by: Michael Shields and Chris Thompson
True Detective’s penultimate episode revels in the truths that have been lurking around the edges all season long…
MCS: I am not exactly sure where to start. My initial thought is: Wow! Last week, I was beginning to wonder how this case, and all the strings of this incredibly tangled web, would twist together. All I can say is that the penultimate episode of this season, entitled “Black Maps and Hotel Rooms,” was an absolutely riveting hour of television, from front to back. The chickens have come home to roost, and we are left with Davis’s lifeless body in a car (a complete game-changer, I almost fell out of my chair!), Vinci ablaze in flames, and one of the three detectives dead as he attempted to chase down his past and hide who he truly was – something this season is making damn sure we know is futile.
I guess we need to just take apart all that unfolded piece by piece. And with Paul bleeding out after disposing of an entire crew of Black Mountain security forces (rebranded and now serving only one client), that is as good of a place to start as any. It turns out that Paul’s old security outfit and Vinci’s Chief Holloway were hired by the Catalyst Group and have been doing a whole lot of their dirty work. But what was interesting, at the end of that scene when Paul bursts forth into the darkness from the tunnels below, a man who we have had our eye on, Detective Kevin Burris, was the one to finally put Paul down (those weren’t rubber bullets this time!). Although Paul is the first detective to not make it to the end of the season (gunned down as his mom and fiance are watching Splendor in the Grass), Ani and Ray aren’t much better off, although they are making some damn fine use of the time.
CMT: Wow indeed! What a riveting episode. I don’t think I took one breath the entire hour as my eyes were locked on that screen. You know, while Paul was snooping around the police station looking for information on Detective Teague, there was that shadowy figure watching him through the stacks of books who I imagine was Detective Buress. But my only thought was this has to be the masked figure who shot Ray full of rubber pellets and the guy who so violently tortured and then killed Ben Caspere. This guy is dangerous. So when Paul went back to the detectives motel hideaway and was filling Ray and Ani in on what he had discovered, I was just waiting for the door to kick open and that shadowy figure to blast them all away. Luckily, that didn’t happen, but I can’t help but thinking that Ray and Ani’s sanctuary isn’t as secret as they hoped. I mean, Detective Burris must have followed Paul there, right?
MCS: It’s very possible, as it is easy to assume that Buress continued on, following Paul to the meet up with the man who turned out to be his old Army buddy, Miguel (Judas!) at the Hall of Records. I was not surprised at all that photos of Paul and Miguel showed up in this episode, as there was such a purposeful shot of Detective Teague taking photos of Paul just a few episodes back. It’s a shame to see Paul go out the way he did, shot in the back, as his police work has been exemplary. Let’s not forget it was he who discovered that there were crooked cops behind that 1992 jewelry robbery that basically started this whole conspiracy. But yeah, there is no way Ani and Ray are safe by any means. But they are aware of this, which means they will be on the offensive trying to figure a way out of their impossible situation. Since you bring them up, I would like mention that the bond that has slowly formed between them throughout the season, which was obviously heightened this episode, came to head in an authentic and profound way. The way in which they conspired to take comfort in other, despite all the suffering that has plagued them in the past, was convincing, and when they took each others hands, it was affecting and felt honest. Nobody, not even Ani, can convince Ray that he isn’t a bad man. And nobody, not even Ray, is going to be able to make Ani feel again (“Anything?”). But for at least that moment in time they had something, each other. Even if it is futile and short-lived, there is no question the catharsis of their embrace meant everything to them.
CMT: Their embrace was so powerful. I have to give the show’s director (Dan Attias, who has worked on everything from Miami Vice to Beverly hills 90201 to Alias to The Wire to Deadwood. A more seasoned vet you will not find) a load of credit for the tight camera shot and the way in which he made the scene just ooze with raw emotion. When Ray asked Ani, “Do you miss it?” to which she replied softly “What?” and he heartbreakingly asked “Anything,” really struck a chord with me. I realized that Ray and Ani had found a connection, one based on the idea that they were both so lost in life that they didn’t even realize they were missing out on it. It’s almost as if this world isn’t for them. That the places they come from and the “hurt” that made them who they are now (what we’ve been calling their original sin) has caused the paths they’ve taken in life to be self-destructive and to push away anyone who tries to get close. I felt like their embrace was borne of a mutual regret for the shit hand they had been dealt in life.
About halfway through this episode, I was thinking that the theme of “Black Maps and Hotel Rooms” had to be “Everything’s fucking,” as Ani’s sister so eloquently observes. But as the episode evolved, and the characters histories and motivations became more clear, it seems evident to me a better phrase would be “Everyone learns who they really are.” Ani learned that she might be unfair to people sometimes, to which her father, her sister and her partner Elvis who stepped up to protect Ani’s family all agreed, resulting in her getting an unheard of three hugs (“I bet that is a record”) in one day. Paul learned that he should not have been “trying to be a good man” as that’s something you don’t just try and unfortunately, him not owning up to his sexual past is what gave Chief Holloway and the Catalyst Group leverage against him. Frank learned that who he really is is someone who isn’t cut out to be bestowed with untold riches and power, but someone who could find peace and happiness in “catching his boat” with Jordan, the woman he loves. A woman who once worked at an Applebee’s, a place Frank could never imagine himself managing until Jordan remind him that the most important things in life can’t be bought with riches. And most importantly, Ray realized that even if he was “the bad guy,” he was no longer alone. That even though he would do literally anything to protect his son from finding out about his evil side, with Ani, he could be himself.
So what did you think of Frank’s henchmen with grandiose plans, Blake, and his offer of a “triple-cross”? He was, after all, just following another piece of Frank’s oft-spouted advice. I mean, it was Frank after all who taught Blake to make his own opportunities. Unfortunately, this one resulted in Frank’s dear friend Stan getting killed, Frank giving Ray the wrong name of the man who raped his wife, and a “secret war” being waged against Frank by the Russian Osip for the last year.
MCS: This tale of corruption and betrayal surely isn’t about winners or losers as True Detective, especially this season, dolls out pain, not awards. But just as easily as we could call Paul the loser of this episode, we could call Frank the winner. We have mentioned previously that Frank has been pushed up against the wall, as far as a man could possibly go, and with little to lose and the unchecked support of his wife, it’s going to be interesting to watch him push back. Not only did he help us get to the bottom of whom Ray actually killed (some meth-head who had it out for Blake), but the way in which he played Osip as if he was going to conform to his requests of managing the clubs was just brilliant (Osip bought the liens on both clubs, to wash all the money he plans on making working with the Catalyst Group). We also finally got to the bottom of who killed the now infamous Stan – as Blake owned up to it and the method he employed was to make it appear as if the same person who killed Ben Caspere, killed Stan.
Frank on the warpath, ripping gas lines and fucking up Blake was something else. He even handled Mayor Chessani with ease, letting him know that his smart-ass son has his mind set on his father’s “throne.”
CMT: It just seems like Frank has finally embraced who he truly is. A gangster who doesn’t let anyone fuck with him. That whole life he wanted, the one he tried to buy his entry into by giving five million dollars to Ben Caspere and the Catalyst Group was never meant for Frank. And this was something that Osip so smugly remind Frank about, telling him that he is more of a “manager” than a rich tycoon like him. But, I gotta tell you, Frank sure did a fucking calculated and cutthroat job of “managing” his affairs and screwing over Osip. Watching him burn down the last vestiges of his Vinci empire, secure safe passage out of the United States with fake passports, put in an order for a ton of heavy weapons and two fast cars, and tip off his criminal contacts that the Russians would be taking over Vinci showed Franks true flair for looking out for himself. He’s at his best when Jordan is by his side and the two of them seemed poised to make sure that when all this is over and done, those who tried to take advantage of them will be licking their wounds for many years to come.
It seems to me the crux of this case now rests on the missing woman Vera that Ani found at the high-end sex party. She’s the only one still alive who can testify to the existence of the blue diamonds and she has the knowledge that Tasha, who secretly snapped those incriminating photos at one of the sex parties, was most likely the woman who blood was found painted all over that wooden shed out in the Northern forests. How does this all link together to Mayor Chessani and the Catalyst Group? Were the blue diamonds stolen as a “buy-in” to the land grab that was going on around the rail corridor? And if so, who stole the diamonds and orphaned those two kids?
MCS: Those are certainly the questions we are left with. It is easily presumed that Tasha – who was described as a blabbermouth and Caspere’s favorite girl – was the one murdered in that shack in the woods, a place where those old rich perverts took those who misbehaved. Although Vera was dead set against testifying against Tony Chessani, Osip, Holloway and the Eyes Wide Shut crew, she was helpful in enlightening Ani about Tasha’s fate, and in identifying Laura (Caspere’s secretary) as one of the unknown women adjacent to a sleazy senator in one of her pictures.
Laura’s involvement is a puzzle piece I am having a bit of a hard time fitting. But from what I can tell Laura (aka Erica Johnson) was one of the children who was orphaned when the diamonds were initially first stolen by the cops – those cops being Burris, Dixon, Holloway and Caspere – who used that money to land themselves cushy jobs in the corrupt as all hell city of Vinci courtesy of Mayor Chessani. The fact that Caspere was involved in Laura’s parents killings gives her ample motive to have Caspere tortured and killed, and I assume we can expect to see Laura in the season finale, and comprehend fully how she fits into all of this. I wonder if her brother Leonard fits into this conspiracy somehow as well.
CMT: So it sounds like Laura could be season two’s Errol Childress. That’s an interesting gambit by Nic Pizzolatto, and one that he pulled off in season one as well. We only had a few short glimpses of Errol, and now Laura, but in the end his character was the needle that threaded the entire detective story together. But this still leaves one unanswered question for me and that has to do with Laura’s orphaned brother. Could it be that he’s the one who killed Ben Caspere, shot Ray full of rubber and killed Paul? Could Laura’s brother be a rogue cop seeking to exact vengeance on those who killed their parents? Could that be what this season of True Detective has been slowly, and brutally uncovering all season long?
MCS: Indeed. Those killings and the diamonds appear to be the genesis of our entire convoluted case. While many might find it either two coincidental, or possibly heavy-handed in general, I admire the writing in how all the pieces are sewn together. The way in which the city of Vinci, the proposed railway, Black Mountain who now works for Catalyst Group (okay, that is a bit much, I admit), the diamond heist, the sex parties, and The Good People are all connected is absolutely fascinating to me.
I cannot help but circle back to the murder of Katherine Davis, who Ray is now wanted for in an impeccable set up. That was a bomb that was dropped there, as literally the entire dynamic of the show changed with her out of the picture. Instantly, Ray, Ani and Paul went from being on the cusp of breaking the case wide open to fugitives with absolutely nowhere to turn. As if these three needed any more troubles, they now are out on the lamb, with no one to turn to besides each other – a scary thought to say the least.
CMT: Ray’s boisterous profession to Davis as he slid into her parked car “Boy do I have a story to tell you,” is the understatement of the entire season. This is a detective story as confusing and as elaborate as any I’ve come across before. If this season had stayed a strict “who done it story,” with the trio of Ray, Paul and Ani coming together to uncover who killed Ben Caspere, that in itself would have been intriguing enough. But by adding in all these tangential tales and paralleling storylines, it seems we have been overwhelmed with anecdotes and narratives that for almost the entirety of the season up to last night, have diverted us from the actual plot. Frank’s empire has crumbled and erupted into flames. Ani and Ray are left to fend for themselves in an ever enclosing sea of circling sharks. When backed into a corner, and left without any options except for one, a wild animal is bound to strike, even at its own expense, rather than resign itself to its fate. Frank, Ray and Ani have been backed into a corner by those who have used them to engineer their own success. But what I expect is that Osip, members of the Catalyst Group, and Mayor Chessani and his cronies, are all about to get a taste of what happens when you leave these characters only one way out.
MCS: Speaking of understatements, I also loved when Ray simplified the events from the sex party when talking with Frank, stating “I had a bit of a strange night.” Seems Ray has a knack for trenchant reduction. But I disagree with you when you speak of diversions. Focusing solely in on figuring out who killed Caspere and labeling everything else as overwhelming anecdotes and narratives, is a limited view of the scope we are dealing with here. What is special about this season is that it is so much bigger than season one. There are no distractions or diversions, but rather an entanglement of deceit where Nic Pizzolatto is shining the light on city and police corruption, international shady land deals, the sex trade, and beyond. All the pieces matter and the truth has been in front of us the entire time. But yes, by the looks of next week’s finale, everything is coming to a fervid boil. The twelve million dollar railway payoff goes down next week, and Frank is sure to show up to attempt to take what he feels he is owed. But I am not so sure this works out for Frank, as his final moments with Jordan in this week’s episode had an ominous feel. As he told her “I’ll see you tomorrow,” I had the distinct feeling that would not be the case, and I will be shocked if those two make it to Venezuela together.
“Black Maps and Hotel Rooms” was such a satisfying hour of television, as those loyal to the show were rewarded with not only the insight they so coveted, but were also privy to the fallout of the anguish that has both beaten down and driven our detectives all season long. As Ani exclaims “I’ve been waiting my whole life for that, I think I even went looking for it” we realize that she, like Ray and Paul, needed this case of a lifetime to come to terms with who they were. And as Frank comes to the realization that all his allies have turned their back on him, he too must face who he truly is and what he is capable of. The case may be the death of all the detectives, but the journey was vital, and like the old saying goes, it is the tough times that reveal who we truly are, and I cannot imagine a more treacherous predicament than the Caspere case to do just that.
True Detective’s second season has indeed been a late bloomer, but that flower is brilliantly exposed at this point, and with the show’s faithful on the cusp of the 90-minute finale, we are sure to be pulled further down the rabbit hole. But at least after this week’s pressure cooker of an episode, we understand more completely how that hole has been dug.