True Detective Season 2, Episode 2 – A Roundtable

by: Michael Shields, Chris Thompson, and Douglas Grant

The Editors of Across the Margin convene to discuss another engaging and controversial hour of True Detective…


CMT: I gotta know Mike, right off the bat, did that opening scene where Vince Vaughn’s character Frank is comparing the water-spots on his bedroom’s ceiling to the fragility of his reality do anything towards thawing your opinion of his casting for this season? Franks early morning wonderings about whether he is dead and actually never got out of that basement his father locked him in as a child was such an emotional scene. I felt like we learned a little bit more about his character and saw a further exploration of the existential crisis’s that the characters in True Detective seem to face.

MCS: I had a feeling one of you two would want to start with the “paper-mache” scene after all I said about Vince Vaughn’s performance last week….but we simply cannot bury the lead here. Did True Detective just fucking kill Ray in this second episode, entitled “Night Finds You?” I feel just as I (and much of the world) did following the season five finale of Game of Thrones, when everyone was left trying to theorize if Jon Snow could still be alive. I find myself trying to conceive viable plot lines that could keep Ray – easily the best part of the new season in my estimation – in the mix after a mysterious man in a bird mask unloaded a shotgun into him. I’m honestly devastated, and part of the reason is that this week’s episode of True Detective brought us into a place where so much excellence occurred within the first season, inside the detective’s car. An intimate place where we are afforded the opportunity to share in their conversations about not only the case at hand, but about their unique world-views. Ray and Ani’s discussions, where we learned why Ani is always packing extra knives (so that men don’t have the power over her that they so covet) and where Ray comes clean (somewhat) about his corruptibility, was riveting television – and I had hoped that this would only be the beginning, the commencement of their chats. Again, I’m devastated.

IMDB has Colin listed for the remainder of the season, but this in and of itself doesn’t mean he isn’t dead. Breaking Bad, in its final season, mislabeled characters on IMDB from time to time to throw detail-oriented fans off. But also at IMDB there are photos from episodes this season that have yet to be aired, where Ray is standing next to Paul wearing a bulletproof vest (wink, wink)…

DG: Look, I don’t want to definitively say that Ray’s not dead, but I’ve seen a few pics online, one of them straight out of the trailer, of scenes Ray is in that haven’t happened yet – just as you spoke of, Mike. Was this a ploy on the producers’ part, or can we believe that someone can survive a shotgun blast at point blank range? Who knows, maybe it was rock salt or bird shot.

And screw words like “shocked,” I simply cannot stomach the idea of six more episodes without Ray. I’m with you, Ray was the most interesting character on this new season, even though it seems like a lot of other people have no qualms whatsoever with letting him go.

CMT: A huge part of me thinks (or hopes!) that Ray isn’t dead. Granted, the Golden Age of Television that’s descended upon us has a love affair with killing off excellent, seemingly vital characters, but I feel like True Detective is cut from a different cloth. That Ray took two shotgun blasts cannot be debated – one of those point blank. But Doug brings up a good point, we don’t know what he was shot with. Only two episodes in, we already know that’s Rays a tough as nails individual and I have a sneaking suspicion it will take more than what unfolded in this episode to put him down.

MCS: In hindsight, and in review of the evidence, it appears as if it is very likely Ray isn’t dead, and that Pizzolatto decided to fuck with us all on this one. Well, it worked. I am already longing for next week’s episode to see what really happened there, and how he plans to make this right. Because as you said, Doug, I too cannot stomach this series moving forward without Ray, and if he is indeed alive, I will remain a little taken back by the cheap suspense stunt. But as hard as it is, let’s move on from Ray…

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This weeks episode, following Frank’s early morning rat monologue (I’ll get to it Chris – I promise!), wasted no time digging into the particulars, and laying the information on thick. In just a few scenes we were given witness to the specifics of the roles each of the officers would be taking in the Casper case (which is just the tip of the iceberg, the key to opening up the door on all the corruption in Vinci). Beyond that, and seemingly at the heart of this season’s theme, we were shown the true intentions of all the parties involved in the investigation (“Just one question, am I supposed to solve this or not?”). It was a lot to digest in a brief period of time – including some more Vinci backstory (27 million pounds of toxic waste, only 95 residents – crazy!) – but necessary in building what appears to be an obstinately tangled web. What is clear though, is that Casper blew five million of Frank’s development money on prostitutes, money that was supposed to go to the Catalyst Group who owns the land that Frank thought he bought. The best thing about all this, to me, was it introduced us to Mayor Chessani (played excellently by Ritchie Coster) who doesn’t give a fuck that Frank lost five million dollars, and is poised to take Frank’s bar, The Poker Room. Casper’s death has Frank in a tight spot, so I guess he isn’t off in melodramatically proclaiming that “it’s all paper-mache.”

CMT: I loved that we peeled back the layers and learned more about what makes Mayor Chessani tick and where his loyalties lie. And judging from the teaser for episode three, it looks like the Mayor (and his screwup kids) have a grander role in True Detective to play.

MCS: Besides the mayor, I was fascinated with our introduction to Dr. Piltor, a leathery shrink played by Rick Springfield! That’s one of the amazing things about True Detective, all the seedy little holes they whisk you off into, and all the eccentric people you come across as the detectives are working the case. It’s fascinating. Rick Springfield!! I mean….

CMT: So that’s who was playing the psychologist! I thought for a second it might’ve been Benjamin Cumberbatch in a ton of bronzer and some special effects make-up. I remember just watching that scene and following the psychologists facial expressions and just thinking to myself: Man, people like this actually exist and other people want to be like them. There’s an entire world going on out in the desert of California that I’m almost positive I could not relate to on any number of levels. It was a superb casting decision, both for the physical presence that Rick Springfield brought to the character and the way in which he makes me feel slightly uncomfortable with not being aware of what was going on with his eyes behind those tinted glasses.

Did any of you catch the moment where the psychologist mentioned that Casper wasn’t aggressive but more “passive” sexually, and then the camera did a quick cut to the purple geode rock on his desk that has obvious sexual allusions? What I love about True Detective is how suggestive the camera shots can be sometimes, and how they serve to bolster the dialogue or the physicality of the characters in a scene. That quick cut to that rock with its darkened center hole just drove home to me the sexual aspect of Casper’s character in a very visual manner.

MCS: Excellent catch. Ani’s eyes even take us over to the rock as she looks at it. Unlike Casper, nobody would describe the camerawork in True Detective as passive!

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But about that scene with Frank in the bed (finally, I know!), and in regards to Vince Vaughn’s performance which I panned hard last week….The opening scene with Frank was inarguably highly affecting. How could a diatribe about such a traumatic experience not be? It was like we were right in that dark, rat-infested basement with Frank for a few moments, and it was a terrifying commencement to the episode. But it changes little in my feelings towards Vince’s performance. I believe a more dynamic actor could have done wonders with those words. Vaughn will always be best when he is allowed to cut loose, and watching Frank running around town trying to be the big time guy threatening people and such just doesn’t work for me. I did appreciate that he had the opportunity to get a bit cheeky in one scene, show a little spirit. But I am not letting the Vince Vaughn thing get to me any longer. Frankly (pun intended), his performances are just good enough to pass so I’ll let it be. True Detective has always been different, in that there is no denying people do not talk like this. So instead of letting my blood come to a boil when Frank mutters dishearteningly, “Am I diminished?” – I shouldn’t be hating on the player, but rather the game. And if I am going to hate the game – I must start with “Without flies, you can’t go fly fishing.” I am still cringing from that one!

CMT: I loved the line Ray had in the car with Ani where he described trying an e-cigarette once and getting the feeling like it was smoking him, with him eventually wondering if in the end he wasn’t just “smoking a robot’s dick.”

MCS: It was excellent. And that’s the type of banter that we could presumably be without if Ray is dead. Noooooo!!!

What did you guys think about the fact that they brought back the gloomy lounge singer Lera Lynn? As I spoke about last week, I like her music and find it so perfect for True Detective. But I was beyond surprised to see them pull that card again.

CMT: I found the use of Lera Lynn again a bit heavy handed. While her presence is not necessary to set the tone or mood of a scene, her mournful, ghostly music certainly is. Watching the camera pan across the mostly empty bar for the second time in as many episodes, it made me wonder why she was playing a gig there at all. There was almost no one paying attention. It seemed a bit forced or out of place for the scene to me. A jukebox would have done just as good of a job in my opinion.

MCS: We need to talk Paul. How deep do his wounds go? Not only were we introduced to his mother, who I will simply describe as flawed and overly complimentary of her son’s physique (Oedipus allude?), but it seems as if he is bottling up homosexual desires, and was profoundly shaken by his time in the Middle East with Black Mountain (a thinly-veiled Blackwater reference, right?). And why is his body covered in such strange and unexplained scars. What’s the deal?

CMT: Yeah….of all the detectives, Paul is the one I’m having the hardest time getting a read on, and that is possibly the point. His mother’s overtly sexual advances, her lounging around her trailer in a silk slip while crushing margaritas makes me think she is not the most elegant of ladies. We are the product of our upbringing and I get the feeling a lot of Paul’s youth was spent in his tiny back bedroom, looking out that one window up at the stars and waiting for the first opportunity he could find to escape.

MCS: Thinking about Paul and his mother is representative of a theme that underlies everything about this season of True Detective, and that is – you can’t escape your past. Whether it is Frank lying in bed lamenting of the traumas of childhood, or Ani revealing that the four children that grew up with her and The Good People are either dead or in jail (can’t fault her for watching a little porn though!), or the fact that Ray’s life has spun out of control since he murdered his wife’s rapist, or pretty much everything about Paul – we are set face to face with the reality that there is little we can do to right some wrongs in this world. “We get the world we deserve,” I guess. I guess Ray got what he deserved at least, moments after letting on to Frank that suicide was an option, a solution really to the mess of his life.

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DG: Anyone wondering why Ray holstered his gun after he saw that pool of blood on the floor at Caspers Hollywood sex house?

CMT: I’m thinking that possibly there’s some part of Ray that still wants to help a person in need. Some part of his former self still lurking inside him, let’s call it “good guy muscle memory” that shows up before “bad guy Ray” does. Maybe he was just thinking, someone’s hurt, and he wanted to help, not further perpetuate a bad situation by adding his violence to it. Remember, Rays coming off that talk with Frank about suicide. He could just be in a different state of mind.

MCS: Interesting thought. Yeah, it makes no sense that he would holster his gun at that point. I don’t understand that at all. I can only assume that he didn’t see the ominous Cadillac parked out front, the one that chauffeured Casper to his final resting place along the highway where Paul found him. But, why oh why, would a pool of blood make him feel safe enough to put his gun away? Hell, he should have tucked tail and ran the minute he heard Bobby Bland’s “I Pity the Fool” playing.

Speaking of all this violence, I can’t stop thinking about Ani’s knifes. I think the Chekhov’s Gun theory is at play here. How long until we see her use those bad boys on a larger, male assailant? And I am eager to learn more about The Good People, and the twisted ways this cult has damaged Ani. True Detective may have its faults, some more obvious than the next, but this moody, perverted, crime noir series remains as intriguing as ever, warts and all. It’s must-watch television, still aggressively fueling the water-cooler talk, and there’s only five days until the next installment, entitled “Maybe Tomorrow.” I can only assume that we will be left with plenty to talk about upon its conclusion. It’s the True Detective way…

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