True Detective Season 2, Episode 3 – A Roundtable

by: Michael Shields, Chris Thompson and Douglas Grant

The Editors of Across the Margin once again convene, sifting through the layers of unease and conflict to find the kernels of truth that are beginning to amass in True Detective….

CMT: So it wasn’t rock salt like we figured Ray got shot with last episode, but rather some sort of anti-personnel shotgun round like they use in riot control. That’s a huge reveal that’ll keep Ray around (for now), but I gotta tell you, Ray’s dream sequence in that blue-bathed bar with an Elvis-looking performer and Ray’s dad was a show in and of itself! I’d love for True Detective to go a few more episodes in that place, letting the viewer explore all the dive-bar glory of Ray’s purgatory! The opening performer is covering Conway Twitty’s song “The Rose,” which was first made popular by Bette Midler. I’ve watched the scene several times now and can’t help drawing parallels to Twin Peaks, and the way the show used musical interludes to speak for periods of time when characters existed between life and death. I wonder how much Pizzolatto draws his influence from David Lynch.

MCS: I am with you Chris. I absolutely was taken by the dream sequence that opened up this week’s episode, “Maybe Tomorrow.” Not only was it an intoxicating ode to David Lynch (makes me think of the times Dale Cooper was visited by The Giant in Twin Peaks), but it seems to me an ideal way to be introduced to Ray’s father (now we see where he learned his unique brand of fathering!) played by Fred Ward. What a telling discussion, and a unique glimpse into their fraught relationship.

“Do you want to live?” a doctor asks Ray after letting him in on to the seriousness of his health. Whether Ray does indeed care about life is questionable, but I am glad he is still with us. While I find it a bit ridiculous he was shot with rubber bullets (“You know, like the ones cops use”), Ray’s newfound wounds and battered ribs add an extra layer of suffering to our already embattled “hero,” and give him an opportunity to reevaluate his existence and purpose.

CMT: What you may find ridiculous I find very interesting. The rubber buckshot angle makes me start to wonder if Bird Mask Man wasn’t a cop. We know Vinci is as corrupt as the day is long and that the corruption goes all the way up to the Mayor’s office. It doesn’t seem too much of a stretch that elements of the police force might be behind whatever crimes the detectives are investigating.

MCS: Sure, it makes everyone wonder that, as that idea was pretty much forced down our throat. That is why I mentioned Ray’s quote about the cop from his first discussion with Ani while nursing his wounds sitting on the ambulance bumper. But the trickery involved just gets me, as now the impact of the closing scene of “Night Finds You” is diminished. But either way, I am happy to have Ray around.

DG: Rubber bullets, the gimmick that kept Ray alive – I’ll take this stretch of an explanation if it means we get to keep Ray around.

MCS: While I have complained – and will continue to do so – about the casting of Vince Vaughn as the crime boss Frank, it is becoming clear that Taylor Kitsch’s casting as the sexually-confused and altogether damaged Paul Woodrugh was pitch-perfect. His brooding and sulking swagger fit perfectly with Paul’s discomfiture and general ambiguity, as Paul’s scars don’t just pepper his body, but lie deep within him as well. We found out this week that he, for a brief time, had a lover in Afghanistan, a time he is trying desperately to forget (“you mean combat?”). I am not sure why Detective Teague (played by Deadwood’s W. Earl Brown) was trailing Paul, and why he snapped a picture of him, but I do find Paul, much like Ray and Ani, an incredibly intriguing character. That is why it was a little disappointing this week we had to spend so much time with Frank and his money problems, and particular with him and Jordan at the IVF clinic. But I wasn’t disappointed about the visit to the film set, which was more proof that you never know where you will end up when working a case on True Detective. Oh, the places you’ll go….

DG: Off topic some, but I read an interesting theory online that the case these detectives are working is connected to the same case as season one: a secret society that is into ritual sacrifice and sexual deviancy. As far fetched as that may sound to some, I thought it was interesting enough to bring up here. Rust did say that they didn’t get everyone.

MCS: My goodness I love this theory. I would be blown away if they pull off combining those worlds. Blown away.

But in keeping with the discussion on this episode, I did find this to be the most cohesive episode of this season thus far, and it might be due to the fact that directorial duties were exchanged, as Justin Lin, who helmed the first two episodes was replaced by Janus Metz Pederson. I felt the flow of the episode as a whole was fluent, and it built well to that climactic episode with the burning car. “Maybe Tomorrow,” and True Detective perennially, thrive when we are on the case, and as the manhunt heats up, and the dragnet spreads ever wider, so will this season’s storyline. I love the dynamic between Ray and Ani, and I think this is heightened by the fact that both of their bosses are leaning on them to deceive the other (Ani’s boss even asked her to let Ray think she will fuck him). This idea, that they are being driven to take the other down, leads me to believe that, in the end, they will do just the opposite – and choose to side with each other, as partners do. Ray did just save her life, remember!

But, who is Stan? Why should we care? Was it just me or did the entire Stan thing come out of left field?

CMT: Stan is so far, the most important character (to Frank) that no one seems to care about. You may remember Stan was lurking in the background back when Ray and Frank were much younger and Ray came to Frank looking for his wife’s rapist. Or in episode two of this season when Frank intimidated that poor bookkeeper with a face-full of pepper spray? Well, Frank’s dear sweet Stan was the thug who blasted that guy in the face. So yeah, Stan. Frank’s numero uno henchman apparently has gone the way of Ben Caspere, with an unhealthy dose of acid to the eyeballs and who knows what other kind of savagery that lead to his death. But more importantly, I am amused by this development because it’s the catalyst that sends Frank on an only-child, selfish tirade, wondering aloud who is making a move on him as if his mother had suddenly told him that there would be no more ice cream and that it’s time for bed.

MCS: Oh how could I forget those two crucial scenes where this all-important Stan “lurked” in the background? The lack of development of Stan’s character and their relationship made the fact that Frank flew off the handle due to his loss seem all the more outlandish. But Frank is creeping ever closer to rock bottom, and if there is one thing we learned from this episode (besides that Frank loved this Stan guy for some unknown reason), is that if you push on Frank, he will push back. I see him as a wildcard moving forward, as he now has nothing to lose. And people with nothing to lose are unpredictable, and dangerous.

CMT: Right….Frank is getting pulled back down into the criminal underground of Vinci by the minute. This season started off with Frank on an upwards trajectory, heading into untold, legitimate riches and at the close of episode three, we find him brooding over pour Stan and his lost millions in opportunity and drifting further and further away from those anchors of legitimacy, namely a wife and a family. I felt the scene where Frank threw that handful of teeth into the garbage can while refusing to acknowledge Jordan was a defining moment. One where Frank is finally realizing that the world doesn’t want him to go legit. That the world still wants him to feel like he’s trapped down in that basement in the dark. With the rats….all alone.

Watching Ray in the “second” scene with his father was interesting. This showed us a side of Ray I’d like to know more about. The compassionate, emotional component to his psyche that I can only imagine was blasted away the moment he took his wife’s rapist’s life and again when she gave birth to that man’s son. Ray caring about something besides his son – which he can no longer see – makes me wonder if he isn’t so far gone. He spoke of the choice that everyone has last episode, the choice of ending one’s life, and the prospect of having come back from his own death to live again seems to have emboldened him to set right some of the paths he has been walking on for far too long. He certainly seems to be good at enabling his father’s vices, supplying the weed that he smokes and the whiskey that he drinks, but I wonder if Ray worries that he sees too much of his father in himself, and the last thing he wants to do, after coming back from that glorious dream sequence in that dive bar, is to end up like his old man – wracked with pain, dependent on drugs and alcohol, and full of contempt for the shield and the life-affirming police work that at one time defined for his father what it meant to be a man. I got the sense that Ray cared for his father, but he cared more about his father’s legacy, and whether he was destined for the same, sad fate as his dad.

MCS: The scenes with Ray’s father certainly helped me understand more about why Ray has become who he is, but I too found a measure of empathy for Ray I did not see coming in that moment. The weed was to help his father’s appetite, and to help him sleep, clearly showing that he cares for his hardened father. It’s beginning to look more and more as if Ray’s story-line is one of rebirth, a resurrection tale which commenced with his sudden brush with death in last week’s episode.

My favorite character remains Vinci’s Mayor, and it was fun to spend some time in his mansion and see him angry as all hell for Ani and Paul’s unannounced visit. What did you guys think of the Mayor’s son? Any thoughts on his role moving forward?

DG: I think the mayor’s son will have a bigger role to play in the future. We’re often given glimpses early on in True Detective of characters who have more pivotal stories down the road.

CMT: The Mayor’s mansion visit brought up soooo many more questions than it solved for me. But of all that was going on there, and believe me, there was A LOT of twisted, dysfunctional stuff going on there (did you see the giant nitrous tank in his son’s bedroom?), the one thing that stuck in my mind was the calm and quiet of the Mayor’s daughter and her room as Ani walked by. If you freeze the frame and look at what she is doing (and by the way, that was surely Andrea Cantillo – played by Emily Rios – who was Jesse Pinkman’s girlfriend, and son to Brock, in Breaking Bad!), you’ll see that she is holding in her hand several maps and in front of her is a ledger filled with columns of what look like names and numbers. That got me thinking: if the Mayor’s punkass son, (“I’m an organizer”) is as crooked as he seems, then why not his sister as well? Maybe the Mayor’s crooked nature is a family affair? Maybe his daughter has a sound head on her shoulders and is involved in this entire conspiracy as well?

MCS: I love that you point out the Mayor’s daughter, with only us having seen her for a moment. It’s unique and a testament to the intrigue of this cop-noir that these brief glimpses are seen to many of us a clues or moments that might matter. People are still talking about the girl whose face was covered in bandages we saw at the psych hospital, and possibly with good reason (I guess this goes back to your point about Stan’s importance, Chris!). I’m truly interested in where this case might be going, and from what I can tell a lot of people are bailing on this show after just a few episodes. I have no doubt these folks are going to miss some good fun, and a great payoff in the episodes to come.

One reply on “True Detective Season 2, Episode 3 – A Roundtable”
  1. says: Charles Skoronski

    Unable to explain how little I care about the opinions of others yet i am riveted by this Holy trinity of knowledge accumulated in the affluenza ridden section of glastonbury I am in the dark but have seen the light

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