Who is a “true” detective? More importantly, what drives a “true” detective? Is it someone with noble intentions to preserve truth, justice and the American way? Is it someone who will investigate the truth, no matter the ethical gray areas they may encounter to get to the bottom of the answer? Or is it someone who is simply just willing to investigate a case for their own personal interests? This episode of True Detective, “Church in Ruins,” attempts to answer these questions by focusing on the two most “unlikely” detectives: Frank Semyon and Ani Bezzerides.

A gangster and a former cult kid make up two parts of this season of the squad (the others being the archetypal crooked cop and army vet), and it’s an odd choice, but as we see in this episode, their roles in the investigation clearly outline what True Detective is all about.

Semyon is a class-A gangster swept up in the murder investigation of Ben Caspere because the city manager held in his possession the money to make Frank go legit. Bezzerides is a trained detective of Ventura County who ditched her unconventional and tragic childhood living in a commune. 

They haven’t met yet, but the two are on parallel paths in a way that Woodrugh and Velcoro are not: the case means something to them, personally. Semyon might define his life into before and after — and we literally meet him at the time of his most recent before and after while he’s trying to go legit — but he’s not immune to the after effects of his own investigation. Meanwhile, Bezzerides (who’s the real hero of the story, honestly) finds her missing girl Vera, but at a cost of maybe killing a man. 

Despite harsh criticism by fans and critics alike for season 2, there’s still plenty of interesting things happening just by turning to the conceit of the show itself. Of course, we’re still forced to witness Semyon monologues, but so it goes.

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Velcoro May Be a Good Father?

The previous episode’s “cliffhanger” saw Velcoro and Semyon face off after the reveal that Velcoro may have been set up. They both have guns under the table ready for a Mexican shootout (which Frank later says is on his bucket list, but with Mexicans) and it’s tense. But it’s also episode six, and Pizzolatto already pulled those early death punches in episodes two and three. 

What you need to know is that these two besties are sort of relieved they don’t have to kill one another. Semyon swears he didn’t set Velcoro up to kill a different kind of scumbag; Velcoro is mostly over his bull but relays recent case information anyway. Semyon’s even a little happy he doesn’t have to kill one of his only friends before Velcoro of all people says that’s sad. He’s not wrong.

In a competition for whose life is saddest on True Detective, I keep coming back to the idea that Velcoro has it the worst, if only because he’s directly responsible for his misfortunes. He exploded on his son and now his son hates him. He ruined his marriage to his wife. As Frank says, dude had a choice, one he was probably waiting to choose for a long time.

Velcoro’s devotions to being a stand-up dad puzzle me. On the one hand, he nearly beat up his son’s bully’s family that one time. On the other hand, he’s fighting his ex-wife at every turn to get custody of his son, who he most likely knows isn’t even his biological son. He clearly loves him, but it’s less paternal love than it is clinging to the one good thing in his life. 

After a session of alcohol and all the cocaine everyone from the ’70s did, Velcoro gains the clarity to give up custody of his son, for good and forever. As long as his ex-wife never reveals to their son his paternity, he’ll stay away.

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Ani Bezzerides is the Best Detective, Probably

Of all the “true detectives,” Ani’s intentions remain the most noble. Why is she investigating Caspere? Because no one cares that a girl named Vera is missing except Ani, and that’s pretty rad.

Ani Bezzerides is my favorite of the four detectives by far and then some. She’s just as masochistic and masculine, just as depressed and self-hating, maybe. But she actually cares about her job and these women, which is something this season has sorely lacked from. Rust and Marty gave a crap when they discovered that women and children were involved. Ani is the same.

Bezzerides gets all dressed up (reminding us that Rachel McAdams is still lovely and feminine) to go undercover and is sent on her way to the Molly-fueled slaughterhouse — I mean, orgy. Are you bummed at the lack of gratuitous female nudity on True Detective this year? Not to worry! Plenty of rich and powerful men have invited a parade of sex trafficked women for a romp, just with armed guards out there.

While Woodrugh and Velcoro break into the estate to find and retrieve Bezzerides, Bezzerides is too lost in the job to do any real detective-ing. She’s just Ani, the little girl who was molested as a child by one of the commune’s goers. Suddenly, so much about Ani’s psychology is clear — her guarded and untrusting attitude toward men — but it also doesn’t reduce her entire character to her sexual assault. Too often in storytelling, women are just nameless victims, or worse, their entire internal life revolves around this.

The revelation of Ani’s tragic childhood sheds light on her character and why she may be so invested in this case in particular, but it feels like there’s a lot more to Ani than that. There’s an actual compassionate soul buried deep down that makes her an excellent, if not masochistic, detective.

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Other Thoughts

  • What’s with that choice of score as Woodrugh and Velcoro sneak into Camp Orgie? Was the director watching Murder, She Wrote reruns?
  • Paul Woodrugh’s mostly here for jokes in this episode. I chuckled when he’s scolded for playing with Ani’s knives, but I honest to god laughed out loud when he reads the files he stole on the getaway car. Poor Ani’s lamenting how she may have just killed a man and Pauls’ focused on the paperwork. He really doesn’t get women at all.
  • The weirdest part/worst part of this season by far is anything to do with Frank and his wife, whose name I have to look up every episode (it’s Jordan). Jordan’s contributions to this episode? Hold the hand of a widow and shove some money at her. 
  • Shots of the LA Freeway: 5.
  • Most Pizzolatto Line of the Night: “You know me. You just didn’t know you did.” As delivered by Velcoro, to the guy she should have killed for his wife’s rape. No big deal.

True Detective airs Sundays at 9pm on HBO.

(Image courtesy of HBO)

Emily E. Steck

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV