Review: True Detective (S2 E5/8), Monday 20th July, Sky Atlantic

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Last week’s episode employed shock and awe tactics to jolt us out of any potential lull we were feeling during this second series of True Detective. The shoot-out was a finely choreographed mess, but a jolt it was nonetheless. Some would argue you shouldn’t need this kind of explosive scene to bring a series to life and that the momentum any human drama provides should be enough to keep us gripped. Some would also argue that this series hasn’t provided that. Whatever your opinion I was fascinated to see how the characters would react after the trauma of the shoot-out, and I found out more or less straight away. By the way, this episode could well have been subtitled “The One Where Velcoro Lost His Moustache” or “The One Where They Lost Everything And Then Regained Everything”.

The themes of shifting identities was another ever-present in this episode with our trio of detectives, as well as gangster Semyon, the culprits again. In the immediate aftermath of the hyper-kinetic shoot-out at the end of the fourth episode, Velcoro, Bezzerides and Woodrugh had all, predictably, been changed profoundly by the experience, both mentally and vocationally. Velcoro had had a shave and quit the force, taking up a job as a security man; Woodrugh was now an fraud detective, fighting off a lawsuit from the young actress who had accused him of sexual harassment; and Bezzerides was now in uniform, confined to logging in evidence at the precinct and attending anger management classes.

The first scenes of this episode made me feel like we were back at square one again – any momentum in the Caspere case (and it had been slow up to that point anyway) had been lost, while any kinship that had gestated between the three cops had been stalled dramatically, with all of them being scattered to all parts of the city. It left me wondering how they were actually going to solve this murder in eight episodes.

Semyon, too, was changing again. His desperate plight to regain his fortune saw him iolate himself more and more. He took on some comically stereotypical Mexican gangsters, he harassed Mayor Chessani and the relationship with his wife deteriorated to almost the point of no return.

For Velcoro and Woodrugh, it took money to shift them back into police mode. Velcoro was told that his paternity plea would cost a lot of money, while Woodrugh’s neglige-wearing, booze-guzzling lush of a mother had spent the $20,000 he had earned while out in Afghanistan. They were both in desperate need of money, so when they were offered the chance of coming back onto the case by Davis they were in. Especially when Davis offered Velcoro the guarantee of getting his son back. Bezzerides, meanwhile, just needed to get back out of uniform and start looking for both Vera and Caspere’s murderer again.

Semyon, meanwhile, received a right old talking to from Joan, and, on a dime, decided to go back home with her and snuggle in front of the television, like normal couples do, instead of motionlessly watching over the club from upon high again.

This domestic peace was shattered at the end of the episode when a furious Velcoro almost smashed the door down – he had found out that the man Semyon had told him had raped his wife was not the man who raped his wife. The real culprit – a serial rapist – had been caught mere days ago. Semyon had designed the whole thing to get Velcoro onside and in his pocket. Did this mean Velcoro kill a man on the whim of Semyon and not the vengeance he thought he was attaining? We were left wondering if Velcoro would get his own revenge against the his former ‘friend’.

Again, two characters shifting and morphing into one thing and back to another, right before out eyes.

The scene where Velcoro realised he had been duped allowed Colin Farrell to really let go – he had to hold back the tears and was barely able to conceal his shaking rage until Davis had left him to ruminate on Semyon’s betrayal.

But what of the Caspere case? I admit to feeling frustrated in the first half of this episode, and all the personal sub-stands (Semyon and his wife’s relationship woes; Velcoro and his ex-wife’s paternity case; Bezzerides’s anger issues; Woodrugh’s relationship with his mother, wife-to-be, mother-in-law-to-be and with himself in regards to his repressed sexuality) should have had greater emotional whack, but because we’re so eager to get going on the Caspere case they felt like diversions rather than nuanced character studies. As Bezzerides said to Velcoro as the gang got back together again: “It’s never too late to start over.” She wasn’t kidding.

Eventually though, and almost out of nowhere, there felt as if there had been some progress by the end of the episode. Bezzerides was still looking into the disappearance of former Panticapaeum Institute and Sonoma club employee Vera. Before she went missing she had posted to a PO box a series of photographs she had managed to sneakily take at a sex party, attended by some big names in politics and local business.

Bezzerides and Woodrugh went to the last address Vera was known to have called from, and there they found a chair in a cabin, shredded Duct tape on the arms and pools of dried blood crusted on the floor. They had found something. As had Velcoro, who paid a visit to Dr Pitlor, who, after a bit of old-style rough stuff (“Pin-eyed motherfucker,” Velcoro growled as he meted out the beating), had spilled some beans about he, Caspere and Tony Chessani’s role in a prostitution ring, which also doubled up as a blackmailing operation. This is obviously what got Caspere killed.

Semyon, too, had new information – the businessman who had denied him his share in the construction project had told him Caspere had made videos of some high-ranking people at these high-end call girl parties and he wanted them back. If Semyon succeeded, the land would be his.

So now we’re starting to get somewhere. High-end prostitution rings, Chessani junior, Caspere and Pitlor being in it knee-deep… it’s all here. It just took a bit of time to get on the right track. Let’s hope it stays there.

Paul Hirons

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