his self-hatred. Clearly he was ashamed, but why? Was he religious? Conservative? A relic of an older age? Looking back now, it’s as though he was written that way just so he could be killed off to give this season extra dramatic heft. The Paul I knew deserved better, even if I never really knew him at all.

The New Philosophy

“Everything is fucking.” 

In a season filled with thought-provoking philosophic statements — not always for the right reasons — Ani’s back-and-forth with her missing girl produced the above gem. In fact, if I had to sum up the episode in a sentence, it would be this one. Why? Because at least that would explain why Ray and Ani hooked up with such passion to end the episode. One could still make the argument that statement doesn’t support such a tender physical connection — the intimacy manufactured by those extreme close-ups of Ani and Ray sure lead us to believe this was more than just a hook-up to pass the time — but if everything is fucking, than making love is fucking, too. 

Murder Mystery or Character Study?

“Black Maps and Motel Rooms” did two big things right: First, Pizzolatto handled the exposition issue that’s been plaguing Season 2 with some much-needed grace. Even the motel room breakdown of what the diamonds mean and who killed Caspere was at least something you could imagine three detectives discussing (though Ani’s heart-to-heart with Elvis felt less appropriate, and more like something Nic needed to get out of the way). Second, he delivered some surprises paired with development. Davis’ death came along fairly early in the episode, especially when comparing it to past episodes, but it wasn’t treated like a monumental event. Pizzolatto just kept the story moving forward, finally eager to unveil more of his story rather than keep holding it back and teasing action only at the end.

Fans watching to find out who killed Caspere and why had to be satisfied with so many suspicions being confirmed, and anyone watching because they’re invested in characters were given a lot to dwell on until next week’s finale. Paul’s dead. Ani and Ray are wanted for murder. Frank is burning down the empire he built in order to start a new one. There’s plenty of ground to cover in Episode 8. Hopefully it will be done with a similar sense of urgency. 

Grade: B+

Random Thoughts: 
– Kitsch earned this week’s MVP award, but Vince Vaughn should be submitting this episode for Emmy consideration come next year. He may have even more in store in the finale, but he looked, acted and spoke like a mobster people should fear for the first time since he collected that pimp’s teeth in Episode 3. Bravo.

– Come to think of it, Rachel McAdams delivered some sterling work early on, too. Say what you will about the scripts. These four actors are bringing it every week.

– Did anyone expect Davis to get got? Honestly, that may be the best twist of the season; certainly the first time I exclaimed out loud out of shock.
– What are the odds Ani knifes someone else before this comes to an end? I think it will happen, but that may be based on want more than reason.

– What’s the coolest thing Frank has done all season? “Where’s the gas leak Mr. Semyon?” “Oh, it’s right—BANG!”

READ MORE: Why No One Can Agree On Anything About ‘True Detective’ Season 2

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