2014’s True Detective was critically lauded for many reasons: it’s engaging and often creepy storyline with occult elements interwoven throughout, great writing and direction- not to mention the show’s now well-known six minute tracking shot, and the casting, led by the strong lead performances of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.
It was a different sort of television show from what you expected and it managed to deliver on many counts. Now if you’re going to follow up to this, you don’t want to just create a carbon copy or it’ll seem like you’ve run out of ideas. At the same time, you want to make sure that viewers remain for the same reason they were invested in the first place.
The point I’m getting at is that Season Two of True Detective had a large hill to climb before we even saw the first trailer. As months went by and we received more details, we learned that the next season would be akin to American Horror Story and Fargo with a new storyline and characters not connected to the previous season. Time progressed and we found out that there would be not two, but four lead characters.
When the trailers debuted, I got the feeling that this new season would be a bit more…streamlined, as it was, and something a bit more inviting to viewers, new and old, than the occult storyline of Season One. Don’t get me wrong- I love True Detective’s first season, but I can see how it would turn people off because of how strange and downright creepy it could be. It would be unfair to spend the entire time comparing this season to the previous one because they’re two different beasts.
We shouldn’t expect Marty and Rust banter or philosophical talks about time. If we can’t separate this season from the first one, how can we enjoy it if we’re constantly drawing comparisons? Let’s see how this season can stand on its own two feet. Welcome back to True Detective.
The season begins with the first of our ruff, gruff detectives: Ray Velcoro, played by Colin Farrell. He’s speaking with his son, Chad, played by Trevor Larcom, about any issues he may be having with the other kids at school. Okay, Chad is a pudgy ginger, so it’s pretty easy to tell that he either is already or will be the subject of some bullying. Call it a hunch. Anyway, Chad is getting ready for a camping trip in two weeks and he’s got a brand new pair of shoes to wear as well. I imagine that will be important. As Chad leaves for school, Ray watches as some of the other kids ridicule his son for his shoes.
We then cut to Ray being interviewed by an attorney, played by Molly Hagan, and learn that, a few years earlier, Ray’s pregnant wife had been beaten and raped. Chad was born nine months after this, but the man who assaulted Ray’s wife was never caught. As far as his relationship with Chad, Ray that it’s solid enough that his visitation rights should be expanded. He even bought digital recorders for the two of them so they could send each other messages.
Ray raised Chad on his own for two months when his wife came back and started talking divorce. Neither requested a paternity test. Ray is convinced that Chad is his, but the attorney is just giving him this question now because others will ask that question more rudely than she did. Right now, Ray needs the attorney to come up with something and slides her a wad of cash as an incentive. Instead, she asks if anything from Ray’s eight years with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department will hurt him now. Ray, though, says no- he welcomes judgment.
The episode then flashes back to Ray in a bar years earlier as he meets with Frank Semyon, played by Vince Vaughn, who knows about man that attacked Ray’s wife but he’s not affiliated with him. He’s just some amphetamine freak. Sometimes, everybody’s not always on the same side. He happened to brag about it and it matched the wife’s account, but this is only information. What does Frank want in return? Nothing. Maybe they’ll talk later.
Following this, we cut back to the present as we see Frank get ready for a big day with the help of his wife, Jordan, played by Kelly Reilly. Frank hasn’t slept much- he has a big day ahead of him, but Jordan doesn’t think he needs to put on any false airs. He’s better than that.
We then cut to the Vinci Nine Garden Casino as Frank watches from above while citizens gamble. Frank’s consigliere, Blake Churchman, played by Christopher James Baker, shows him the first of an eight part mini-series in the Los Angeles Times. This series in particular focuses on corruption in Vinci, but Blake feels that there’s nothing connecting it to Frank. They wonder what a man named Osip can tweak from this, which is that they’re not buttoned down at the least.
Frank wants Ray on top of this, as he knows that Ray won’t get carried away. If this catches fire, it could become a state investigation. Blake still feels that Frank isn’t touched, but Frank and his wife disagree. Everyone gets touched.
After a brief scene of a car taking off, we’re then introduced to the next protagonist of the season: Ani Bezzerides, played by Rachel McAdams. Ani and her boy-toy of the morning, Steve, played by Riley Smith, are talking. Well, that’s not accurate. Steve is trying to talk about their night and going forward, but Ani doesn’t have time for this. She’s got work to do.
Does she ever. Ani and her partner, Elvis Ilinca, played by Michael Irby, along with other detectives perform a raid on a small farmhouse in the middle of nowhere that, according to a tip, is supposedly a brothel. However, not only is it just webcam shows, but everything going on in the farmhouse is 100 percent legit. Private subscribers and all of the women involved are American. Hell, the owner even has a business license. Now that is funny. How often do you see raids on television shows where the business is illegal? Here, though, it’s all by the books. Nice change of pace, True Detective.
So who tipped off Ani? Turns out it’s the green haired woman in the farmhouse that happens to be Ani’s sister, Athena, played by Leven Rambin. It’s not porn, as Ani believes, but just entertainment. Ani asks Athena if she’s off her meds, implying that she’d rather her sister stop screwing people and start taking drugs. That’s some sisterly love right there. From this scene, we can tell that there’s some huge friction between the sisters. Athena believes that what Ani says are her sister’s problems are really her own.
Ray reads the Los Angeles article while listening to his superiors: Police Chief Holloway, played by Afemo Omilami, and Lieutenant Kevin Burris, played by James Frain, right after his appearance on Orphan Black this year. City Manager Ben Caspere has been missing for two days and there are many people looking for him. His phone has been shut off as well. Mayor Chessani is on DEFCON. Ray is ordered to investigate the city manager’s office with the help of Teague Dixon, as Caspere’s disappearance now makes this a missing persons case.
Then we meet another of the main characters: Paul Woodrugh, played by Taylor Kitsch. Woodrugh is a highway patrolman and he happens upon a pretty young blonde named Lacey Lindel, played by Ashley Hinshaw, speeding along in her convertible. She’s pulled over in no time, but wouldn’t you know it? She doesn’t have her license or registration, but she is sporting a fancy ankle bracelet. She tries to barter with the officer, saying they could talk if he just escorted her home.
Next thing we know, Paul is receiving a lecture from Commissioner Floyd Heschmeyer, played by Matt Battaglia. Why? Because soliciting a blowjob to avoid a citation is bad news. Now Floyd knows the claim is bullshit- Paul isn’t that kind of guy. Ms. Lindel probably just violated her parole to score and got caught doing so. Even still, Internal Affairs needs to investigate this matter, so Paul is placed on administrative leave with pay. He’ll be reinstated soon. Paul loves his bike and feels that he’s no good on the sidelines.
Back at the casino, Frank greets Bart Sallis, played by Chet Grissom, and Mayor Austin Chessani, played by Ritchie Coster. They aren’t worried about the newspaper miniseries. Once the federal contracts come through, writers can write whatever the fuck they want. Now, though, is a time for celebration.
Ray does some investigating into Ben Caspere. No family and no trips on the books, as he wasn’t the type to just up and disappear. He had been going to the Monterey and Russian River Valley a lot, but he was never as out of touch as he is now. No real kind of bad blood. Mr. Caspere holds the purse strings for a lot of stuff. A lot of folks have to go through him. Time to head to his location.
Ray and his partner, Teague Dixon, played by W. Earl Brown, check out a trashed, weird as fuck looking home. There’s even some weird sort of penis statue thing. No, I don’t get it either. Dixon immediately orders Ray to burn anything of his, should anything happen to him. It helps to cover your bases, you know. But anyway, Caspere’s computer has been taken. Ray examines a map in a book and decides that the two need a tech crew for prints. Dixon wants to let the bosses know, but Ray thinks they already may be aware. He wants this to be treated like a 207- a kidnapping. They don’t belong on this.
Over at the casino, Frank meets and greets Osip Agronov, played by Timothy V. Murphy, and his attorney, Michael Bugulari, played by Solomon Shiv. Jordan shows Osip around to meet some developers and contractors.
We then get a brief scene of the car from earlier, still on the road. The man in the back falls to the side.
Following this, we return to Ani and Elvis delivering a foreclosure notice to a small family. The owner would rather the officers locate her sister, Vera, who she hasn’t heard from in some time. More than that, her phone is disconnected and her old roommate says that she moved out awhile back. She worked as a maid at a couple of places, but others said that she quit. Despite telling city police, there was never any word back on Vera’s disappearance. The last place she worked at was a religious institute that Ani immediately knows: the Panticapaeum Institute.
Time for Frank’s presentation. Proposition 1 has passed. Starting next year, construction will begin on a $68 billion high speed rail in central California. An undeveloped valley adjacent to the rail and the coastal highway has been purchased by several holding companies anticipating a commercial development that will be in line for hundreds of millions in federal grants. The feds have guaranteed cost coverages.
At the Panticapaeum Institute, Ani overhears a man giving his students a task: recognize the world as meaningless and to understand that God did not create a meaningless world. Hold both thoughts as irrefutable and equal, because this is how we must live now in the final age of man. This man, it turns out, is Ani’s father, Elliot, played by David Morse. He spoke with Athena a few days ago and is fully aware of her job.
Unlike Ani, he doesn’t have an issue with her life choices. Ani calls it porn, but Athena calls it theater. Ani wants to know why, but Elliot has never been good about guessing what Ani wants or needs. He wants her to convey some kind of guidance, but Elliot isn’t and hasn’t been comfortable imposing his will on anyone since 1978. Not even to stop them from walking into a river?
Perhaps if mom’s flair for the dramatic had been channeled into her acting, she might have gone onto great things. Elliot directs Ani’s attention to the totems: they watch over departed spirits and, sometimes, Elliot can feel his wife. She abandoned the girls, but he didn’t. He tells Ani, quite bluntly, to spend less time in a state of resistance making up problems for herself: a failed marriage, a few relationships, Ani is angry at the world and men in particular out of a false sense of entitlement for something she never received. Hell, does Ani even like what she does?
Great father-daughter talk.
Oh, and Ray waits outside the home of one senior staff writer, Dan Howser, played by Stevin Knight, dons a ski mask, and heads in after Howser to start wrecking shit.
He then heads to the school to pick up Chad, who is talking with Richard, played by Christian Campbell. Ray gives Chad a sleeping pack to take with him on his trip, but said trip was last weekend and Chad ended up having a stomachache. He also lost his damn shoes and there’s blood on his sleeves as well. What happened? Some boys took his shoes out of his gym locker and cut them up.
An enraged Ray demands to know who stole Chad’s shoes, and if Chad doesn’t start talking, he’ll spank him in front of the cheerleading squad. Very specific threat. Chad eventually coughs up the name Aspen Conroy. Feeling guilty about this later, Ray leaves Chad a message, apologizing for his actions. Dispatch then transmits the Conroy address to him: it’s in Sherman Oaks.
Paul, meanwhile, meets with his lady friend of the day, now that he has some extra time. Before the two can get down, he needs to shower, even though she likes when he stinks. Okay, I guess. He pops that oh so familiar blue pill while in the bathroom and then heads over to receive his blowjob.
Frank informs Osip that Caspere’s absence means nothing. It’s happening, though: Vinci tapped fed money from the subway line, and the same thing will happen on a much, much bigger scale with the rail corridor. All owned by their holding companies and set up through Catalast. This goes way beyond them- it could lead to a legitimate legacy.
Osip needs some time to speak with Frank alone. He has complete confidence in Frank, but the organization has very old rules. Checks and balances. He must perform his due diligence. He’ll close when he’s ready to close and is in no need to hurry.
At the Conroy residence, Ray first arms himself with brass knuckles before meeting Wit Conroy and his son, Aspen, played by Cooper Roth. He asks Ass-pen about the stolen property, and then calls him evil as fuck for already being 12 years old.
Then he proceeds to beat the living hell out of Wit before threatening Aspen with one of the most memorable lines of the episode: “If you ever bully or hurt anybody again, I’ll come back and butt-fuck your father with your mom’s headless corpse on this goddamn lawn.” Damn. Ray leaves just as Mrs. Conroy comes out to check the commotion.
The car from before stops on a dirt road. The driver pulls out the old man.
Paul’s lady friend inquires about a scar on his arm. It’s not from his Army days, but before. He gets dressed to go work on something, even though he’s currently not working. It’s just a side job. Right now, his life is all sorts of fucked.
At a bar, Ray delivers files and a laptop to Frank. There won’t be any investigative piece written anymore. Ray goes through his drink fast, despite Frank’s suggestion to savor it. Frank asks if Ray spoke with the attorney he put him up with, and he did. She’ll see what she can do. As for Ray’s personal life, Frank wants to know more, such as whether he’s seeing anybody. He’s not, though Frank feels he should, since a good woman mitigates a man’s basic tendencies. Frank congratulates on a good job with the thing.
Paul goes for a motorcycle ride on the highway and comes potentially close to breaking the sound barrier when he stops on a dirt road. He finds the old man sitting on his own and not moving. Sitting on the lifeless man’s lap is his wallet and identification. Paul then calls it in.
At the same time, Ray and Ani, both plastered, leave their respective locations and are called to the scene. Why? Because the body of Ben Caspere has been found. His eyes are gone, possibly due to chemical burn. COD can’t be called in yet, but he bled out somewhere else. It’s mentioned that Ray is from Vinci. The fuck is Vinci? A city. Supposedly, anyway.
“The Western Book of the Dead” manages to squeeze in a lot for a premiere, which it has to, but also set the stage for the season to come and assure viewers that this is a new world for True Detective.
Creator Nic Pizzolatto is back, but we’re without director Cary Fukunaga. Stepping into the director’s chair is Justin Lin and he does a good job at establishing the tone and feel of this new season. His take on the series is one I can accept. Watching True Detective is like watching a slow burn, and this premiere is no different. We’re given ample time to take in the environment around us and learn about each of the new main characters, which is both a good and bad thing, but I’ll get into that later.
There are a bunch of various themes and messages discussed that will no doubt play out as the season progresses: corporate corruption, abuse of power, self-discovery, seeking your destiny, and battling demons. Lots of demons. We had figurative and actual demons last year, and now we’ve got them again with our characters battling within themselves.
Let’s begin with Ray, as he’s the first of the characters we’re introduced to and, in my opinion, Colin Farrell’s performance was the most memorable. Ray is a shell of his former self. The moment we see him first talking to Chad, we can tell that his life isn’t all together. He’s struggling to be a good father and detective, but he’s abusive and corrupt, as he’s deep in Frank’s pocket.
He takes advantage of his authority to get information about an ongoing case to a businessman who he must owe tons of favors, might be in danger of losing his son, he beats the living hell out of a father because his son is a little shit, and he drinks himself stupid. He wants to do the right thing and be there for his kid, but he’s in way too deep. Farrell wears the facial expressions of a worn man who has been through some shit, but manages to get up, day in and day out, to keep on going. Hopefully with this case, Ray has a shot at some redemption.
Ani seems to be exactly what her father and sister make her out to be: the person who seems to have a problem with everyone and everything in the world but themselves. She advises her own sister to give up webcam videos just so she can get back on using drugs.
Ani has a rebellious side and isn’t interested in forging friendships or relationships, as seen through the brief scenes we get between her and Elvis. Between them, it’s all business, no time for just shooting the shit. She drinks alone, doesn’t want to talk about sex from last night, and blames her father for her mother’s suicide.
Like Farrell, Rachel McAdams is just wearing depression on her face and it paints Ani as someone with a lot of personal issues that she’s clearly not ready to work out. It would take too much effort on her part to admit that she’s to blame for how her life has turned out.
Then we’ve got Taylor Kitsch, who just looks depressed all the time. Seriously, the man gets a blowjob and he looks like he’d rather be any place else. However, unlike Ani or Ray, Paul is, as far as we can see, a good cop and decent man, as even his superiors figured that he wouldn’t try to take a blowjob from a speeding driver. We get a bit of insight into Paul’s past, but unlike Ray, he isn’t keep to opening up about his past life at all. There’s a brief mention of something called Black Mountain and how Paul fought for his country, which I assume we’ll learn more about as the season progresses.
When we see him riding out on the highway at speeds that could have killed him with one wrong move, it’s clear from the look on Paul’s face that this is what he’d rather be doing instead of laying around and doing nothing.
Finally, there’s Frank, who we don’t get to learn much about, but I get the sense that he’s an opportunist. He helps Ray out of a jam and Ray is now indebted to him. More than that, he’s looking to the future and what kind of legacy he’ll leave for himself and his kids. Though we do learn that he and his wife have had challenges conceiving, Frank comes off as a man who will do anything to achieve his desires.
Side-note, I love his wife, Jordan. There’s not much to say about her yet, but she doesn’t come off as a trophy wife. She’s authoritative and has her own input to her husband’s doings. Also, she’s not afraid to get involved and speak her mind. In a way, she kind of reminds me of Anna- Jessica Chastain’s character from A Most Violent Year.
If I had any qualms with the episode, it’s how Caspere’s death brings Ray, Ani, and Paul together. Okay, Paul I understand because he was there, Ray is looking into the case, but why is Ani- or Elvis, for that matter- there at all? Is it even her jurisdiction? This is the one issue I have with introducing us to all of the main players off the bat. I would’ve much preferred maybe introducing two or three of the main characters, and then have the discovery of Caspere’s body lead us to the rest of the cast. It’s not a major issue, but it felt like a way to unite the three by episode’s end.
“The Western Book of the Dead” is a pretty strong start for True Detective’s second season. It’s a fresh start for the series that enthralled us one year ago. I’m very interested to see what direction the show will go in with the new cast, new plot, and new folks developing it behind the scenes. I know I’m saying ‘new’ a lot, but only to avoid constantly calling comparisons to the previous season. This season does have a lot to live up to, but based on the show’s first outing, I’m optimistic that it can and will deliver.