Surrealism, mobster ties, masculine outbursts — True Detective season 2 really is turning out to be … something. As our mystery broadens and our character studies tighten, this episode expands its influences to surrealist neo-noir for an interesting, if not puzzling, opening.
Whereas the rest of the episode is rather straightforward: Bezzerides, Woodrugh and Velcoro continue their investigation into sex workers and the mayor of Vinci, while Semyon starts to take back his criminal empire and focusing on the “criminal.”
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Surrealism and True Detective: Why?
Have you seen Twin Peaks? Nic Pizzolatto sure has! This season is chock full of Lynchian neo-noir genre surrealism, and I’m not entirely sure what to make of it yet. “Maybe Tomorrow” opens with the King — aka an Elvis impersonator — dressed to the nines and light on the stage singing an old song. We realize we’re in the bar with Velcoro, who’s having a chat with his dad in a booth about death and dying and not really dying. It’s all very surreal, you see, because Velcoro wakes up, alive and well hours later, after being shot with a riot bullet.
There’s a lot to unpack in this scene (and the later one with Velcoro and his father), but the one I can’t seem to get past is the elephant in the room: why? Why are we seeing this now? Why are we seeing this at all?
The obvious answer: it’s a classic TV fake-out from the previous episode’s cliffhanger. The opening scene is meant to shake off if Velcoro is actually dead or alive. Since we’ve been conditioned in recent years to expect the “unexpected” character deaths, it would be completely plausible that True Detective would kill off one of its main leads only two episodes in.
But it also feels … out of place. There are plenty of Lynchian moments this season so far (Vulture outlined them here), and we’ve known Pizzolatto to wax poetic last season with everyone’s favorite Rust Cohle. Yet the lapse into dream world still begs the question: why?
The show is only three episodes into this season’s commissioned eight, so it still has time to let things stir and sit. I find myself very conscious of what I’m being told and shown in each episode and asking why Pizzolatto decided to include it. Some of it surely just informs character and plot. Take, for example, that god-awful monologue from Semyon that opened the previous episode about clubbing a rat to death. Clearly, that’s supposed to tell us a lot about Semyon, even if what I gathered is that Semyon is boring and weird.
See also: confirmation that Paul Woodrugh likes men. His scene with an ex-Army buddy/former lover finally clicks Woodrugh into place — that he’s just a dude who likes other dudes but is deeply ashamed of this because … masculinity.
So why do we get that dream sequence here? Is it just a shout-out to another auteur? Or does it mean something larger? Dream sequences mean things in art and I’m curious (if not a little puzzled) as to where this is going, as well as the sex motif I mentioned in the previous recap. But I’m also frustrated because it’s a choice that feels like an outlier.
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Detective-ing and Stuff
What about the case (and that pesky mobster)? No problem.
This episode is void of flamboyant psychiatrists and a folksy performance (though we do get that surreal opening Elvis scene) to concentrate on Casper’s number one hobby: sex. After the investigation pulls samples from the sex spot where Velcoro gets shot, the investigation leads them to the Mayor of Vinci’s house, which is nowhere near Vinci. At all.
The estate looks like a 24/7 party scene in which the whole family is constantly on some kind of drug, like the trophy wife and her eye medication or the meathead son’s penchant for fake accents. The house is trashed and full of tons of illegal activity, and all we know for sure is that the Mayor is involved in some land deals.
Oh, and that the Mayor is beyond pissed that his name and family are being dragged into the investigation. In back to back scenes of Bezzerides debriefing the Ventura County and State Investigators, and Velcoro debriefing Vinci’s corrupt police and city workers, we learn that Casper is in deep with shady crap, no doubt. Bezzerides and Velcoro seem reluctant to drag one another in the mud just to seem cleaner by comparison, but time will tell who turns on the other first.
After digging into a safety deposit box full of blue diamonds, LLC documents and more, the investigation takes them to a film production being shot in Vinci, where Casper received a producer credit for allowing the proper permits for a film to be shot in Cali. One of the film’s transportation vehicles was missing.
Meanwhile, Paul Woodrugh (who we should just call Paul at this point) is checking into leads about Casper and his preference for sex workers. After asking around, he’s led into Semyon’s old club (where the two literally bump into one another).
Oh, yes, let’s get Semyon out of the way. After refusing to jerk off into a cup for a fertility treatment and then accusing his wife of being the problem (classy), Semyon spends most of the episode trying to regain his empire. Since the legal way is tied up into that whole Casper mess, Semyon busies himself with extorting money from construction workers and beating up insubordinates to prove who is king.
And, finally, Bezzerides and Velcoro track down a transportation driver in connection to the case who claims not to know or have done anything wrong when all of a sudden a fire breaks out — on Velcoro’s car. The masked assailant is caught in the act — the same one that shot Velcoro — and is chased by Bezzerides and Velcoro through a hobo camp into the highway, where Velcoro saves Bezzerides from being roadkill. His first request for his heroism? The dirt the state has on him.
And yeah, that’s it for the detective-ing.
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Other Thoughts About Things That Happen
- The shade — the shade — thrown at True Detective season 1 director Cary Fukunaga is felt here. Bravo, Pizzolatto, for being subtly at writing an Asian director the detectives must interview. Though, to be honest, I’m not quite sure what it means.
- I know the show is pairing up Bezzerides and Velcoro to be the main detective duo, but I much prefer Ani with Woodrugh in the car. I like their aggressive, cynical banter a bit more, plus we get to see Taylor Kitsch smile. So win-win.
- Ani breaks up with that deputy she’s seeing because it’s not working out for her. Good for you, girl.
- The Mayor of Vinci is just slime.
- I’m skipping a lot of parts with Velcoro because I’m honest-to-god stuck on that opening. What you really need to know is that Velcoro has an old man who doesn’t believe police investigating can work anymore and that his ex-wife is threatening to blackmail him into giving up on the custody battle in exchange for not dishing dirt on him to the state investigators.
- I’m still not sold on the mystery of this story, quite frankly, because all we know about Casper is that he really liked sex, money and power (which is just about everyone ever), but the specifics aren’t filled in too much yet. Hopefully, that will change once Semyon forces his way onto the case more.
True Detective airs Sundays at 9pm on HBO.
(Image courtesy of HBO)