The strength in season 1 of True Detective lied in the tension of its structure. Our protagonists recalled the events of their partnership in the ’90s with where they ended up in the present as the mystery of the murders unfolded while the detectives faced bureaucratic corruption. Season 2 doesn’t have that exact tension in its structure, but it does have a taut tension between its investigation.
Each member of the investigating team — Detective Ani Bezzerides (Ventura County Sheriff’s Office), Officer Paul Woodrugh (California Highway Patrol) and Detective Velcoro (Vinci Police Department) — has their own self-interest in the investigation, which sets the groundwork here far better than the premiere ever could.
After the premiere’s meek introduction, this episode, “Night Finds You,” begins to set up the stakes and the storylines as we’ve become more attuned with who’s who. I understand why we needed time to see each of these people in their day-to-day lives, but it almost feels like an episode wasted compared to what this episode does.
If season 1’s tension was derived through storytelling devices, then season 2’s is more straightforward, more interested in the direct conflict between its characters and their causes. It’s an interesting way to frame the season, though more conventional, but it’s beginning to feel more confident and less expository for its material moving forward. Let’s begin.
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Serving the “Public Interest”
Each detective is repping a larger interest into Ben Casper’s (the City Manager of Vinci) murder. I love the fact that no really cares to solve this guy’s death because he’s a human being. Solving crime to save the face of humanity is so CBS’ MO. On True Detective, it’s to further your own agenda. To each detective and Semyon’s string-pulling criminal, investigating Casper is a means to an end for different “public interests” — which is code for self-interest, whether that be politics or power.
For Woodrugh, it’s simple: stay on as an investigator (even though he’s only an officer) so he can give the state access to investigate the grimy, corrupt community of Vinci, which we learn produces the most pollution of any California city. In exchange, he’ll grab a gig as a detective and be reinstated, with a clean record expunging his solicitation charge of a troubled actress (which is a dubious claim given his impotence).
Woodrugh’s clearly dealing with some heavy PTSD from his stint in the army and could give a crap about being an investigator. He’d rather just be on patrol, being all suicidal and dealing with massive issues about sex. His girlfriend promptly dumps him for “not being right” (a clear theme amongst our protagonists in this episode) and his mother borders on hitting on her son. It’s not clear where Woodrugh’s storyline is heading, but it’s bound to clash with the other detectives.
Bezzerides is leading the detail so the state can also get an “in” into the bent world of Vinci, which was used and abused by LA’s local underbelly and corporations. Bezzerides’ mission is to become close to Vinci’s crooked cop, Velcoro, to further investigate Vinci.
Velcoro’s on the task to protect the money Vinci rakes in via its harmful polluting toxins and industrial business, which is worth about $900 million in the last year that’s conveniently out of the County General’s grasp — now we know why Ventura County is so pumped to investigate.
And, finally, we have Semyon (which sounds a lot like “simian” — get it? Like primates? Ugh), who really wants to know why his business partner — who had $5 million of his money on him — was murdered so he can collect his borrowed money from the murderer. Semyon put all the eggs in Casper’s basket so he could bid on land to make his money legitimately.
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Let’s Sorta Talk About Sex, Baby, and Other Noticeable Threads
Sex is already a big running motif to the show, as demonstrated by Ben Casper’s own provocations for BDSM, hookers, sex, the works. Tortured, mutilated and murdered. Shot gun blast to the groin, eyes gouged out via hydrochloric acid, Casper’s been pretty brutally murdered, and it’s not’s clear as to why, only that the dude was a bit of a sex fiend.
Sex permeates its way through most of the characters. In Woodrugh, we see intimacy issues, possibly a combination of a touchy-feely mother and PTSD. Plus, there’s plenty to make of that homophobic line he makes to another detective. Is Woodrugh “in the closet” himself? (Side note: I have very little faith that True Detective can execute this idea without any blowback or controversy.)
Bezzerides’ name is literally Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus and his mother, Jacota. She searches for porn — for work or pleasure, it’s unclear. She also grew up in a commune, which she hints at as being terrible. And, finally, there’s Velcoro, a man driven from decency to kill his wife’s rapist (as far as the rumor mill goes).
There’s not a lot going for Velcoro, as his ex-wife rightly describes as a “bad person.” That crazy, over-the-top energy is thankfully absent in this episode, even though we can see he’s hanging on by a thread. His kid’s scared of him, his wife hates him and he’s basically a bent whipping boy for Semyon.
Oh, Yeah, the Investigation
I know that this is a detective show (for god’s sake, it’s in the title), but I always thought the strongest parts of True Detective in both seasons are the ideas it conjures. A “whodunnit” is only as interesting as its characters and ideas, but I get that some people are really just in it to learn who killed who. So…
The investigation takes the team to Vinci City Hall to interview the mayor, who likes to do power plays. It takes them to Casper’s psychiatrist, who mentions he was sex-obsessed. Pair this with his monthly cash withdrawals and it appears that Casper really liked hookers and sex. With some digging via Semyon, making a fine if not intimidating detective, the “investigation” uncovers Casper’s secret Hollywood apartment designed just for banging.
Velcoro investigates the eerie scene: a pool of blood on the floor, a camera and sound recorder in the bathroom and some jazzy music playing. And then the weirdest of sights: a raven-masked, gun-wielding man sneaks up on Velcoro and blasts him with two gunshots to the stomach.
Did True Detective just kill off one of its movie star leads in the first two episode? If so, that’s ballsy, and I’m okay with that as Velcoro’s the definition of a loose cannon. If he has been killed of, I’d also be pretty pissed that we spent so much time on him without really understanding his character. And if so, I can’t help but think that writers are just killing off characters for the fun of it these days.
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Other Observations and Thoughts
- Velcoro’s ex-wife, Alicia, is played by Abigail Spencer, who just kills it. If you have the time, you should absolutely check out her show Rectify. (It’s on Netflix — just watch it!)
- Bezzerides mentions that the difference between the sexes is that one can kill the other with their bare hands. That’s why she has all of those weapons on her at all times. I feel like that one line explains her entire character a lot.
- Semyon’s opening speech about being in the darkness and paper mache is … boring. There — I said it. What’s worse is I’m not sure why it’s there. But I’m not exactly sold on Semyon as a character, so perhaps the coming weeks will enlighten me.
- That said, Semyon clicks for me more in this episode because we can see clearly that he’s trying to be two different people. The man who wants to go legit but is uncomfortable by this setting and the man who’s more comfortable sending goons to beat and threaten a man. More mobster Vince Vaughn, please.
- Most Pizzolatto Line of the Night: It’s a tough call, but Velcoro wins with, “We get the world we deserve.” Not sure how true that is (re: at all), but it’s memorable for Velcoro’s self-awareness.
- Shots of the LA Freeway: 7.
True Detective airs Sundays at 9pm on HBO.
(Image courtesy of HBO)