True Detective 2.05: “Other Lives”

It’s only a matter of time until Frank (Vince Vaughn) and Ray (Colin Farrell) face off. / Photo: Lacey Terrell, HBO

“You and me need to talk.”

After last week’s disastrous gunfight, where Ray’s (Colin Farrell) old partner dirty Dixon (W. Earl Brown) led the trio to a Mexican-run meth lab that was supposedly inhabiting Caspere’s L.A. sleaze pad, we recoup three months later, with our detectives reassigned or demoted, and a politician announcing that the “Caspere murder is closed” as he also announces his run for Governor.

Subtle as always.

The twisted puppet strings of the plot become somewhat more clear, this time around, and I’ll give it a quick recap at the end, once we catch up on what everyone’s been up to in the meanwhile. The big surprise is Colin Farrell’s mustache leaving the series, revealing Ray’s harelip. He’s working security now, having quit the Vinci PD with apparently no retribution except he loses his cheap row house digs. That’s not usually what happens when someone who knows too much tries to leave, and Frank (Vince Vaughn) seems unaware that his pocket detective is off the force, despite his resurgence into fully criminal activities.

Three months later…same argument. / Photo: Lacey Terrell, HBO

Good ol’ Frank is still arguing with Jordan (Kelly Reilly) over whether they should have children, in between asserting his dominance at the Lux club that he took from Danny Santos (Pedro Miguel Arce), at Mayor Chessani’s office, or when he sends Ray off tailing his subordinate Blake (the tall blond drink of water) to see where he makes his money. His semi-philosophical asides peppered with business Zen and bizarre attempts at quotable dialogue continue to jar. “It’s like blue balls in your heart.” When Jordan confronts him about being a gangster, he says “I don’t like that word,” and says he grew up on the wrong side of the class war. Because the only option a kid who had a drunk father has, is to become a crime kingpin. It doesn’t jive with his sparse background, we get no sign that he was groomed into a life of corruption where pimping serves a human need, and “everyone involved would do what they’re doing anyway” whether he’s involved or not.

Well it took five episodes, but we’ve finally turned Ani into a full blown cliche. / Photo: Lacey Terrell, HBO
Ani (Rachel McAdams) is the lone woman in a sexual harassment therapy session, because in TV-land, women are never the harassers and it’s a joke. She takes over the class, bullying the instructor and describing in detail her favorite part of the male anatomy and the grotesque size of her preference, while the tough guy cops all but drool. Good way to gut her character and turn her into a femme fatale with a badge; the story has hinted at her background of abuse, and this turned the show’s most interesting character into another stereotype, the manipulative woman who uses sex as a weapon. Ani’s been demoted to the evidence room, but still pursues the Caspere case, following his stolen blue diamonds. If I were a reddit conspiracy nut, I’d say “Blue Diamonds are a brand of almonds. Almonds use a lot of water. Water was the secret reveal in Chinatown!” and maybe that’s the point. Maybe Ani saying she likes big dicks and she cannot lie is just a cigar.

Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) gets demoted to insurance cases; we meet him at a deposition with his the Lindsay Lohan-alike accuser, the flipside to the sexual harassment dichotomy where women have all the power and men are helpless. Not going to win any accolades here Nic. Maybe strapping antlers on dead women was more respectful than this? And the joke of course is that Woodrugh is secretly gay and in denial. When he goes to his mother’s trailer to find that his Afghani-stash stolen money has all been spent, they get into a vicious argument where she calls out the love that dare not speak its name, and the story feels like it’s set in the ‘50s rather than modern day. Fans have accused this season’s storyline of cribbing from James Ellroy’s The Big Nowhere—I haven’t read it, and I’ll stand by my earlier assumption that the show is merely grabbing every trope there is and having fun with it—but this scene certainly felt like we’d time-traveled to Ellroy’s earlier era.

Are we sure Paul isn’t living in the ’50s? / Photo: Lacey Terrell, HBO

This accusation gets legs as Ray follows Blake around and sees him and Dr. Pitlor (Rick Springfield, as Caspere’s sleazy psychologist who also does plastic surgery on the side, really) with gorgeous escorts. This is enough for Ray to brace Pitlor in his office and give him the beatdown we’ve craved since we met the pinch-mouthed slimeball, but the plot he reveals under torture is very familiar; turning “8’s into 10’s” for Caspere and Tony Chessani’s escort service. At least he’s not making the escorts look like Lana Turner. Pitlor’s plot dump reveals the motive for Caspere’s murder: the hard drive stolen from his kink bungalow had blackmail material for their rich clients. Including McCandless, the president of Catalyst, the management firm buying up all the land for the rail deal that Frank was squeezed out of.

Ani goes for a long slow walk on the beach with her sister Athena (Leven Rambin), who just got into CalArts, and asks her if she can get her an invite to one of the escort parties. If Athena is found brutally murdered in the next few episodes, take a drink. At what point does a cop who puts their family and sources at risk become a serial killer?

Back to Frank. The twisted web apparently tells us that he used Archeron Waste Management to dump heavy metals on the land he knew would be used for the rail corridor, so he could buy it up cheap. Caspere never bought the land (or put it under someone else’s name). There’s enough plot in here for several James Ellroy novels and I’m not sure all of it matters, though fans who enjoy following every lead and reference will have plenty to do.

The real gamechanger is the custody deposition between Ray and his ex-wife, where she demands a paternity test. We don’t get the results this time around, though it would be pretty funny if the ginger kid turns out to be his son. The more important DNA match is when Katharine Davis, the DA who has Ani, Ray, and Paul still on the Caspere case sub rosa, tells Ray that the real rapist of his ex-wife was arrested “a couple weeks back” and matched with DNA. Meaning he killed the wrong guy all those years ago, destroying his marriage and compromising his integrity on the job. The episode ends with him knocking on Frank’s door, while Frank is armed.

Cue the Conway Twitty.

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.

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