True Detective – Season 2 Episode 6
“Church in Ruins”
Children and childhood are overarching themes of True Detective’s sixth episode “Church in Ruins”. This also happens to be Kneel Before Blog’s 500th post! Here’s to the next 500.
Each protagonist deals with issues of childhood in some way; Semyon and Velcoro must contend with their own complicated families, whilst Woodrugh encounters the story of children caught up in the origin of the crime he’s investigating. Towards the end of the episode, Bezzerides appears to flash back to a traumatic point in her own childhood, that may go some way to explaining how she became the woman she is today.
Surprisingly, both Velcoro and Semyon survive the confrontation that was set up at the end of last week’s episode. Velcoro had arrived at Semyon’s door, presumably filled with murderous rage, after discovering that he’d been living a lie for the past ten years. Perhaps his thirst for an explanation allowed him to hear Semyon out, as the two end up seated across a table from one another. They’re each ‘concealing’ a gun in appearance only, as both men are fully aware of the imminent danger. This is an incredibly tense scene, as Vaughn and Farrell square off. Velcoro interrogates Semyon about his betrayal, and describes the ruin it’s made of his life.
The camera keeps returning to the guns under the table and a smash cut introduced by the flash of a police camera at the crime scene discovered by Bezzerides and Woodrugh last week provides a clever little jump in the middle of the confrontation – for a split second we think a shot has been fired.
Farrell convincingly pours his soul out to the man his character believes has done him such wrong. Semyon does his utmost to maintain his cool, and Vaughn handles this with a fine kind of simmering performance; calm on the surface, but conveying the turbulence beneath. Does it say more about Velcoro’s pliability, or Semyon’s way with words, that Semyon is able to talk Velcoro down from the ledge, and even back into his service?
The Velcoro/Semyon dichotomy is explored further through their interaction with children. As a result of the ongoing custody battle, Velcoro can only see his son under supervision, and this does little to help their already awkward relationship. The lack of understanding between father and son is emphasised by Velcoro’s gift of a model stealth bomber, when all his kid wants to do is watch Friends on TV.
Meanwhile, Semyon manages to connect with the son of his slain henchman, Stan. After opening with a line about what a good guy the kid’s departed father was, Semyon sees this approach is not working and changes tack. As a child of adversity himself, he’s able to impart some advice about using pain to better oneself that really seems to hit home. It’s a tender moment, as the kid moves in for a comforting hug, and Semyon’s wish for a child of his own is realised for a few fleeting minutes. Vaughn gets to take a welcome break from his tough guy act – he’s genuine and affecting in his communication with the boy, whilst also ably portraying Semyon’s reflection on his own childhood and longing to be a father.
After witnessing this physical and emotional connection between erstwhile strangers, we cut back to Velcoro and son, a relative gulf apart on a sofa, watching TV. The tragedy is more than apparent, as one man bonds with another’s son, whilst the other tries unsuccessfully to be close to his own. Later on, in a frantic montage, Velcoro lapses back into his old habits of drink and drugs. It seems to be a cathartic experience for him, as at the tail end of his cocaine and tequila binge, he calls his ex-wife and concedes custody of Chad. The one condition is that his son should never find discover that Velcoro might not be his biological father. The portrayal of Velcoro’s bender is typical of every on-screen drug spree that has ever come before it, however this sequence provides Farrell the opportunity to exhibit his range, as Velcoro ricochets through the pinball table of his emotions. The resulting aftermath is almost comical in its extremity, as Velcoro has managed to completely trash his apartment.
It falls to Paul Woodrugh to pursue the more procedural aspects of the investigation this week as he traces Caspar’s diamonds back to a jewellery store that was looted in the LA riots of the early 90s. The retired cop he interviews (a fine performance from Josh Clark in this supporting role) tells him about the methodical nature of the crime, suggesting there’s more to this than meets the eye. He also mentions the store owners’ children, and how he’s haunted by the fact that they witnessed their parents’ deaths and ended up foster care. It’s a shame that Taylor Kitsch doesn’t have much to do in this scene and ends up taking a back seat – it would have been nice to see a bit more from Woodrugh here, but the script just didn’t call for it.
Bezzerides’ role in the episode was established last week when she used her sister’s connections to gain access to one of the parties Caspar used to frequent. She talks with her sister about what to expect, whilst simultaneously brushing up on her knife skills in anticipation of confrontation. This is some of the most physical work we’ve seen from McAdams, and we buy it – she really comes across as a badass. Her sister gives her a painting of a woman drowning on dry land – a nod to their mother’s death, and also to Bezzerides’ current situation. When her sister asks her why she works so hard to be alone, she replies, “I find it really doesn’t take that much work.”
As the cops go over the plan to infiltrate the party, they discuss the potential dangers and the fact that she won‘t be able to carry any weapons. Woodrugh gives Bezzerides a transponder they can use to track her movements and Velcoro quips “Stick that somewhere”, he pauses and she looks back at him incredulously; “like in your shoe” he continues. It’s a funny moment in an episode that is growing increasing dark, and is another good example of the black humour that surfaces here and there an otherwise sombre series.
It’s a credit to the job Rachel McAdams has done embodying the tough cop Ani Bezzerides that we should be surprised to see how well she scrubs up for the party. Almost unrecognisable, dressed like a high-class prostitute and sporting a dodgy Eastern-European accent, she’s ready to go undercover. A panning shot of a dark Californian highway leads us to an even darker location – the mansion that will serve as the setting for the climax of the episode. There’s action here, a fairly rare occurrence for this season, outside of a couple of sequences, as Woodrugh and Velcoro covertly scope out the grounds, and subdue patrolling guards. It’s different sort of tension than we’re used to, but definitely welcome.
As part of the proceedings, the girls are given a concentrated dose of molly. Naturally, this hinders Bezzerides’ ability to investigate, but she tries her best to learn what she can about the party. As she begins to trip out, the scene becomes hazy and is underscored by dreamlike classical music. She notices the chief of Vinci PD socialising with some of the criminals and in an attempt to avoid them, ends up in the arms of an elderly suitor. The man tells her that she’s more his type than the rest of the girls. We can almost hear Pizzolatto’s writer’s voice as the man tells her that for him, “it’s just as much about the dialogue”. As the drugs begin to take more of an effect, Bezzerides suffers hallucinations, seeing images from her past – a man, possibly involved with her father’s new age religion, propositioning her as a child. We see hazy flashbacks, as the adult Bezzerides takes the place of her child self, and is led by the hand to the back of a VW camper. Clearly Bezzerides has become the tough cop she is today because of the experiences she suffered as a child. Now she’s out of her element again; she lacks control of her situation. The sequence becomes more and more troubling as Bezzerides spins out. The colours and the lighting of the mansion shift towards reds and ambers, the writhing bodies and sounds of the orgy taking place in the background add to the infernal atmosphere. She stumbles across the missing girl she’s been searching for and has the wherewithal to attempt to escape the hellish scene. This whole sequence is unlike anything we’ve seen in the season so far, and every element works perfectly in coordination to convey Bezzerides’ predicament. McAdams is transformed into a vulnerable child-like figure, and as she loses control of herself she opens up a side of the character we haven’t seen at all so far.
As Bezzerides suffers through her own personal hell, Woodrugh and Velcoro liberate some contracts involved in the land deal from the mansion. The episode ends somewhat triumphantly, as the cops manage to escape the guards and speed off into the night, towards a giant full moon, evidence and missing girl in hand.
This episode explores the characters relationships with childhood. Semyon and Velcoro deal with their respective issues with fatherhood and family. We learn more about the trauma Bezzerides suffered as a child and its lasting effects on her as a woman.
Semyon and Velcoro resolve their differences, for now. It’s a volatile situation that’s likely to explode sooner rather than later. Woodrugh discovers more about the stolen diamonds and their connection to the LA riots.
The cops investigate one of the sex parties involved in the Caspar case and escape with the land deal contracts and a missing girl in tow.
Woodrugh had little to do until the operation at the mansion, and a couple of TV tropes were utilised, but otherwise this was a great episode and sets us up nicely for the final stretch.