Already seen Episode 3? Read on for some additional, spoiler-filled comments.
True Detective Season 2 blew our expectations out of the water last week – with a shotgun.
The assassination of Ray was completely out of the blue, a welcome surprise that also proved this second run was capable of surprising; a promising glimpse of quality taking priority over cliche. “Remember that time when Ray got shot?” people will say to each other, years from now. Then: “Remember that silly episode afterwards?”
Yes, Episode 3 undoes almost all of the good will earned by Episode 2’s ending, dragging us from unpredictable territory to disappointingly familiar ground.
It does so, however, with the strangest of departures: we begin with a fantasy sequence, as Ray bleeds out on the floor, all the while imagining himself to be in that grotty bar of episodes past. What follows is practically an episode of This Is Your Life directed by David Lynch. The problem? This isn’t directed by David Lynch.
There’s nothing wrong with a dream scene in a TV show, of course, but it’s completely at odds with the tone of True Detective. Aside from the fact that we were relieved at the thought of not having to see Colin Farrell moping around as his over-burdened, over-written misery-guts, it’s the kind of decision that only strengthens the feeling that writer Nic Pizzolatto has lost his touch – or that nobody is there to put a halt to his ambitious plans. It’s like watching an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard film, only for someone to record Twin Peaks over the middle 10 minutes.
And so we have a guy lip-syncing to an upbeat number on-stage, while Ray chats to a figment of his dying imagination. Another random scene, where he talks to his doctor, is equally cringe-worthy. “Don’t you want to live?” he asks Ray. Then Velcoro turns and looks right at the camera. Somewhere along the line, Nic has become allergic to nuance.
The rest of the episode fares slightly better, as we get to see Woodrugh and Ani doing their own detective double act – one that still makes fun of her e-cigarettes. A visit to the Vinci Mayor’s house is enjoyably seedy, as the door is answered by his partner: a tracking shot behind promises beauty and sex, only for a reverse shot to reveal her haggard face. It’s a brief moment of intentional humour amid the darkness.
A verbal showdown between Ani and one of the Mayor’s team establishes Rachel McAdams as a fantastic screen presence – not least because she’s still free of her cumbersome family back-story. Taylor Kitsch, meanwhile, gets to display more facets to his conflicted macho cop, as a soldier from his past pops up in a club. Together with the discovery that Ray’s attacker stole a video camera and a hard drive from the city planner’s apartment, there’s promise here of some future intrigue. Ani’s even stopped being filmed constantly in bars, drowning her sorrows.
Vince Vaughn completes out ensemble of good performances, as Frank shows more of his vulnerable side, as he and Kelly Reilly’s wife experience troubles in the bedroom department. It’s typical of Pizzolatto’s hyper-masculine types that Frank compensates with some extra violent behaviour elsewhere; Vaughn manages the swing between pathetic and intimidating with ease. The fact that the episode’s title – Maybe Tomorrow – comes from an intimate exchange between man and wife says a lot about how much potential there is for Nic to ditch his usual cliches and try something different. But this hour mostly signals his sad determination to retread old ground: hokey dialogue (which Vaughn does his best to overcome) and an almost total disregard for subtlety. For all of this and last week’s steps forward, though, Episode 3 feels like one big step back.
All photos: © Home Box Office, Inc. All rights reserved.
Additional notes (contains spoilers)
– Thought Ray was dead? Think again. It turns out that our bird-headed gunman’s weapon was loaded with riot shells, so he was far from mortally wounded. It’s hard for this to feel like anything other than a cop-out: given the chance to shock, Pizzolatto would rather trick his audience and keep taking over the same old miserable cliches that hang off Ray’s moustache like garish baubles on a tree from The Nightmare before Christmas. Does anyone really want to sit through several weeks of Ray’s custody battle for his son?
– The only good thing to come out of such a disappointing reveal is that the riot shells as the same ones policemen use – was Velcoro “bumped off” by someone on the inside?
– What’s worse is that the reversal of his apparent death takes away a huge chunk of peril from such a gritty, realistic world: the next time anyone kicks the bucket, we’ll presume it’s all a ruse. This corrupt city-wide conspiracy, meanwhile, can’t be all that powerful, if they can’t even get rid of a drunk loner.
– The episode ends on a foot chase that manages to capture some of Season 1’s excitement – although, of course, the bad guy gets away because it’s only Episode 3. Imagine, once again, how much more interesting it would be, if – against all conventions and expectations, they caught him/her?