True Detective – Season 2 Episode 2
“Night Finds You”
True Detective episode two opens with an exploration of Frank Semyon’s psyche. He’s lying awake in the hours just before dawn, contemplating the water stains on the ceiling of his bedroom. As we learn from his confession to his wife Jordan (Kelly Reilly), these remind him of a childhood trauma, experienced at the hands of his alcoholic father. Semyon explains that whenever his father hit the bottle, he would lock young Frank in the basement, and on one particular occasion this ordeal lasted for several horrifying days. This lingering shot is incredibly intimate – Justin Lin’s camera is locked in an unflinching close up of Vaughn’s face, capturing every reflexive flick of the eyes and creasing of the brow. The revelations in this scene are not limited to the unearthing of Semyon’s troubled past; they extend to Vince Vaughn’s ability to cast aside the clownish persona for which he is so well known, and truly inhabit the corners of this complex character’s mind. The stains on the ceiling invoke Rorschach test inkblots, and this ties in nicely with the window we’re being given into Semyon’s psychology. Another nice touch is the match cut as these ‘inkblots’ fade into Ben Caspar’s eroded eye sockets as his body lies on the police medical examiner’s table.
Velcoro, Bezzerides and Woodhugh are being given the grizzly details of Caspar’s murder. Velcoro is visibly shaken as the doctor lifts the sheet to reveal the point blank shotgun wound to Caspar’s groin. Interspersed throughout this scene are cutaways to meetings of the various branches of California law enforcement to which the three cops belong. This serves to establish the working relationships between the protagonists, and also the motives of the departments they represent. Woodhugh is approached to work as a special investigator for the State. The incentive being dangled before him is the potential for a permanent position, although he says he just wants to go back to his bike. Bezzerides is briefed that she’ll be working with Velcoro, but that her supervisors believe that he’s bent. Meanwhile, Velcoro is being told that he needs to keep a lid on the corruption at the heart of the city of Vinci: its police department and the mayor’s office. When asked if he understands, he replies, “Just one question… am I supposed to solve this or not?” This institutional rot mirrors the description of the city given to Bezzerides – it’s established that Vinci is an industrial blot on the landscape of the state, so it seems fitting that the administration is equally as toxic.
This sequence works well, not only recapping the murder at the centre of the first episode, but also reiterating the positions of the main characters. In the first episode we were introduced to them as people – here we’re shown them as professionals.
Later, the narrative threads really begin to intertwine like the highways surrounding Vinci, as Semyon explains his deal with Caspar to an associate. This plays out in a slightly clunky walk-and-talk, during which we discover that Semyon’s transaction with Caspar never officially went through, and Semyon has nothing to show for his five million dollars. To compound matters, he’d gone all in with Caspar and has absolutely nothing left. Semyon swears he’ll to get to Caspar’s killers, and now finds himself hunting the same guy(s) as Velcoro, Bezzerides and Woodhugh. It seems harsh to criticize Pizzolatto’s dialogue here as he needs to convey the state of Semyon’s deal with Caspar, but it shouldn’t be necessary to explain step-by-step that a gangster needs to go through a holding company in order to invest his money in legitimate business.
Velcoro’s crumbling relationship with his son erodes further as he’s rocked by his ex-wife’s decision to seek sole custody. She’s heard about the vicious beating he gave to the bully’s father and this appears to be the last straw. She tells him that he’s become a bad person, which gives us the impression that dealing with his wife’s attacker a decade ago fundamentally changed Velcoro. Not only is his ex-wife looking to deny Velcoro unsupervised access to his son, but she also threatens him with a paternity test. Learning that his son is the product of rape could be his ultimate disgrace. Farrell does a nice job of portraying Velcoro at his most desperate, listing from barely-contained rage to beaten-down pleading with ease.
The investigation into Caspar’s life and habits continues as Velcoro and Bezzerides check out his house and a clinic he visited. Despite shedding a little more light on the details of Caspar’s life, these scenes are mostly formulaic and take the standard shape of two cops interviewing someone behind a desk. It would have been nice to see something a little different here, and the static nature of the interviews does affect the pace of the episode. Later we see Velcoro open up to Bezzerides as they drive through the streets of Vinci (this is reminiscent of McConaughey and Harrelson’s conversations whilst driving, a signature of season one). Velcoro is willing to share his family situation with Bezzerides, but he also questions the lack of resources being assigned to their case. He’s hinting that someone somewhere doesn’t want this mystery solved. When Bezzerides presses him on his connections to the criminal underworld, the look he gives her should tell her all she needs to know.
We’re also given a little more access to the life of Paul Woodhugh – earlier in the episode he’s visiting his mother in her trailer park home. We learn that she’s happy to remain unemployed as long as she keeps receiving her disability allowance. She implores Woodhugh to stick around and watch ‘Clint movies’ with her. She’s clearly a big fan, as we can see pictures of Eastwood in the background of her trailer. It’s possible that these influences have shaped Woodhugh into the man he is today. He certainly embodies the ‘strong, silent type’ persona made so famous by the Man with No Name. Like his mother, he wants to keep his head down and avoid responsibility. This is apparent in his relationship with his girlfriend – we see them fight over his lack of commitment and constant withdrawal. He is unwilling to accept responsibility, claiming the breakdown is “on her”. Later we observe him on a dark balcony watching male hookers working on the street. This could be hinting towards evidence of repressed sexuality. As with Semyon and Velcoro, we’re beginning to delve a bit deeper into this character, but for now we’re left with quite a few questions to be answered in subsequent episodes.
Semyon uses his connections to find a hooker that Caspar had been seeing. He learns the location of a house that Caspar would visit and sends Velcoro to investigate. The meeting between the two (in The Most Depressing Bar in the World from episode one), has a distinctly different atmosphere to their previous engagement. Last time Semyon seemed to pity Velcoro, but now, with his business on the line, he has no time for sympathy. Vaughn is forceful and assertive. Semyon doesn’t want to hear about Velcoro’s changed circumstances or the fact that his motivation is waning. There is no comforting hand on the shoulder this time. He wants the job done. The power dynamic between Semyon and Velcoro is clear, as Farrell takes on the look of an abused dog, staring balefully at his master, knowing that he has no choice but to do his bidding.
Velcoro makes his way to the address, and in a shocking conclusion to the episode, is shot in the chest by a mysterious figure in a raven mask (the same mask was seen in the car transporting Caspar’s body in episode one). A second shotgun blast seems to signal the end of the line for Velcoro. Surely this can’t be the last we see of this season’s standout character. Can it?
This episode begins well with a glimpse into Semyon’s past. The medical examination of Caspar’s body and establishment of police jurisdictions and motives serves to recap the murder, as well as giving us a solid impression of the professional relationships between the characters.
Semyon and Velcoro are men facing crises. All of Semyon’s money has been lost in the deal with Caspar; Velcoro risks losing his son. Semyon has to tighten the screw on Velcoro in order to keep him under control.
Paul Woodhugh is fleshed out a little more, but remains somewhat of an enigma.
The middle portion, involving Velcoro and Bezzerides’ investigation is procedural and falls a little flat, which is disappointing. The narrative of the mystery is progressed however, as we begin to understand more about Caspar’s background.
Episode two finishes on a strong note, with the shocking shooting of Velcoro seeming to come out of nowhere. We are left on the edge of our seats, mouths agape. Velcoro may not have been likable, but he’s been the closest thing we’ve had to a hero so far. A week seems a long time to wait to discover his fate.