True Detective – Season 2 Episode 5
True Detective picks up in the aftermath of last week’s shootout. Things have changed significantly for the police protagonists and they’re each suffering in their own ways.
Velcoro is off the force, and at first it seems he’s cleaning his life up, as he appears clean shaven with his hair swept back neatly. We soon learn though that he’s working as a ‘consultant’ for Frank Semyon – collecting money and tailing other members of Semyon’s crew. This might seem like a simpler, more desirable existence for Velcoro, without all that police bureaucracy getting in the way of his less-salubrious occupation, but he’s mired in the custody battle over his son with his ex-wife. The possibility that Velcoro may not be the biological father is raised again, and once more, he is confounded by the tactics his ex-wife is using to wrest their son away from him.
Ani Bezzerides is also at a low ebb. She’s been booted to the TV cop doldrums of working the evidence room. This means wearing the uniform, working the desk behind the cage, and everything else that comes with on-screen police purgatory. It’s well-worn ground that always provides an obsessive character the time and opportunity to pore over various aspects of the case from which they’ve been removed, and this instance is no different. The disheveled Bezzerides is even paid a visit by her ex-partner, whom she convinces to do her one last favour. Despite ascribing to all the classic tropes, we buy McAdams in this role, and the work she’s put into portraying Bezzerides in previous episodes as a persistent and determined cop certainly helps. It’s no knock on McAdams’ performance, rather a failure of the writing, which is relying on this familiar scenario as a shortcut to convey the character’s situation.
As well as being stuck with the lowest job on the police totem pole, Bezzerides is also attending workplace sensitivity meetings as a result of the sexual misconduct charges being levelled at her. Her sarcastic approach to the classes seems in line with her hard-ass character, but the other cops in the meeting (all male) are comically over-the-top in response to her faux-sensuality.
To put Bezzerides’ slide into context, we see her meet with Velcoro in The Most Depressing Bar in the World™. So far, only Velcoro has been miserable enough to drink here (with the exception of Semyon dipping in for a bit of business now and then). The cops discuss the toll the shootout has taken on them and it appears that Bezzerides is passing Velcoro on some cosmic scale; he on the way up, she on the way down. Again McAdams transforms her previously confident character into a shell of her former self, and for once Farrell gets to play the sympathiser, instead of the pitied.
On a side note, and since we’re keeping track, it’s also interesting that Bezzerides has switched from e-cigarettes to the real thing. Has her depression hit such depths that she just can’t get what she craves from an imitation?
Woodrugh comes out of last week’s raid commendably; Bezzerides and Velcoro were both impressed by his performance under fire. His low point comes at the hands of his mother, who has stolen and frittered away the money Woodrugh saved from his time in Afghanistan. His mother doesn’t approve of his plan to wed and have a child with his girlfriend. She believes he is wasting his potential and that he could do anything he wanted. In a heated argument over the money, she tells him that she carried him for nine months and has carried him ever since. She’s referreing to his ‘strange’ behaviour and his struggle with his homosexuality. Whether or not Woodrugh was aware that his mother knew about this aspect of his life is unclear, but her admission and deployment of the barb in this situation is particularly hurtful to him. This is one of Taylor Kitsch’s best opportunities to really emote, and by-and-large he does a commendable job (with the exception of one rather weak slam of the fist into the trailer wall). Later on, during Woodrugh’s dinner with his fiancé and her mother, he returns to the repressed and stoic character we’ve become more used to seeing throughout the first half of the season. We know that this relationship in unlikely to end well. Woodrugh’s substance abuse and volatile nature are sure to come into play further down the line.
This episode sees Frank Semyon, under the influence of his wife, swing back towards his original goal of going legit. At the beginning of the season he wanted to have kids and settle down. Losing all his money in the deal with Caspar put that on hold as he had to cement his position in the underworld. Semyon isn’t comfortable with the label ‘gangster’, believing that he was born into a position that forced his hand, and in a particularly Pizzolattian line, tells his wife “Crime exists contingent on human desire”. He comes out with these comments from time to time, as the writer finds ways imbue Semyon with a sort of flickeringly philosophical nature. He’s the sort criminal who is prone to proselytising when he’s not busy removing someone’s teeth with pliers.
After discovering that his wife can’t have children, Semyon is won over to the idea of adoption, as she tells him that she wants to save a kid like the one he once was. Again we get a little more depth from the Semyon character, and Vaughn is allowed to shift from the gear he’s been coasting in for much of the season. There’s a risk here that Semyon is becoming ever so slightly one-dimensional. He spends most of his time brooding over his missing fortune and the remainder brooding over his difficult childhood. It would be nice to see more of the assertive Frank Semyon we were given a couple of episodes ago.
The three cops are brought together by the State Attorney to reopen the Caspar case. By this point, it’s pretty obvious that the Mexicans were a red herring – enough people in this episode have been shown to be questioning their involvement in the murder to prove to us to that the real killer(s) are still at large. For some reason, this scene takes place outside the meth lab that was to be raided in last week’s episode – perhaps this is to hammer home the point that the shootout and subsequent deaths were all for nothing, as the cops had been led down the wrong path. The hook to get Velcoro back in with the cops is the offer of the State Attorney’s help in his custody case. “Think it over”, he’s told by Bezzerides, “it’s never too late to start again”. It’s a message all of our protagonists could take to heart, as this episode, the first of the second half of this season, seems to be a turning point for each of them: Velcoro cleaning up; Bezzerides beginning again from the lowest rung; Woodrugh leaving behind his parasitic mother for his life of denial; Semyon rethinking his approach to family and attempting to go legit again.
A hammer-blow is dealt to Velcoro, however, when he’s informed that the man that attacked and raped his ex-wife, the man he believed to be dead, has been caught and identified through DNA evidence. This shakes Velcoro to his core, as he realises that everything he’s done, every decision he’s made in the past ten years is based on a lie. A lie Frank Semyon sold him to bring Velcoro on board with his criminal enterprise. The scene comes to a close as the camera lingers on Farrell’s face, as we share in his confusion and disbelief. Without the moustache, he appears particularly gaunt, and his eyes dart back and forth as he attempts to process the life altering information he’s just received. Here we’re witnessing the mental unravelling of a man who has been wound up and disentangled more times than a pair of headphones repeatedly tossed into the bottom of a well-used backpack. Farrell’s expression says it all, and he really sells the notion that Velcoro has been fundamentally altered by what he has just learned.
At this point in the season, the most intriguing aspects of the narrative are the personal lives of the protagonists. The mystery has become bogged down (perhaps intentionally) in its own bureaucracy and corruption. It will have to be solved by the end of the season, but there are only three episodes left for these characters to reach resolutions. We should anticipate more of drip-feeding approach to details about the murder. The extent to which the Chessanis, Dr Pitlor and the sex parties are involved in Caspar’s death will eventually play out, but now this all seems secondary to the fates Pizzolato has in store for Velcoro, Bezzerides, Woodrugh and Semyon. This is all well and good, but the mystery has to hold the audience’s attention long enough for Pizzolatto to continue to explore these characters, and if we’re not given a bit more to dissect, there’s a chance we’ll lose interest.
The episode comes to a close as Velcoro turns up at Semyon’s door early in the morning. He’s here to confront him about his decade of lies. Semyon is armed with a pistol. We have to assume Velcoro is carrying. As the two men stare ashen-faced into each other’s eyes, the credits roll and we’re left with another cliff-hanger. The devastation Semyon has wrought on Velcoro’s life demands retribution. It seems impossible that both men will survive this confrontation.
The fallout from last week’s botched raid is clear for all to see. The cops investigating Caspar’s murder are scattered and rocked to differing degrees by their own personal circumstances.
The mystery takes a backseat as the characters’ motivations for the second half of the season are established.
Bezzerides has been busted down to evidence room duty where she obsessively pores over the details of the case. Woodrugh finds out that his mother has squandered his savings and seeks solace in the relationship he hopes will solve the problems he has with his own sexuality. Semyon decides to opt for adoption and a life away from crime, but Velcoro’s discovery of his deceit a decade ago means that this unlikely to be as easy as he hopes.