“Well, that’s a bold choice.” Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels from which True Blood was adapted, said that phrase was her most polite way of telling someone they were possibly a walking disaster; as the husband of a Southern woman, I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than “Bless your heart,” but I will say that True Detective is making some bold choices this season.
It’s refreshing to follow three police who mess up so often. When we met Antigone “Ani” Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), she led a failed raid into a supposed sex trafficking operation that turned out to be a legitimate webcam house where the women, if they were exploited, were exploiting themselves; in Episode 4, the ultimate raid is such a Charlie-foxtrot snafu FUBAR op that military acronyms cannot do it justice. And while it is not satisfying, it is refreshing, in a way, to see the aftermath.
But let’s see how we get there.
Like last episode, we begin with Frank (Vince Vaughn) and Jordan (Kelly Reilly) discussing their family planning issues. Frank sort of dips into Rust Cohle territory, calling humans “hapless monkeys,” and eschewing adoption because if you create your own child, “at least it’s your sins” that it is burdened with. We get a quick tour of the other operations Frank has his fingers in, namely an avocado farm, another old friend he demands tribute from, and some Turkish drug dealers he wants to use to supply Lux, his nightclub (apparently his renegade dental work on Danny Santos transferred ownership) with recreational chemicals.
Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), as expected, wakes up in a hotel with one of the men he was with at Lux, not remembering how he got there or all the fun they had off-camera. He is the only one surprised here, and bumps into some paparazzi as he goes looking for his motorcycle, and ends up calling Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) for a ride home. “I don’t know how to be,” he tells Ray, who is at least aware of his own bad habits, who responds that none of us do.
Ani and Ray begin with the burnt-out wreck of the Cadillac, and follow the trail of Caspere’s GPS for the procedural portion of the show. Caspere visited many contaminated sites in the area, “where the bodies are buried,” environmentally speaking, from the daily murder the city of Vinci deals to the planet. Ray warns Ani that Mayor Chessani (Ritchie Coster) is out for her blood, and she blows it off, unconcerned of the heat that “the captain of this shipwreck landfill” can deliver, despite his family running Vinci for a century. She is as usual, mistaken.
After interviewing Chessani's daughter (Emily Rios), whose mom hung herself while under the care of Caspere’s psychologist, Irving Pitler, Ani finds her sister Athena (Levan Rambin) and reminisces about her own mother’s suicide. Her sister, the webcam girl, seems the most well-adjusted character of the bunch. Ani visits Dad briefly as well, because Pitler moved in the same circles back in the day, at “Chessani Lodge,” setting up a connection between the older men that’s bound to bear fruit later in the season. Papa Bezzerides says Ray Velcoro has a huge green and black aura and had hundreds of lives. We wonder how many of them he messed up.
Speaking of messed up, Paul makes up with Emily (Adria Arjona) and learns she is pregnant. Which of course, gives him the perfect relationship to harbor his self-denial. He wants to marry her, and says he loves her. Emily is justifiably wary of her secretive lover, and responds with “I guess I love you, too,” in an interesting reversal of TV tropes. Which is perhaps what keeps us watching. It’s not pulling rugs from underneath us or creating television stories we’ve never seen before, but there’s enough tweaks to its uniquely dark story and just enough secrecy to its completed flawed characters to make it compelling. Like we didn’t expect the wink to Lynch last episode, we certainly aren’t expecting tonight’s ending either.
Ani quickly learns that the Mayor of Shipwreck Landfill isn’t fooling around; her superior O'Neal (Alex Fernandez) questions her about her relationship with Deputy Mercer, her subordinate, and a one-time with her partner, Detective Elvis Ilinca (Michael Irby). He says, “No grown woman in her right mind would date a cop.” But what about when you are a cop? This wouldn’t be the first time on TV or in the real world that two police have married; I knew a couple in my little hometown. He even suggests impropriety with Ray Velcoro, after she doesn’t serve his head on a platter for corruption charges, and instead tells the truth, that he saved her from being flattened by a truck during a foot chase. Ray’s theory that the Three Stooges have been put on this case so it will never lead to any charges starts to have merit.
Back at the saddest bar in the world, Frank offers Ray a job as an enforcer. “Your talent's going to waste.” Rather odd that he would want to give up his pocket detective (Inch High Private Eye, anybody?) for muscle. Ray politely demurs and sneaks into his son’s backyard to give little Chad (Trevor Larcom) his grandfather’s badge encased in Lucite. We haven’t seen him take a drink since his Conway Twitty deathdream, but he does offer Paul a drink in the car. And the teasers from next episode show an even more drastic change in Ray Velcoro, that I’ll leave it to you to find.
Paul finds some of Caspere’s jewelry at a pawn shop, and they ID the woman selling it as a prostitute, and her pimp as Ledo Amarillo (Cesar Garcia). Ani leads the raid to get him, with sheriffs and Vinci PD. The fight goes down like the infamous North Hollywood shootout immortalized in Heat by Michael Mann: machine gunners, exploding buildings, hostages, protestors against the new transit corridor cut down in the crossfire, and dead police all over the streets, leaving only our trinity of Ray, Paul, and Ani standing. Maybe they’re survivors, maybe they’re only being saved for crueler fates. Whichever it is, I’ll be watching next week to see the aftermath. Ani is already suspended. Her bosses can’t ask for her badge and her gun.
Or can they?
Thomas Pluck is the author of the World War II action thriller Blade of Dishonor, Steel Heart: 10 Tales of Crime and Suspense, and Hot Rod Heart: A Noir Novelette. He is also the editor of the anthology Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT and hosts Noir at the Bar in Manhattan. His work has appeared in The Utne Reader, PANK Magazine, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Hardboiled, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, Crimespree, and numerous anthologies, including Dark City Lights, edited by Lawrence Block. You can find him online and on Twitter as @thomaspluck.
Read all of Thomas Pluck's articles for Criminal Element.