True Detective Season 2, Episode 6 – A Roundtable

by: Michael Shields and Chris Thompson

True Detective takes us directly into the eye of the storm, and what we find there is surprising, and wholly unsettling…

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CMT: What really stood out to me this episode was the theme of “making deals.” Frank and Ray made a deal to put aside their differences and help one another to achieve their individual goals. Ani and her sister made a deal that she would abide by the rules of the elite swinger parties if she wanted to gain entry to them. Frank made a deal with that vicious pair of Latino gangsters in the hopes that he would move closer to obtaining Ben Caspere’s hard drive and his slice of the rail corridor riches. Ray, after a cocaine and booze-fueled bender that hurt to watch, made a deal with his wife that he would leave her and her son alone if she promised to never tell him the truth about where he really came from. And finally, in what may be the biggest smoking gun and win for the detectives so far, Paul and Ray are able to steal the still-warm books and contracts from the Catalyst Group exec McCandles and his Russian partner Osip, after the duo had just ratified their alliance over a full-moon. It was an episode of deals and alliances, some good, some bad, but all, with a heavy price to pay for those who entered into them. I got the feeling that the writers of this episode, Nic Pizzolatto and Scott Lasser, played pretty heavy with this theme in this week’s episode of True Detective entitled “Churches in Ruin.” It left us poised for a dramatic conclusion to the series as those who chose to enter into these arrangements realize their fate.

MCS: Deals as far as the eye can see, and each one you mention does indeed help set the table for the final two episodes. But following this episode, rife with shady agreements, I am still coping with with how vividly Ani’s backstory came into focus. The reveal hit like a punch to the gut. Soon after we saw Ani’s zealous workout routine, we came face to face with the haunting reason that she yearns so desperately to be able to protect herself. It was a long-haired hippie in a van that she trusted, one that led her to believe there was a unicorn in the woods, that stole from Ani the ability to trust forevermore. It was this bearded pedophile who shaped Ani into the hardened and bitter woman we have come to know, one woman pitted against the world who, as her sister griped about, immediately pushes away anyone who attempts to get close to her (“You work so hard to be alone”). Very intense.

CMT: And by stealing from Ani her innocence and the ability to trust, this pedophile with his VW van robbed her of the things that bring most of us pleasure and comfort in this world: companionship and family. We knew all along it was for no simple reason that Ani chose to build up her walls and protect herself from the world with her knives and I imagine it’s also a big reason why her character would become a police office in the first place, to protect those – who like her – could not protect themselves from the dangers our world has to offer. The ferocity and quickness with which Ani dispatched that bodyguard thug at the high-priced orgy with a stolen cheese knife amazed me (“A man of any size lays hands on me, he’s gonna bleed out in under a minute,” Ani once told Ray, perfectly forecasting this moment). It was almost like it was a reflex, an instinctual part of her that reacted without thinking. Which makes sense when you consider Ani’s history now and the level of training she has applied to her abilities with the blade. Watching Ani practice in her apartment with her knives while she conspired with her sister to gain entry into one of those sex parties, gave me a few shivers up my spine. Especially when she ended the session by stabbing that vaguely man-shaped training dummy squarely in the groin. Ouch!

MCS: The scene in which Ani stumbled around in a drug-induced daze through a scene straight out of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut was impeccably produced. Directed by the man responsible for the best hour of television this year, Game of Thrones “Hardhome,” Miguel Sapochnik, we were whisked not only into a disturbing world of perverted sex acts and backroom politics in the Guerneville Orgy House, but into Ani’s long-buried nightmare. Ani’s fate was sealed that day she innocently accepted the stranger’s hand, just as all of the detectives are preyed upon by the realities of their past that they try so desperately to ignore (Paul’s homesexuality, Ray’s brutal capacities). And that Hitchcockian-like score (a piece titled “Harmonielehre” by minimalist composer John Adams) invoked to heighten the tension throughout that closing scene was absolutely absorbing.

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I think anyone who reads the Across the Margin Roundtable discussions on this season of True Detective know how I feel about Vince Vaughn’s portrayal of the choleric gangster, Frank Seymon. Coming into this week, I was hoping that Ray would swiftly pull that trigger and rid the world of the worst casting decision in True Detective’s young history. But, this week there was some payoff with Frank’s character (besides the line – “That’s one off the bucket list: a Mexican standoff with actual Mexicans”), and to my surprise there was not one, but two scenes with Frank this week that affected me deeply. The first was in the way he handled Ray. I couldn’t imagine there was anything Frank could ever say to quell the anger within Ray, but expeditiously Frank played Ray like a deck of cards, forcing him to look deep within himself. It’s so easy for any of us to lay blame elsewhere, to find reason outside of ourselves for the struggles that engulf us. And Ray pointed the blame towards Frank (“I sold my soul for nothing”) for leading him down a path towards the murder that changed him forever, that original sin that haunts him deeply. But Frank challenged Ray to look in the mirror, to understand who he has been all along. After Ray claims that Frank gave him the name of the would-be rapist because “you knew what I would do,” Frank spits back, “I gave you a name and you made a choice. And that choice was in you before your wife or any of this other stuff. It was always there, waiting,” he said, and “I knew what I’d do. I didn’t know you at all.” It was a bold move by Frank, knowing that Ray had a gun on him ready to strike at any moment, but Ray – deep inside – knows who he is, and Frank brought that realization to the surface, muting his anger and leading them to a place where they could find some middle ground. Impressive.

And secondly, the scene where Frank comforts Stan’s kid, while heavy-handed, was touching. I even found it more impactful in knowing what Frank’s father had put him through when he was young. It seems as if the sins of the father aren’t necessarily the sins of the son, and it’s not going too far to think that Frank knew exactly what to say to Stan’s son because he himself needed to hear encouraging words of that nature when he was a child. With the challenges Frank and Jordan have been facing in having a child, it’s interesting to come to the realization that Frank not only may have been a great dad, but also that in some ways he has the ability to act as one now.

CMT: I couldn’t help listening to Frank say that Stan’s son has “gold inside him” and not feel like I was watching Vaughn’s character Trent from the 1996 comedy Swingers. It felt like a classic line that Trent would say while he was consoling his friend Mike and telling him that he’s a great actor. But putting that prejudice aside, I agree that it takes a special type of villain to turn Ray’s ager back on himself. Especially to the point where Frank’s able to make the “shoot first, ask questions later” Ray – who has every right to want to hurt him – think that the fault with killing the wrong person for his wife’s rape lies with him and not with Frank. I have to give some credit to True Detective’s writers for taking a scene that in my mind could only have one outcome – Franks bloody demise – and flipping it around and making it a commentary on the weakness (or darkness) of Ray’s character. I feel like this season has been driving home the type of person Ray really is, revealing more and more the reasons why he is so self-destructive, and for me the one word that keeps coming to mind is: uncomfortable. I think Ray feels at odds with this world. All the decisions he’s made in his life, to his misguided moral compass at least, make some kind of sense to him. But then he keeps bumping up against the rest of the world, and he is constantly told that his actions and his choices are wrong. That they have only caused hurt and pain and suffering despite what he may believe to be worthwhile and altruistic intentions. Ray’s desire to confront Frank in the manner he did may have been an attempt at suicide as Frank mentioned. But it may also have been a cry for help for who else could he have turned to aid him in figuring out this fucked-up world? The fact that Frank and Ray, two characters with a history of getting shit-on by the world, could find a common ground, and possibly a way to heal, by having a showdown in that kitchen was fascinating to me. I felt like I was watching Han Solo and Greedo square off in Mos Eisley Cantina. But where Frank could shrug off a moment where his life was in peril and go visit Stan’s wife and kid for some feel good healing and tell Stan’s son that  “Sometimes a thing happens, plits your life – there’s a before and after, I got like five of them at this point,” Ray could not. Healing is an elusive prospect for Ray, like his comfortableness with this world, and he instead chooses to bury his unease with a trip to visit and threaten his wife’s rapist in prison, a heaping pile of cocaine and an ungodly amount of booze.

MCS: Ray’s attempt to bury his problems beneath a mountain of blow and a river of tequila was nothing short of suicidal. And the moment he ripped open his shirt and reached for his heart I thought that Ray was going to get want he wanted, a true escape from the demons he battles. The realization he came to, that his child is more likely better off if he never he saw him again, was hard earned. And following that phone call Ray has even less to lose now, making him even more disposable in his own mind, and more dangerous to anyone who comes between him and Caspere’s hard drive he is desperately searching out.

Speaking of suicidal, am I wrong or did Ani enter into the sex party under the guise of Athena Bezzerides, her sister? There is no way that Blake and his men will let this slide, and I won’t be surprised if the repercussions find Ani’s sister vulnerable, without her Ani or her knives to protect her. But to Ani I am sure it was well worth the risk, as she stumbled upon nearly the entirety of the Vinci elite at the party, including McCandles, the head of Catalyst who met with Frank in last week’s episode, Osip, the Russian businessman who backed out of the deal with Frank in the season premiere, and most importantly, Geldof, the former attorney general now running for Governor in California. And now Paul has in his hands contracts with a whole slew of signatures on them (contracts usually do have signatures on them Paul, that’s how they work!) that could open the door on all the corruption corroding Vinci like rust. And maybe Vera (she’s alive! – I didn’t expect that, and even began to think the blood in the cabin belonged to her) can shed some light on the inner workings of these sex parties and those involved.

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I am curious, what is the takeaway from Paul’s meeting with the retired L.A. police officer? The diamonds Paul has been tracking down were originally stolen in the 90s during the L.A. riots, and during that robbery two children, while hiding from the assailants, were forced to watch their parents brutally murdered. It was a highly affecting scene, as what happened to the children has remained with the cop forevermore. But what does this scene tell us about the case? Does this have to do with Paul’s impending fatherhood? Who were those two children?

CMT: I am going out on a limb here, but I will venture a guess as to where those two kids ended up and I’m betting it wasn’t within LA’s foster child system. My money’s on the fact that Mayor Chesani was caught-up in that diamond heist somehow and felt bad that it resulted in those young kids witnessing their parents slaughter. A part of me is wondering if the Mayor’s children, his animated son and his quiet, low-key daughter, aren’t those very kids.

But, with only two episodes left in the season, I find myself wondering more about a lot of things that have been revealed. Just what went down in that blood-stained shed out in the woods and how it all ties into the sex and drug parties run by Mayor Chessani’s son where some pretty big players were in attendance confounds me. Add in the way in which Caspere and Stan died, it’s still a bit vague to me how this all ties together. I felt that with season one, by this point in the show, Rust and Marty had everything almost figured out, they just didn’t know who the suspect was. I feel on some level there has to be a connecting thread to link all of these unknowns together, and the time we have left to figure it all out is in short supply. Any thoughts on what that thread could be? Is it that simple? This season is doing a good job of throwing us tangential storylines in order to keep us off the track. Any thoughts on who shot Ray and who killed Ben and Stan? I have some ideas, but I don’t think I’m confident enough right now to put them out there.

MCS: Like me, many out there, have their eye on Vinci’s Detective Kevin Burris (the “thin” detective Irina mentioned to Frank?). I can’t help but think he is our guy, and is working for Geldof in some way. But as much as I want to know who Caspere’s killer is, I need to know more about the bigger picture and how the land deal and the political ambitions and the murders all tie together. The detectives this season have been used as pawns by the powers that be in their attempts to retain control and power. And because of this they have been forced to go rogue in order to get answers (masquerading around as a $2,000 call girl and taking MDMA in spray form probably isn’t part of Ani’s job description). But you are right in declaring that with two episodes left, it still doesn’t feel as if we are on the cusp of authentic understanding the tangled web we are traversing (or, for that matter, who is really the father of Ray’s “son” as the man Ray threatened looked nothing like him). And maybe fully comprehending how all the puzzle pieces fit isn’t really the point as the window offered into the detective’s embattled life throughout this convoluted case is an enthralling journey unto itself. But I can’t help but thinking if there isn’t a purposeful attempt to make sense of the depth of corruption enveloping Vinci, than the season would be the disappointment many already misinterpret it to be. We still have a long way to go with one-fourth of the season in front still in front of us, and a lot to learn. Next week’s episode is entitled, “Black Maps and Motel Rooms,” and I could not be more eager for these two final chapters to shine a light on the darkness throwing shadows upon the industrial corridors of the great state of California.

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