True Detective – Season 2 Episode 3
In fairly surreal fashion, True Detective episode three begins with a musical number – Conway Twitty’s version of “The Rose” – inside Ray Velcoro’s head. Could these be the last flashes of electricity dancing through his dying brain? He’s at his usual seat at the bar; his own personal purgatory. Seated across from him, in full police uniform, is his father (Fred Ward). They are serenaded by an impersonator, bathed in blue light. His father is talking cryptically about Velcoro being pursued through trees and shot. As Velcoro looks down at his chest, cut to ribbons by the shotgun blasts he received at the end of last week’s episode, the scene shifts to show his motionless body, still lying on the floor of the house in Hollywood. The sun streaming through the window and the shot of the clock radio establish that several hours have passed since he was shot. Just as we start to believe that he could really be dead, he sucks in a violent gasp of air and clutches at his chest. “The old bulletproof vest bit” we think, but this time it’s riot police style rubber pellets that have spared Velcoro’s life. It’s a well-worn narrative trick, and a cheap one by today’s prices, but we should be willing to let it fly in order to spend more time with our new favourite anti-hero.
Later on we see Velcoro pay his father a visit, in a scene that could foreshadow Velcoro’s own future. They are both bad fathers; both drinkers. Velcoro discovers his father’s badge in the trash, and his father tells him that policing has changed. The way Velcoro addresses the badge with his hands, and his assertion that he’ll give it to his own son, should tell us that there is perhaps hope for him yet – he may not be completely lost. There are more nuanced touches from Farrell here, as he continues to use delicate physicality and facial expressions to embody the damaged Velcoro, and in particular, his fragile relationship with his father.
With Velcoro temporarily out of action, Bezzerides and Woodrugh investigate Vinci Mayor, Tony Chessani’s opulent Bel Air mansion. For the second time in as many weeks, Pizzolatto takes a shot at e-cigarette smokers. It’s a funny touch – a throwaway line – but gives some insight into the mind of the writer. At Chessani’s place, we meet the mayor’s trophy wife and his fake-tough-guy son. These characters are so broad and stereotypical that it’s tough to imagine them anywhere outside of a tv show. They do however function to demonstrate just how far Chessani’s corruption as taken him, which is pretty well removed from the mean streets of Vinci.
The stakes for the cops are being raised. Back at their respective HQs, Velcoro and Bezzerides are given the angles they’re now expected to work against each other. Vinci PD doesn’t want Bezzerides snooping too closely to their business, and it is suggested that Velcoro steer her towards putting the blame for Caspar’s murder on a pimp; a nice open and shut case. The State wants Bezzerides to bust Velcoro for being crooked. A promotion is even dangled before her in an attempt to get her to use seduction to get closer to him. Interestingly enough, both cops stand up to those above them. Velcoro thinks it would be a good time to be taken off the case as he tells his superiors “I ain’t exactly ever been Columbo”. Understandably, Bezzerides doesn’t exactly seem receptive to the idea of using sex to entrap a man she sees as nothing more than a burnout. McAdams continues to portray the stoic Bezzerides handily, although she still hasn’t had the opportunity to really stretch herself. Hopefully in coming episodes, her involvement with Velcoro will throw out further and deeper character development.
Woodhugh meets a friend from the military and we learn that the two were romantically involved at some point during their deployment. This is clearly something Woodrugh is trying to leave behind, and he storms off, unwilling to discuss it. He works the male and female prostitutes on the streets, looking for the hooker Caspar was with on the night of his murder. One shot sees him delivering some questions underneath a billboard advertising American Sniper – this is a nice parallel – a movie about a real soldier referenced in a tv show about a fictional one. In another metatextual touch, one of the male hookers tells him he’ll get nowhere with that “angsty cop drama you’re rolling”. Kitsch does a fine job of playing a man ill-at-ease with himself and uncomfortable around people and places that remind him of feelings he is attempting to suppress.
Partially recovered from his injuries, Velcoro joins Bezzerides as they look into a movie Caspar with which Caspar had been involved. This puts the Californian setting to good use as we’re treated to some scenes on the other end of the camera. The film on which Caspar had been a producer turns out to be a Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic affair, and it’s fun to see the punked-up extras and sets filling the background of these shots. It turns out the car used to transport Caspar’s body on the night of his murder belonged to the studio, and this leads the cops to the driver’s house. As they question him, the car is set ablaze by a masked man, whom the cops proceed to chase through an iconic Los Angeles tent city, beneath a towering highway overpass. Bezzerides is determined to catch the suspect, running out into traffic. Velcoro has to dive to push her out of the way of an oncoming truck, reinjuring himself in the process. Despite the fact that the masked man is only a couple of lanes away, Bezzerides gives up the chase. Perhaps she was concerned for Velcoro, but this is frustrating – he’s right there – this is the best lead they’ve had in their case, but Pizzolatto employs an old trope to let the suspect slip away.
Semyon’s arc in this episode sees him asserting his position in the criminal underworld. Early on we find him exerting pressure on a business partner in order to squeeze more money from their relationship. Later, after one of his men is killed, Semyon lays down the law to assembled gangsters. Vaughn is flexing his figurative and literal muscles here. He’s believable as the irate crime boss, but unfortunately, less convincing in a fist fight. He’s an intimidating physical presence, but his moves just don’t quite hold up. Earlier on, we saw him argue with his wife over their trouble conceiving. When Semyon returns home to her, she asks him if they can make up. “Maybe tomorrow”, he tells her softly, as the episode draws to a close.
In the resolution to last week’s cliff-hanger, Velcoro survives the shooting.
The plot thickens as the cops are given orders by their superiors. Each department has angles they are trying to work – Vinci wants the case wrapped up quickly; the State wants proof that Velcoro is bent.
We’re given slightly more insight into Woodrugh’s past, and his failure to accept himself for who he really is.
Caspar’s business is revealed little by little (the Hollywood stuff is nice) although we really don’t find out much more by the end of the episode.
Semyon is determined to assert his power in the wake of losing his money and dealing with his troubled home life.
Velcoro and Bezzerides had a shot at a suspect, but let it slip away. How much closer will they get next week?