It’s a strange new world out there. Just ask Frank, who’s tired of dealing with brazen Russian-Jewish gangsters and mid-level thugs sporting gold teeth that flash greetings like “FUCK YOU.” It’s why he permanently reconstitutes poor Danny Santos’s colorful dental hardware, only after Santos has the nerve to suggest Frank’s a little-big man best off asking the cops to help him find who killed Caspere.
Over in Bel-Air, Ani’s got similar beef with Mayor Chessani’s objectively gross son Tony (the impeccably named Vinicius Machado, last seen as pedophile CI Nomar in Power), who claims she and Paul are way out of jurisdiction at the Chessanis’ palatial manor. They may as well be on another planet, one where small-city figureheads and their trophy wives and spoiled kids live like Gotti kin. (Excepting daughter Betty, played by Aaron Paul’s Breaking Bad boo Emily Rios, who seems like a good egg and can probably bring her dad’s whole operation down.)
These changing times are why Ray’s retired-cop pops, Eddie (Fred Ward), is content at home all day, sipping whiskey neat from a rocks glass (“drink out the bottle, you got a problem,” he reasons, not unfairly), reminiscing on the way policing was done before O.J. and the L.A. riots, ruing that today’s America is “no country for white men.” Eddie would rather rot on his couch idealizing William Wyler’s 1951 noir Detective Story (based on Pulitzer-winner Sidney Kingsley’s play) and Kirk Douglas’s performance as some sort of paean to masculinity and public service, when in fact both are intended to shatter mythos surrounding manhood and that sanctimonious badge.
But if Ray’s choosing life, he wants something more connected than his dad’s revisionist history. It explains the timing of his visit in the first place, if not the arrival of that Conway Twitty fever dream.
After his brush with death (to paraphrase Austin Powers, who shoots with riot shells, honestly? Except, maybe, crooked cops) and the fit of rage that led to ex-wife Gena pursuing sole custody of Chad, Ray finally felt something like a will to survive. He wants to walk a new path. Even after the aforementioned near-death vision, during which he and Eddie are laying bare their heartache, Ray knows better than to come home for fatherly advice. He’s not entirely sure how to make his way back toward the light, but dropping in on dad helped reinforce where he doesn’t want to end up.
And, certainly, the last place Paul imagined himself on an evening of chasing leads was bumping up against Frank as they crossed paths in Lux Infinitum. If only Paul had known he’d just stared down the man (or at least one of them) keeping Ray from doing his job on the up-and-up. But their paths will cross again, and without need for introduction. For now, Paul’s staking out prostitutes for info on Caspere, and a flirtatious street prowler named Tyler (Alex Rich) has lured him into Lux, where trick-turner Colter (Joey Jennings) clues Patrolman Woodrugh in on how Caspere liked to watch. The name Miss Tasha’s mentioned, as it was last week. She’s a high-priced hooker who no doubt possesses key information on Vinci’s late city manager that can help this case turn a corner as season two nears its halfway point.
Paul’s proven quite the desk sleuth as well, digging up info on Caspere’s assets that lead to he and Ani accessing a safe deposit box with documents for recently formalized LLCs in Ben’s name. One of them is Porpoise, possibly inspired by the bottom-feeding dolphin relatives who travel in small but fertile schools. But there’s also a bag of precious diamonds, maybe ones meant for Miss Tasha. Or maybe just intended as a form of liquid currency for some uncomely transaction. Not that there’s any other kind in Vinci, USA.
What we know for sure about Caspere is he was in deep with a company called Catalyst on all sorts of land deals; was co-producing and preparing tax incentives for a movie being filmed in the area; got a posthumous lift to that bench alongside PCH in a car stolen from the film set’s transportation department; and, unless he’s being framed and posthumously smeared, really enjoyed ejaculating. We’re also certain that Frank was depending on Caspere to help legitimize his stake in said land deals (i.e., the rail corridor), though in his attempt to go straight, he apparently partnered with the state’s most perverted official. Other revelations: Paul, as many predicted, is gay, bisexual, or merely had an experimental fling with his soldier buddy Miguel (Gabriel Luna) in Afghanistan that he’d really rather not revisit. (And who can blame him, given that even Ani suggests he’s all but useless as a cop without his hetero charm?) Though a same-gender preference would definitely help explain his unconvincing homophobic streak and hangdog penis around women.
He’s not alone in feeling isolated. Ani’s getting pressure via the state attorney (from another female, no less) to use her feminine wiles on Ray and out him as a dirty cop. They’re more vexed by Vinci’s autonomy, she realizes, than concerned about solving the case. Ray, already lacking for friends, has even fewer allies now that the state’s squeezing him on all sides by questioning Gena about his past indiscretions, while Mayor Chessani and his leering lieutenant Burris (James Frain, a.k.a. True Blood’s Franklin!) implore him to pin the case on some sucker pimp before the state bears down on them. Not to mention Ray’s got reason to suspect that Frank may have walked him into those shotgun blasts at Caspere’s bungalow. And as for Frank, after Osip left him high and dry and his soldier Stan is found dead and bloated, he has no idea whether someone’s out to get him, or why.
These four lost souls are living in Wyler/Kingsley’s Detective Story in full color, where crazy killers in masks come out from darkness, stalk you, and light that stolen Cadillac you’ve been searching for ablaze, only to race back into the night. Where everyone seems to be in on something but you. It’s a movie, but it’s real life, and it’s all a bit distorted. It’s Purple Rose of Cairo in reverse, set in some purgatory between Chinatown and Showgirls. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s certainly more compelling than Low Winter Sun.
Apart from all that:
- Is there any more perfect singer-songwriter to have segued out of Conway Twitty and communicate L.A.’s absurdity than Warren Zevon?
- Ray’s got more jokes! “Took one in the sternum, so my heart aches.”
- Poor Vince Vaughn gets saddled with a lot of tough-guy talk. Mostly by way of contractions. And the less said about that post-BJ exchange with him and Jordan, the better.
- And has there ever been a shot that opened with a close-up of a man’s anguished face without it panning out to reveal he’s getting fellated?
- Everyone hates ecigs.
- I can’t get enough of the mayor’s framed photo ops with W.
- If Miguel’s an electrician now, might he encounter foreman Bart?
- Caspere was killed on October 27, 2014. Unrelated, Kelly Osbourne turned 30 that day.
- Not sure what they were trying to say with that American Sniper billboard, but it felt damning.
- The choice of a Black Mountain song, given Paul’s work for Black Mountain, was certainly astute.
- I did enjoy that little sparring session with Frank and Danny.
- Heed the words over those closing credits: “In time you find your way to release, and then it goes away again.”