The big question on everyone’s lips is (or at least was): did Ray Velcoro really die at the end of episode two? The very fact that we’re asking that question says a lot of about society and our inflated sense of self and even our attitudes to death (but that’s a separate discussion right there, to be had over an open bottle of something… but, yes, people do die!). Back to Velcoro. Surely he died. Surely. You don’t take a couple of shots from a rifle at point blank in the torso and survive. Or do you? Perhaps you do. OR DO YOU?
It wouldn’t have been a bad thing if Velcoro had died. I’ve seen some people refer to this stunning twist at the end of episode two as True Detective’s ‘Psycho Moment’ – a ballsy bit of writing that kills off a main character relatively early in the story. Those lamenting Velcoro’s death might want to remember what happened in Alfred Hitchock’s Psycho. Marion Crane’s brutal murder in the shower at the Bates Motel was the precursor to something even darker and, well, better. Personally I thought the triumvirate of Velcoro, Woodrugh and Bezerrides was a case of three’s a crowd, and I was looking forward to seeing how Woodrugh – the least developed of the three main characters up to that point – and Bezerrides would fare on their own.
But of course Velcoro wasn’t dead. That was dealt with straight away in this episode and in the most curious and un-True Detective way imaginable – a dream sequence. We were back in the bar but instead of Frank Semyon sitting opposite Velcoro it was his grizzled cop father. On the stage, in spotlight, was a funny-looking Conway Twitty impersonator crooning The Rose. It was like a scene from a Coen brothers movie (the Big Lebowski to be specific) – or, as some friends stated, a David Lynch movie – and this dreamy sequence ended abruptly when Velcoro awoke from his slumber, feeling his torso and seeing that he had been shot not with bullets but with buckshot. The same sort of training stuff a cop would use (a clue or a red herring?). He had pissed himself during the process.
So Velcoro lived to fight another day. Initially I was disappointed, even felt cheated a little. I remember back to the end of the first series where either one of Rust Colhe or Marty Harte could have been killed (you can make a strong argument that at least one of them should have been), and I have to ask if Nic Pizzolatto has something against killing off main characters. I liked the classic build-him-up-knock-him-down set-up mini narrative manipulation of that first episode, which eventually led to Velcoro’s ‘death’. So much so I felt a bit cheated when he got up from his pool of piss, grimacing because of broken ribs and scorched skin.
Still, he was alive and there was no going back. It was back to the case, but not before Velcoro was back in that bar again, this time chatting with Semyon. The gangster, who had been having problems in the bedroom department as he and his wife (Kelly Reilly, currently wasted in this role) were trying the IVF route to conception, was starting to loose his cool. Add to domestic woes the fact that Ben Caspere’s killers were still at large and his property interests had all but gone up in smoke, it’s no wonder Semyon’s hangdog expression was starting to show some serious growl. The dynamic between the two had changed, that was for sure. Velcoro, who was abstaining from alcohol because he didn’t want to dull his anger, wanted answers. He not only wanted answers, he wanted out. This once again angered Semyon and when the barmaid asked if Velcoro was alright he answered that, “someone murdered him”. This presumably meant that even though Velcoro survived the shooting, the old Ray had gone. A bit like the old Frank had gone after he was locked in the basement as a kid.
After that it was full-on procedural. It was nicely paced, intriguing and there was an excellent balance between the development of the three characters’ personal stories and their screen time together. Bezzerides and Woodrugh investigated the Vinci mayor’s offensively gaudy and opulent mansion, where they met his hilariously accented son and vacant, Eastern European model wife; Woodrugh himself went walk-about into the city’s club scene to find leads on Caspere; and Bezzerides and Velcoro worked leads together at the end of the episode (Velcoro actually saved Bezzrides’s life as they chased a masked suspect who had set their car on fire).
Despite my disappointment that Velcoro didn’t buy it, it was another fine, engrossing episode where things were slowly opening out like an orchid blooming in-season. The three’s relationships are starting to strengthen, so much so I think their superiors – who have instructed each one to rat on the other – will get angrier as the series goes on and as more corruption is uncovered. I get the feeling there will be an us against them scenario on the table pretty soon.
The most interesting character in this episode was Paul Woodrugh. The man who had come back from a security detail in Iraq an angry and confused man had always felt like the least developed character, but in this episode we were given some morsels. He had gone to the track for a night out with his war buddy for a few beers, but ended up fighting with him after his friend let slip that ‘that thing between them’ is something that he doesn’t forget and often thinks about. Judging by Woodrugh’s angry reaction to this, this obviously sexual liaison and subsequent confusion still leaves him supremely angry. As far as Woodrugh is concerned, what went on in Iraq, should stay in Iraq.
Whereas Velcoro and Bezzerides seem to be two sides of the same coin – all alpha bravado, quick externalisation of emotions – Woodrugh is different. He’s introverted, seems to have trouble expressing his own emotions and feelings, or at least making sense of them, and is angry because of it. If anyone’s going to crack in this story it’s Woodrugh, although then again it could be a redemptive rites of passage journey for him. We’ll just have to wait and see.
With no supposed death at the end of this episode (although Semyon was giving his wife daggers right at the end), we were left with the image of a swimming pool, its surface shimmering in the moonlight.
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