There was a real sense of characters clearing the decks in this, the penultimate episode of the second series of True Detective, which, for narrative cohesion and pace, did the whole thing no end of good. Like the city of Los Angeles the story is set in, there are many layers to this story. Let’s face it too many layers, which have muddied the waters significantly and made this a stodgy and perplexing watch. But when you get to this stage of a series and the chess pieces are moving into place and everything begins to be stripped down, slipping away like braised meat off a bone… that’s when the real fun begins. And so it proved here in the best episode of the series so far.
After last week’s scene at the sex party, Woodrugh, Velcroro and Bezzerides had holed themselves up in a motel, fully aware of the consequences of their actions. The next few scenes saw each one of them take care of their business with the intention of preparing for a final showdown. With who they still didn’t know, but the message was clear – Chessani Jnr, the various city luminaries and the Russian/Israeli gangster Osip they had earwigged and stolen from would be after them. It was just a matter of time until they got to them, and their families.
Bezzerides, after recovering from her bad trip, sent her father and sister packing up to Oregon, Woodrugh took his pregnant fiancé and lush of a mother to a remote motel, while Velcoro went to find Davis. He found her alright, with a bullet in her chest, blood leaking out of her white shirt like split Rioja on a tablecloth.
The wagons were circling. Woodrugh began to receive anonymous texts, with pictures showing him in flagrante delicto with Miguel. Velcoro was being set up for Davis’s murder and an APB had been issued. There was also an APB out on Bezzerides.
Frank Semyon was also clearing the decks. After making his jumped-up assistant Blake spill the beans he toyed with him, finally ending his misery with a bullet to the stomach. Semyon had found out that Osip had pretty much screwed him out of everything – the land deals, the drugs, the girls. Everything. The Whispering Wardrobe decided enough was enough, and put a plan into action. But then Jordan walked in, and suddenly I was thinking, “has SHE got something to do with the coup d’état?”
“Don’t fight what you can’t change.” In this series of characters shifting identities, Semyon had laid it all out with that comment. And yet we saw more potential shifts – Elvis, Bezzerides’s ex-partner, had showed up to escort her family to their hideaway. Can we trust him? With the levels of corruption within the Vinci force and the tendrils of their plot reaching far and wide, Pizzolatto played this to perfection – every single character had the potential to be dodgy.
By the end of the episode Semyon had arranged false passports, took what was his out of the safe and torched the club before Osip and his comrades could get his hands on it. (While he was clearing his staff out, he sidled up to Chessani Snr, and delivered the line of the night: “Sober up, you might realise you’re getting fucked.”)
And then there was a tumble of information. Vera (who wasn’t too chuffed at being rescued) told Bezzerides about Tasha, confirming she was the unlucky person who provided all the blood and guts up at the lodge in the north of city; connections were made between Burris, Dixon, Holloway and Caspere, who were all involved in the jewellery store heist in 1992; and the orphans from the murders on that day, Laura and her brother Leonard, was fixed as Caspere’s secretary and a frequenter of some his ‘parties’ and a unit photographer on the movie set Bezzerides and Velcoro visited earlier in the series respectively.
But then it was down to Woodrugh. The angry, sexually repressed ex-army vet got another blackmail text, which asked him to meet in the tunnels underneath the city. Whenever anyone is asked to meet in tunnels underneath a city, this normally means that something bad is going to happen. It was slightly reminiscent of Cohle and Harte’s expedition into Carcosa at the end of series one, but this time the ending wasn’t so happy. Woodrugh had been sold out by Miguel, and even though he fought the good fight, he was gunned down by a snarling Burris. Out of all the three main characters, I felt Woodrugh was the least well-formed and developed, and what was there was felt clichéd. What’s the phrase? Three’s a crowd?
So we had two potential suspects for Caspere’s murder – Burris and Laura and her unit photographer brother. The latter is my choice – vengeance for the murder of your parents is a powerful motive.
Of course this episode wasn’t perfect – nothing has been in this series. While Woodrugh was fighting for his life down in the tunnels, Velcoro and Bezzerides were getting it on in their motel bolthouse. This felt too obvious and a bit of a cop-out, although there was a poignant exchange with dialogue that meant nothing and everything, again a True Detective staple. (Bezzerides: “You’re a good man.” Velcoro: “No… I’m not. What do you miss?” Bezzerides: “What?” Velcoro: “Anything?”). The dialogue throughout also had such high levels of exposition, it felt a bit like Jackanory at times. That’s what happens when you muddy the story with so many layers and characters – there has to be a moment when the levee breaks. If you leave it too late there’s almost an impenetrable fatberg of information that comes oozing out of the sewer. It’s then you realise that all the extraneous plot and the characters that came, went and then came back again mean nothing. (I mean, come on, who the hell was Tascha? And who can remember the scene on the movie site?) That has been the frustrating thing about this series. Yes, there had been seeds planted throughout the series, but there has been so much going on when the revelations have come they’ve felt like ‘huh?’ moments rather than ‘aha!’ moments. It needed to be much leaner and far less bloated.
But the momentum was so great in this episode, with the suspense at a series-high, that I found myself speeding through these scenes like I was riding a raft on some rapids. The penultimate episode gave a glimpse of what True Detective could have been.
Let’s see how it ends next week – after this rousing episode I’m looking forward to it.
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