In episode four of the first series of True Detective there was an urgent escalation. Rust Cohle went undercover to a drug dealer’s house and, himself strung out on all kinds of narcotics, involved himself in a terrifying, single-track shoot-out that became the stuff of legend. It was singularly the most intense scene I’ve ever experienced in a television drama, full of sense-altering effects and seamless choreography and direction. Sure enough, there was an escalation in the fourth episode of the second series of True Detective. I know I’ve said it’s unfair to compare the two series, but when something similar happens in the second story in exactly the same spot as the first, it’s hard not to.
Before we get to all the craziness, this fourth episode felt a bit lumpen. Lots of people I’ve spoken to have said that they’re finding this second series too slow and too ponderous. I understand that point of view, but I’m a fan of slow, percolating drama. I like it because it helps me to really luxuriate in the characterisation, embed myself in the rhythms of a city and a story. So I’m fine with any perceived slowness, as long as there’s progression and narrative momentum, which I do think this second series has had.
But this fourth episode did feel like the deep breath before the plunge, but not necessarily in a good way. We had Frank Semyon stomping around Vinci like a big angry wardrobe scowling at all his old, ahem, business associates as he desperately tried to build up his diminished fortune. His domestic life wasn’t great either, especially when he decided to start bossing his wife’s club again. Which, to Jordan Semyon, was a huge infringement on her territory.
Woodrugh was also having a bad day. Waking up with a hellish hangover and in his new young friend Miguel’s apartment, he rushed out, squinting into the bright LA sun flushed with self loathing only to be confronted with two more horrors: a gaggle of press who wanted to question him about war crimes in Iraq, and his beloved bike (his only means of escape) stolen. Into this mess drove Velcoro, who invited Woodrugh to choose his hangover cure from his glove compartment of tricks. Uppers? Downers? Vodka, sir? Why, I’ll have vodka, thanks. As Woodrugh wept, the now sober Velcoro dispensed advice to his broken colleague like a liquor store Gandalf. How the tables have turned. So much so, in fact, in their weekly bar meeting later in the episode, Semyon offered Velcoro a seat at the table of his new Phoenix-like business empire.
Bezzarides, meanwhile, had been reported by both her ex and her partner for sexual harassment, and was suspended from her precinct, only now able to work on the Caspere case as a ‘special detail’ like Woodrugh. She had suspicions that Mayor Chissani was behind this new development. In fact, the crazy Mayor smirked a ‘be careful out there’ as Bezzerides left the building to investigate a lead (Caspere’s watch had been found in a pawn shop with fingerprints on it). The team was off – before a proper squad of armed police could get there, naturally – to investigate a warehouse where the Mexican suspect hung out.
The warehouse was situated in an industrial part of the town, which just so happened to also be the location of a protest complete with lots of angry people waving placards about. You just knew something really bad was going to happen.
Soon enough there were machine guns brapping about, huge explosions, dead policemen with exploded heads, dead protestors and a bus-full of dead people (a BUS!) strewn across the street until it was just Velcoro, Bezzerides and Woodrugh left standing. They were all shaking like shitting dogs, except for Woodrugh, who was strangely calm in among all the carnage. You could tell from the way he slithered through the debris with precision and singlemindedness towards his prey that his brain had clicked back into soldier mode. He was the only one who had experienced such death in such volume before, and this scenario, while terrifying to everyone else, left him calm. It’s a series that, so far, has given us characters seemingly running away from who they really are and then slowly reverting back to type – Semyon’s respectable businessman veneer has disappeared as he becomes a street-level thug again; Woodrugh, once a soldier always a soldier, but still running away from his true sexuality; Velcoro’s slow redemption from bad guy back to good; and Bezzerides… hmm, not sure if she has changed too much just yet but I’m guessing there are some family issues that will soften her eventually. The shoot-out scene was the moment when Woodrugh reverted to type.
But the eight-minute scene itself? It completely jarred with the rest of the episode and the series. I guess that’s the point of an escalation in things, but the shoot-out was so enormous and so desperate to make a WOW moment it threw the whole kitchen into it along with the sink, and it felt more like an action movie or video game than a cerebral detective show. Entertaining yes; nourishing, no.
Once thing’s for sure though – the fall-out will be huge in episode five.
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