True Detective Season 2, Episode 5 – A Roundtable

by: Michael Shields and Chris Thompson

True Detective Season 2 begins its riveting second act by asking all the right questions, no matter how much the truth may hurt…

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MCS: I am not sure what I was expecting concerning how the cards would fall following what is now known as “The Vinci Massacre,” but I can’t say that I am upset in where this ultimately lead the three “detectives” – back on the Caspere case and all authentically motivated to solve it. Circumstances have progressed some to commence the episode, as “Other Lives”1 picks up 66 days later, with Ani demoted and working the evidence room (looks like she took the brunt of the heat), Ray (stache-less) has quit his job and started working for “Mr. Frank,” and Paul emerged from the firefight fairly unscathed (but like before, and now more than ever, he wants back on that bike!). I loved this episode, and there is one word that comes to mind in contemplation of it, “clean.” Although the noise that reverberates about True Detective, especially this season, is how convoluted and confusing the case is, in this week’s episode the case work was concise and well explained, and it’s clear we are being lead into a den of depravity involving “escort parties and powerful men.” I would truly like to know more about how Frank’s former waste management company (Archeron, reminiscent of Acheron, one of the rivers in the mythological Greek underworld) sprinkled metals over the transportation corridor back in the day, poisoning it. But what’s clear about that is it made the land far less valuable and easier to be bought in bulk. And now ground has broke on the rail corridor, with Frank not involved of course. But before anything else regarding his attempts to legitimize unfolds, Frank has much more to worry about….

It’s funny to think about Frank telling Ray that his “worst self” could be his “best self” now, as currently Frank is poised to learn a whole lot more about that worst self. It is easy to surmise that nothing fucked up Ray’s life more than his wife being raped (and ultimately becoming pregnant). But nothing fucked up Ray more than killing the man who he thought was responsible (his “original sin”). It was a turning point for Ray, ultimately drawing him to the Dark Side. And beyond that, Frank has held that “favor” over Ray since then, the reason he has been such a loyal servant to Frank. And now, with the realization that the real rapist is alive and in custody, Ray’s world is up-ended once again, leading him to the doorstep of the man who pulled one so devastatingly over on him. Pull that trigger Ray (after another one of their patented staring contests of course!). Rid the world of poorly delivered lines like, “It’s like blue balls, in your heart.”

CMT: “Frank set me up” and “We need to talk” are two of the most important lines Ray utters all season. They occurred towards the very end of this week’s episode, but those words held such weight. You could almost see the words spilling out of Ray’s mouth to fill the empty space between him and his wife and the years of “service” that Frank forced Ray into. Ray finally realizing that he’s been played by Frank all this time, that his entire downfall and slide into darkness and despair, since the moment he thought he gained a modicum of justice for his wife by killing her rapist, has been due to the fact that Frank had him kill the wrong guy, marks a major turning point for Ray. I feel like this season his character has been trudging along from one let down to another, from one bottle of liquor to the next, accepting the fate that became him because of the fact that he did all this to avenge what he saw as a huge injustice. But now that Ray knows that Frank steered him wrong, and in doing so an innocent man may have been killed, well I don’t see Ray letting Frank off the hook so easily. We’ve seen what Ray can do when he puts those ominous black gloves on, and I wonder, as the camera lingered on Rays face for a moment as the episode came to a close, if those gloves aren’t finally going to come out for Frank. Because, with what I’ve learned so far this season, Frank is way more of a devious and wicked person than Ray once was or could ever be. And Ray has a special way of meting out his own brand of justice against those he finds to be cruel.

MCS: As Ray mentioned, “Pain is inexhaustible,” an idea that Nic Pizzolatto seeks to make emphatically clear all season, drudging all of the featured characters through utter hell. But what is funny is that at this point in time for Frank, he has finally found a measure of happiness, and he and Jordan were in a good place after she came clean about the amount of abortions she has had. But this is True Detective, happiness isn’t just fleeting, it’s a ruse. The closer Frank and Jordan grew, the more apparent it became that Ray was going to come knocking. Personally, I thought he would shoot first and ask questions later, but with that jarring knock came the season’s second cliffhanger, and the end of Frank and Ray’s amicable relationship.

I hate to lament on its loss, but I can’t be the only one who misses Ray’s mustache. Such a loss.

CMT: That mustache added ten years onto Ray’s character. Ten years that he certainly didn’t need to be carrying around. It appears to me now that with the battle for his “child’s” custody coming to a head and the fact that Ray is (for now) in the employ of Frank, not the depressingly corrupt and inept Vinci Police Department, that Ray has gained some much-needed clarity and an improvement to his overall appearance and demeanor. It may have been short-lived, but I felt that for a second there, a new Ray, possibly the Ray that existed before his wife was raped, had appeared. One that was fighting hard to stay sober. One that was trying to put in extra hours at work so he could pay for his mounting custody battle. But as the episode concluded, and the story advanced, it became apparent that Ray trying to regain a measure of his former self was merely a moment in time. A drop of rain in a storm. Another “ruse” like you so artfully hinted towards Mike. You can’t change who you really are, and you get the world you deserve is the message True Detective seems to be driving into us all this season. And for Ray, his world is as dark and rough as they come. But of all the characters so far this season, it seems to me like Ray is the only one who’s continually fighting hard to change that world.

I could talk for hours on Ray’s character, his prejudices and his motivations. I think he’s the detective we have spent the most time with in terms of their story, and hence, the one I can most empathize with. But there’s so much more we learned about Paul this episode as well. And if Ray is the tortured soul who had the good life and lost it, then Paul’s the exact opposite. His entire life just seems to be one big lie.

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MCS: I can’t help but feeling absolutely sorry for Paul, even if he was “a God Warrior that day.” To be blunt, his character is pathetic. Four years ago he hid (POORLY!) $20,000 in his mess of a mother’s trailer home and assumed that would end well. And on top of that, the hope he is putting on this baby to cure all his problems is misguided, and wholly naive. Bringing a child into the world will never change who he is, and what has happened to him (“I bled for that money.”). It’s amazing that someone would think that, but I have seen people have children for very similar reasons. Like the comedian Louis C.K. once said, “I use to think that having a child would turn me into this amazing, responsible person – but then you realize you’re still that same jack-off…but now with a kid.”

CMT: Excellent line and such a perfect truth. Putting your child up on a pedestal, as if it would “cure” you of your problems or ills, is a dangerous thought. One that will more than likely bring you more pain as you realize the child didn’t serve its intended purpose. If Paul continues down this path, a path he is clearly uncomfortable with (two mini bottles of vodka just to get through dinner!), things can only get worse.

MCS: I would be shocked if they didn’t. You see how hard he hit that vodka when his future mother-in-law said “It’s so great to see you off that bike!” But as I alluded to earlier – the casework this week was crisp and telling. I found it very interesting that Jacob McCandles (the head of the very mysterious Catalyst Corporation who Frank met with) is also highly motivated to get his hands on Caspere’s hard drive that was stolen the night Ray got shot. Everyone wants that hard drive and to see the footage on it (be careful what you wish for, remember the video footage found in Season 1!). But that isn’t all, there is presumably more footage, as Dr. Pitlor (again everybody – Rick Fucking Springfield!!) revealed that Mayor Chessani’s (so wonderfully drunk again in this episode) son may have been recording “affluent men” at sex parties as well. Pair this with the information they found about the diamonds that Detective Dixon was already looking into before his demise, and the missing girl, Vera, we are hot on the trail once again, and led to a blood splattered cabin as crows circle above. It feels as if we are close, so close in fact that Ani (with the help of her sister’s contacts) is willing to put herself in harm’s way in order to find the truth. No wonder she is off the e-cigarettes and back smoking the genuine articles.

I thought there was a poignant line in this episode where Ani tells Ray that it’s “never too late to start all over again.” I found it comical in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way, as inarguably the case did just start again as the season kicks off its second half. But the circumstances are far different now, and the ambitious State Attorney Katherine Davis (the wonderful Michael Hyatt from The Wire) has her team assembled and now truly in sync. It’s going to be great as we move forward to watch them tackle this case as a team, and not at odds with each other and burdened with ulterior motives like before2.

CMT: Right! With only three episodes left I feel like we’ve finally gotten the team together! The call has gone out and the Avengers have assembled. With the Caspere case supposedly closed and the three detectives all but removed from the prejudices and politics that hindered their investigation in the first place, the “true detective” work can finally begin.

This case has finally boiled down to its eventual essence. All the excess fat and distractions have been laid bare by the never-dull knife of justice. It’s all hookers, plastic surgery, politicians, sex, influence money and intrigue. The great vices and plays that have snarled people in its clutches since Humanity began to play with such things. It’s a story as old as our civilization, one that’s been told countless time before and one that will continue to be told long after we are gone. Frank says, as he looks up at the ceiling in his Glendale bungalow house that “there’s no water spots,” as if being in a new house, under new circumstances, circumstances more truer to who he really his, have somehow made a difference in his life. But we all know those water spots are still there, they’re just hiding out of sight for the time being, like the real killers of Ben Caspere, or the blue diamonds, or the truth on that hard drive. But eventually those water spots will be back, and the true nature of this season’s True Detective will be revealed. We may not push through into the fourth wall like Rust Cohle and the first season’s storyline certainly did, but I’m willing to bet that we’ll get pretty close.

MCS: Too close for any comfort. It’s amazing how tangled a web we have here, highlighted by the fact that Ray watched as prostitutes were being delivered (so damn disturbing!) to Osip who is the Russian businessman (“foreign interests”) that snubbed Frank in the corridor deal following Caspere’s murder. It is also intriguing how this land deal and the transportation corridor is tied up with this group of elitist, perverted men, and there is a chance that this goes all the way up to Attorney General Geldof, who is now running for governor after “closing” the Caspere case. We shall see. And I don’t know how we got this far without pointing out that one of the lawyers for the celebrity actress who accused Paul of sexual misconduct was….Lloyd Braun from Seinfeld3!

Going into this week’s episode I had a similar feeling as that titillating anxietal rush that overcame me prior to the season premiere. The reason for this was two-fold. First off and obviously, the riveting shootout to close episode four acted as a shot in the arm to the series. After the smoke began to clear, and the three detectives – Ani, Ray and Paul – stood paralyzed in traumatic contemplation, the episode froze and faded to black. When I was again able to breathe, I immediately set a mental clock for the following week’s episode. Only 6 days and 23 hours until next week’s episode, I thought. It wasn’t an easy week negotiating the expanse between those bullets flying and when we were able to behold the fallout, and find out whose “Other Lives,” this week’s title refereed to4.

Secondly, due to the fact that it was so easy to draw parallels from episode four of the first season and last week’s episode four, as they both concluded with a gripping action sequence, I couldn’t help but wonder if those same sort of parallels could be considered between the fifth of both seasons. It is without hyperbole where I state that “The Secret Fate of All Life,” episode five of Season One of True Detective, is one of my favorite hours of television of all time. Burned into my brain is the coke for crystal offer to commence the episode (“I can see your soul at the edges of your eyes, it’s corrosive like acid”), “the hero shot,” “the good years,” and that unforgettable and haunting image of Hart and Cohle emerging from the backwater meth lab cradling the bodies of two children. Stunning.

True Detective

Of course I wasn’t anticipating that “Other Lives” could live up to this achievement, but if there was an analogous pattern to the two story-arcs, the heat that was turned up to full blast last week, was bound to radiate into this week’s episode. And while the fire didn’t burn as intensely, the picture is starting to come into focus after this excellent hour of television. Ray told Ani in the purgatory bar (what a scene!) as Lera Lynn once again strummed away, that he was “trying to limit the people [he] can disappoint.” It’s humorous that after a season that started with such mixed reviews and a great deal of disappointment for some, that the amount of people still around to witness True Detective metamorphosing into a captivating and cunning detective-noir is indeed limited (relatively). But those who stuck around for the long haul are already enjoying the payoff, as the season’s second act is built on a more than capable foundation.

  1. Directed by John Crowley, who has a lengthy theater resume, and is most known for directing 2003’s Intermission. []
  2. No better time than now than to mention that the affecting song which closed the episode was Alexandra Saviour’s “Risk.” []
  3. Matt McCoy, most recently seen brilliantly playing the ‘non-layer’ in Silicon Valley []
  4. In the end it was Ray, and the life he could have experienced if Frank never led him astray []

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