True Detective Recap: By Hooker, by Crook

True Detective
Episode Title
Other Lives
Editor’s Rating

A couple of episodes back, Ray’s dad, Eddie, bemoaned that America’s no longer a country for white men. Paul’s mom, Cynthia, might disagree. She can’t fathom how her son, who’s now stuck investigating insurance fraud, hasn’t made the most of his Caucasian-male privilege. She doesn’t understand why he insists on carrying his “weirdness” (i.e., homosexuality) and explains she felt entitled to the $20,000 he’d stashed away as overdue taxation for how pregnancy hastened the demise of her dancing career.

Maybe Cynthia would rather Paul be more like the head of Catalyst, the development company who has wrested the rail project from Frank. That dude’s used his privilege to gain access to all of the best bourgeoisie parties thrown by Caspere and Tony Chessani, philandering with women whom Dr. Pitler has helped turn from “eights to tens.” All he needs to do to avoid being implicated in dirty deeds is hire Frank to find that telltale missing hard drive. And all Frank requests in return are some parcels of land and a renewed stake in the venture that was helping him go legit. Circle of life.

Ray has, in his own way, contributed to this toxic ecosystem of corruption and opportunism, but is starting to realize, as Ani advises, “it’s never too late to start all over again.” The truth is out that whoever Frank fingered as Gena’s assailant wasn’t the guy. The real rapist was finally hauled in. And for Ray, he’s thrust from denial as it all sinks in that he’s spent years allowing Frank to manipulate his guilt. He’d become rewired to direct his anger at all the wrong people, including himself. But now he knows where it needs to land, and it’s on Frank, and Pitler, and the Chessanis, and everyone from this godforsaken city of Vinci that’s a living symbol of this rotten cycle he, Ani, and Paul are caught up in.

This time, rather than bash in a neighborhood dad with brass knuckles, Ray accosts Pitler, getting him to cough up not only a few teeth, but details on how he, Caspere, and Chessani have been hosting California’s highest muck-a-muck at their glorified orgies and setting them up for future blackmail. (Vera, the key to unlock it all, was apparently at one such affair and snapped photos of swinging state senators and Caspere’s mystery diamonds to boot.) That’s how Vinci’s mayor stays so flushed, even though he doesn’t attend these parties personally. Instead, he sits at his desk awash in booze, miserably content to have his slice of the pie as he imagines God as George W. Bush intended.

Regardless of who was hiding behind that crow’s (or raven’s?) mask in Caspere’s bungalow, all these power players are the show’s true vultures, no different than the predators symbolically circling above the cabin at Ani’s childhood-commune grounds. Inside appears to be the site where Caspere was tortured and killed. There’s arterial spray on the walls and the stench of blood and bodily fluid.

But everyone, in some form or other, is reckoning with the rotten stench of how institutionalized crime trickles down. Frank, correctly, suspects that Blake’s involved in the larger scam. And no surprise that Osip’s in on the shenanigans with Tony and Pitler, too. Even Katherine Davis from the state attorney’s office is starting to realize that her boss, Attorney General Geldof (if only C.S. Lee could have done double duty as Dexter’s Masuka and analyzed the arterial spray), has been accepting handouts to facilitate his run for governor. That’s why she’s reassembled Ani, Paul, and Ray as a confidential A-team investigating how high, and low, this mess reaches. It’s a chance for redemption for our flawed trio, but also an opportunity for Nic Pizzolatto to indulge his own counter-fantasy to the mayor’s, one where a few good men and women take down the one percent. And on True Detective (as it was last season), they do that by infiltrating a surreal world where underworld creeps and overlord scum straight out of every noir and action-movie cliché imaginable populate high posts and dark corners.

Even if we, as viewers, are in the midst of some Last Action Hero/Cool World fourth-wall immersion, that doesn’t make Frank’s one-offs about “blue balls in your heart” any more ingratiating. Or his and Jordan’s deliberations over having a baby more urgent. Five episodes in, season two has mostly laid itself bare, with little actionable work left apart from connecting the dots that lead to Caspere’s killer. (Although, again à la last year, the “who” isn’t nearly as important as what created them.) The debate that will continue to rage has more to do with how Pizzolatto and his rotating crew of directors (this time noted theater director John W. Crowley) and co-writers have walked the line between subtly reconstituting genre tropes and haphazardly evoking them in earnest. Unless one would rather kibitz with Ani over the merits of length versus girth.

Apart from all that:

  • All told, Crowley had a welcome, defter touch at the dramatic scenes than preceding directors.
  • That Matt McCoy, really making the rounds.
  • The guy Frank derides as Cisco Kid looked like Ben Garant in costume as Johnny Depp.
  • Between pissing off every non-Anglo criminal in California, ruining Ray’s life, and poisoning all that farmland, Frank might have one too many crosses to bear.
  • Hard to say if Ani’s shaky hands are PTSD or the DTs.
  • Very eager for when they find the girl who pawned the diamonds, who can then explain Dixon’s role in abetting.
  • RIP Dixon. He “smelled like bourbon” and was “flatulent too.”