I’m happy to admit that I wasn’t looking forward to this episode. Knowing HBO’s penchant for gratuitous nudity, the prospect of Ani Bezzerides going undercover at an Eyes Wide Shut-style sex party made me uneasy. I was expecting wall-to-wall, highly stylised cavorting the likes of which would make Game Of Thrones blush. Throughout these past few episodes the developing strip-club-high-class-prostitution-ring-blackmail-scam-Eastern-European-gangster storyline has felt clichéd and something we’ve seen before time and time again in US crime drama, both on the big and small screens. We’ve seen these storylines in LA Confidential (the high-class prostitution rings), in Chinatown (especially the brief storyline of the contaminating of farm land, one of many storylines that seems to have come and gone in this series) and countless others, and now we’re seeing it again and all of it at once.
Before we get to the much talked-about orgy scene, there were some loose ends to be tied up from the last episode. Namely a showdown between Velcoro and Semyon, after the cop found out the man who Semyon told him had raped his wife (and subsequently took out) was not the man who raped his wife. They sat facing each other on opposite sides of a dining table, with each man training a pistol on the other underneath the table. It was like the scenes from the bar in the first few episodes, where these two men – whose moral boundaries blurred and bled into each other’s – sat and talked. Except this time Velcoro and Semyon were back to their original character types having undergone transformations and regressions, the push and pull of greed and power, loss and vengeance, happiness and legitimacy always threatening to change who they really are. They had settled on their respective courses, despite flirtations with different versions of themselves.
The scene also reminded me of Star Wars, when Greedo the bounty hunter cornered Han Solo in a dark corner of that famous Mos Eisley cantina. Like Star Wars you wondered who was going to shoot first.
But neither did.
Instead, Semyon batted away Velcoro’s rageful accusations and… erm… Velcoro said yeah, ok then. And then just like that he appraised him of how the case was going, while Semyon told him about the memory stick he wanted to retrieve. Another instance where a confrontation could have been more dramatic, and arguably another instance where Pizzolatto guided us to the edge and pulled us back without having the guts to go all the way.
For Velcoro it signified another shift in identity, and he went on a huge booze and coke bender to help revert back to type. Semyon meanwhile was doing the same – he was staging his own investigation and putting on the squeeze on the Mexican gang he had staring competition with a few episodes ago as he looked for the woman who had the memory stick with the incriminating orgy evidence on. He was back to being a common heavy, sitting in warehouses and overseeing the torture of someone he wanted to get information out of.
I was quite intrigued by the whole idea of shifting identities a few episodes ago, of characters changing then morphing back to their original form. But during episode five I was beginning to become frustrated by this device, only because it felt all a bit too clumsy and one character morph too many. It’s one thing to two and fro and to yin and yang, but at the expense of narrative thrust and momentum? No thanks. There are only so many times you can muddy the character waters before you have no idea where you’re going. As I mentioned in my review last week, all the supposedly emotional back story greenery – which should have some oomph – felt like window dressing only, and everything in this episode was the same. Frank’s kind words for his murdered former associate’s son and Velcoro’s doomed attempts to bond with his son just washed over me, although it was interesting to note that they were both fatherly scenes.
Before we get to the orgy scene, there was one interesting development. Woodrugh was investigating the provenance of the recovered diamonds that went missing from Caspere’s place (or were they stolen? I honestly can’t remember). They were traced back to a robbery of blue diamonds in 1992, during the LA riots. A retired cop who worked the case explained to Woodrugh that the robbery was made to look like looting but the husband and wife proprietors were both taken out execution style. Their two children had witnessed the whole thing and had to hide until the coast was clear. Could these two children, with vengeance on their mind, have links to the Caspere murder? Or is this just another cul-de-sac that we’re being led down?
With these questions percolating away, it was finally onto the orgy scene. Bezzerides had warmed up for her big undercover mission by stabbing the heck out of a dummy in her living room, and when she turned up at the house (after being ferried over by bus with all the other working girls) she was primed and ready to go, complete with black wig and tight-fitting dress. As she and her new sex worker chums were lined up, a madam sprayed a substance into each of their mouths. To help get you in the mood said the woman next to her. It wasn’t long before Bezzerides was tripping out, stumbling about the house, picking her way through thickets of naked bodies, seemingly rutting in every nook and cranny in every room and on every floor. She was starting to spin out, seeing demons everywhere, including a bearded man from her childhood who had led her to an open Camper Van, the promise of unicorns in the woods if she accompanied him.
It wasn’t long before Bezzerides thought that enough was enough. While Velcoro and Woodrugh were beating security guards to a pulp and stealing documents from the downstairs office, Bezzerides went into the bathroom, stuck her fingers down her throat and made herself sick in the hope that whatever was in her system would leave her system immediately. (Although if she had ingested a vapour, this wouldn’t work, surely.) As she turned, she noticed Vera – her long-standing missing person’s case whose existence and significance to the story I had long forgotten and stopped caring about – slumped in the corner. She grabbed her and made for the exit, not before she finally used her prodigious knife skills on a security guard blocking her way.
As Bezzerides, Woodrugh and Vera managed to dodge bullets, Velcoro picked them up and off they went, speeding into the LA night. At once it was an unintentionally hilarious and brilliant scene, which sums up this series in a nutshell.
The orgy scene wasn’t as gratuitous as I was expecting, although the sex bits you did see were so ridiculously porn it was unreal. But of more importance was Bezzerides’ reaction to sex and the emergence of her demon from the past. Speaking of demons from the past, this scene was reminiscent of the undercover sequence in the first series of True Detective, where a drugged up and strung out Rust Cohle stumbled around a drug dealer’s house before emerging unscathed, to be picked up his partner. While this scene featuring Bezzerides wasn’t quite as buttock-clenching, it was well done and made for tense viewing. I should also note that the music seemed to change during this scene, too, into something very Bernard Herrmann-sounding. Which, if you’re a Herrmann fan like me, was most agreeable.
And this is the thing with True Detective. Although this second series hasn’t been all plain sailing and it’s all been a bit of muddle (to the extent that sometimes I have no clue what’s going on), there are moments (scenes and lines) were it still beats a lot of crime dramas on the box into a cocked hat.
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