True Detective Season 2, Episode 4 – A Roundtable

by: Michael Shields and Chris Thompson

True Detective hits its midway point, and its stride, in an explosive and revealing episode….

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MCS: Well, with that riveting hour of television, we have arrived at the midway point of the season, and and it seems abundantly clear now that as the bullets flew, and the body count rose, that True Detective Season 2 has finally arrived.

There is a a great deal to talk about in that final scene. But the most enthralling part to me was that they stayed with the characters (three, just awesome actors) for a few moments after the smoke cleared to capture the trauma that they had just been through. The terror on their faces was palpable. They were paralyzed with fear, and confused with how quickly and dramatically the circumstances had escalated. What began as an attempt to capture a criminal, with eight to ten cops walking down the street, turned on a dime to an all out war. It was captivating television right there to say the least!

CMT: The overall story definitely moved forward this episode and some of the lingering questions were filled in leading up to that violent shootout. But from the moment the assembled officers and detectives left the Vinci police station under the stern glare of Mayor Chessani and his cronies, I had a sense things wouldn’t go well. My initial thought was “Ali’s going to get hurt,” as I figured the Mayor had cooked up his revenge for her intrusion into his affairs. Then the bullets started flying, the buildings started exploding and the officers and citizens started dying left and right (including Detective Teague Dixon), and I knew this entire affair was a lot bigger than just a scorned Mayor’s revenge. On the one hand I am relieved our detectives made it out of this savage shoutout alive, but on the other hand I am just a little bit saddened that Ali didn’t get a chance to unleash the knife that she keeps in her boot on one of those gangsters. And I got the sense that as confident as she is with a blade, she was just as relieved as she re-sheathed it that it didn’t come to her having to use it. But really….what a scene and what a way to cut to black!

We learned a lot in this episode entitled, “Down Will Come,” and I had the sense that all these events were starting to weave themselves together, but man if I couldn’t spend the next hour re-watching that shootout to end the episode. And I’m not just talking about the crush of violence. That’s just the catalyst for all that unfolded. I’m talking about the way the detectives looked out for each other and the way they interacted. The way the camera followed each detective and alternated between both close-in and tight and pulled back, wide-encompassing shots. It was the mayhem and the chaos and not being able to tell good from bad in the end that held my breath, and when the smoke cleared and the violence died down….it was just the lingering silence, and the crushing weight of all that had just unfolded crashing over Ani, Paul and Ray.

MCS: Just like the first season, Season 2 hits the midway mark midst of hailstorm of bullets. Wild stuff, and the intensity of the scene demands a hat-tip to director Jeremy Podeswa, a Game of Thrones regular. And while its tough to look past the climax of the episode and season thus far, it is interesting to watch the balance of interests True Detective is attempting to strike, exemplified perfectly in this week’s episode. While Paul rages against his repressed sexuality (Take your friends advice: “Let yourself go man, be what you want, it ain’t bad”), and Frank condemns adoption by proclaiming “I don’t do someone’s else’s time” (Ugh…) while falling back into to a life of crime and drug peddling after his attempt at going legit, the case moves on. And some crafty police work by Paul leads us to our first suspect, Ledo Amarilla, who was a pimp to one of the woman who spent time with Caspere, and who stole some items from his home to pawn, and then to a well-armed Latino gang and the high point of the season.

In the opening shot of episode 1, we saw a series of white stakes with pink marking tape on them arranged in rows in a field. I have been wondering when we would revisit that location ever since, and this week we did just that. Somehow these stakes are connected to the transportation corridor for the high speed train, and I loved Ray’s line, “Maybe this is where the bodies are buried.” which reminded me immediately of Lester Freeman in The Wire standing on a stoop of a vacant muttering, “This is a tomb. Lex is in there.” But I think this is our first clue that the Caspere case is about something bigger. I can’t help but thinking that the references to the contaminated sites that these stakes marked could lead to the reveal that what lies at the heart of the season is the tussle over California’s most valuable commodity currently, water. An idea that was reinforced with an argument over Frank’s water-stressed avocado trees.

CMT: The water angle is a good one to consider. Especially given the current record-level droughts that have struck California in the last few years. Water-rationing is a real and many-headed beast that levels the playing field and strikes at both the rich and the poor, and everyone in between. The EPA agent spoke of contaminated soil due to mine tailings (which are basically the castaway earth and byproducts of the mining process) and he mentioned lead as among the chief ground contaminants in the surrounding area. Lead is dangerous as hell, even in small amounts, and can be absorbed into fruits and vegetables which grow in its presence, which is why all the farmers in the area are abandoning their land and selling it at way below market value prices. Caspere and his shadowy network of criminals must know something that would once-again find all this land worth more money than they paid. What that is yet we can only speculate, but I’m betting whatever it is, it’s important enough that the people involved in these deals are willing to kill and maim to keep it a secret. Water, or the plans for a high-speed rail to go through these contaminated lands, are all good ideas concerning what is really going on.

My biggest question right now is whether the wild shoutout to end last night’s episode and the Latino gangsters have anything to do with the larger criminal conspiracy or was it just a ploy, a distraction put in there by True Detective’s show runners to keep the audience guessing as to what is really going on? Was it just a case of a pimp stealing from his john (Caspere), to make a quick buck, or is this such a wide-ranging conspiracy that its even absorbed low-level street-hustlers and members of Vinci’s violent gangs? I keep wondering why in all the episodes there’s such a visual focus on showing workers shuffling into factories and warehouses at all hours of the day and night. Vinci is an “exclusively industrial” city and its population is small, less that 100 people1, but it has thousands of businesses, and tens of thousands of workers who fill those jobs. Ani looking out her cars window in episode 2 and with a brooding look asking, “What is this place?” as she watched all those workers file into those factories makes me wonder where all those workers go at night and it’s a great question. It seems to me that True Detective is hinting at a deeper story here and I’ve been pondering at what point all of this is going to climactically converge and the “true” detective story will finally be revealed.

MCS: It seems that Pizzolatto has something to say about California in general, and is using this season as a platform to speak on some of its larger ills. It’s fascinating to watch as all the layers of this twisted tale begin to be pulled back.

Unsurprisingly, this case led us back to Ani’s father, Elliot, and his spiritual retreat by the sea, where we hear about ‘Chessani’s Lodge.” The Chessani he is referring to isn’t everyone’s favorite drunk mayor, but rather his 90-year-old father. Elliot Bezzerides shares with Ani and Ray (and his giant green and black aura!) a photo which shows a young Mayor Chessani and also a younger Doctor Piltor from the luxury psych ward in episode 2. This is revealing in itself, but when you pair it with what Betty Chessani said in the medical marijuana establishment about her mother killing herself while under Piltor’s care at the ward, you can’t help but wonder if the menacing doctor (again, played by Rick Springfield!) has a hand in Caspere’s death. But we must remember, this is True Detective we are talking about here. Red herrings are everywhere to be found….

CMT: My money’s on Rick Springfield being this season’s Errol Childress. Except that the show’s writers have replaced whisperings of a spaghetti monster, Carcosa and the Yellow King with flashes of LA’s immense highway infrastructure, glimpses of auras and cults by the sea and tanned, plastic surgery-enhanced psychologists who hide their eyes, and their intentions, behind darkened glasses.

MCS: It is amazing how much pain the lead characters are forced to deal with this season. There is scar tissue everywhere. Ani was able to relate with Betty’s loss as this week we learned that her mother too, killed herself, and also like Betty, Ani blames her father for that. Ray essentially saying goodbye to his kid was a truly heart wrenching scene. Before he disappeared into the bushes like the ballplayers in Field of Dreams, he left his kid with a memento of his “family” legacy, his father’s badge. Tough to watch Ray lose the only thing that he holds dear in life. And forget about Ani’s departmental leave pending her sexual misconduct investigation, the heat coming down on Ray’s corruptibility, or Paul being forced to flee from the media (Black Mountain’s antics have hit the presses), can you imagine the public relations catastrophe that they are about to come up against? There were innocent bystanders being laid to waste by the dozens in that shoot out. The spotlight is sure to be on all the detectives now, making the hunt for Caspere’s killer even more demanding.

And speaking of pain, Paul’s browbeaten (poor guy even had his bike stolen – and we know how he feels about being on his bike – his safe place) discussion with Ray in the car was the highlight of the evening that didn’t involve guns. It was almost comical to hear how literal he was in lamenting about the difficulties in being “out in the world.” But what I found truly interesting was that it was Ray who is now in a position to act as counsel for Paul. This all serves to continue Ray’s ascending story arc that we discussed last week, where we find him attaining a measure of purpose and repose. Although Frank may be on to something telling Ray in the purgatory bar, as Lera Lynn once again strummed away, that his “worst self might be his best self,” I’d love to see Ray rage against all that. But in the case of Paul, when Ray is the shoulder you are forced to lean on, damn if you aren’t in a tight spot!

CMT: The cars in True Detective are like vehicular confessionals. Safe places where the detectives can rise above their vices and their prejudices and their demons and simply exist as a sympathetic ear for their partner, or an unsympathetic ear depending on the situation. That Ray is now passing on life advice to our troubled young detective Paul and, in the process, becoming the shows moral compass, is not what I had expected after the last few episodes. With Frank telling Ray in their favorite dive bar that sometimes the worst parts of you are the best parts of you, I can’t help but wonder if the Ray we saw in the car, helping Paul handle the chaos of the last few hours, or saying goodbye to his son, is the “real” Ray, or if the “blackness” that Frank needs from Ray if he were to come be his “muscle” is the true example of who Ray really is. There’s a fascinating struggle at play here for the soul of Ray, and the other detectives as well, but one of the lingering questions we are left with at the end of this episode is whether Ray has finally reached that point where he has to decide what kind of man he wants to be.

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MCS: There were many points in Season 1 where the dialogue (mostly Rust Cohle’s) in the show would break through the fourth wall, and the speaker wasn’t only talking to the character onscreen with them, but also to the viewer. And it was fun to have one of those moments last evening when Ray was talking about journalists and said that he heard one once say, “I’d rather be wrong and first than right and second.” I love this, as it is a true shot at our increasingly knee-jerky media and the bullshit sensationalization of stories which occurs, where facts seem to matter less and less. I am reading into more than I should, but I also can’t help to see it as a shot at all the haters who have come at Nic Pizzolatto over the last few years, and who have come down hard on this season’s worthiness thus far. After last night’s episode, and with further hindsight into where the story may be going, it appears that many spoke out far too soon about this season. I for one cannot wait for next week’s episode, and to witness the formidable fallout of that epic closing shootout.

  1. Vinci is based on the real life city of Vernon, California. []

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