“In places deep, with roots entwined, I live the life I’ve left behind,” intones Leonard Cohen over the opening credits of season two’s True Detective. In episode one, “The Western Book of the Dead,” we learn these locales are Los Angeles’s underbelly and its environs, particularly the waste-dump town of Vinci, California, population 93, where corrupt politicians are already counting their share of the federal-contract cash about to pour in thanks to a new high-speed railroad running through the central part of the state. There’s a lot to untangle in Sunday night’s knotty plot with its interweaving story lines and visual clues. Here’s a breakdown of what may be the most important strands.
The City of Vinci
- The fictional L.A. County city (based on the corrupt, real-life city of Vernon) is so small, Detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) lives next door to City Hall, home to the entire municipal government, including the police department. Despite Vinci’s size, it’s the state’s worst polluter. But that’s not why local crime boss and casino owner Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) recently sold his waste-disposal plant. He needed the cash for covert land deals with shady — and now dead — city manager Ben Caspere, who Velcoro’s been tasked with finding.
The City Manager
- Caspere held the city’s purse strings, according to his new assistant, and he’d been traveling to Monterey and the Russian River Valley often. We know that as Semyon’s business partner, Caspere had been buying up property along the planned $68 billion rail line for future commercial development in line for hundreds of millions in federal grants (notice the episode’s opening shot of land stakes with red streamers and odd black symbols). When Velcoro arrives at his house after Caspere goes missing, he examines a book with a pull-out map on Caspere’s desk.
- What we’re left wondering is whether Caspere was killed for his land deal or lurid lifestyle — his kinky, art-filled house has been tossed and his computer taken. Perhaps Ben Caspere’s sexual proclivities have something to do with why he was tortured, his eyes burned out with acid, and genitals shot off.
- The camera also lingers on Velcoro eyeing a jeweled skeletal bust with a blue wimple and gold-jeweled crown at Caspere’s home, an object seemingly out of place among the other debauched décor. Is the ornate bust some sort of religious object?
- The cops ultimately brought together to investigate kinky Caspere’s murder all have sexual issues of their own. Coke-snorting alcoholic Velcoro, who’s been in Semyon’s pocket ever since the mobster avenged his then-wife’s rape and who refuses DNA testing to confirm his son’s paternity, now tells him he’s lost all interest in women.
- “Not everybody has a problem with sex,” Athena tells her sister “Ani,” a.k.a. Ventura Sheriff CID detective Antigone Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), who bristles when she discovers her sister is in the web-camera-sex business.
- Then there’s suicidal Ventura Sheriff’s Detective CHP highway patrolman Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch). The psychically wounded war veteran, who says his badly burned body predates the army, has never spent the night at his girlfriend Emily’s (Adria Arjona), and he needs a blue pill to get it up. It’s unlikely an ankle-monitor-wearing actress’s claims he solicited a blow job to forget about a citation are true.
The Caddy Driver
- Caspere’s killer placed the city manager’s corpse in the back of an old maroon Cadillac Brougham, drove down the Pacific Coast Highway, and parked his body at a Ventura highway rest stop. While his missing computer didn’t appear to be in the car, a big, black crow head was perched next to the killer in the passenger seat.
- “This place is built on a co-dependency of interests,” Semyon tells his underling after seeing the first newspaper article in a purported eight-part exposé detailing Vinci extortion, excessive municipal salaries, questionable police practices, and sweatshops with undocumented workers. How deep does the government corruption go? “That low background rumble is the sound of paper shredders on the third floor,” Police Chief Holloway (Afemo Omilami) tells his lieutenant Kevin Burris (James Frain) and Velcoro, alluding to the city offices upstairs.
- The chief tells them Mayor Chessani (Ritchie Coster) has been on DEFCON since the article appeared. Chessani also attended Semyon’s casino party buy-in for contractors, developers, and his longtime associate, Russian gangster Osip Agronov, so we know the mayor is all in.
Ani’s Blade Obsession
- Velcoro’s new boss, the tightly wound Ani, is obsessed with knives and protecting herself. She packs extra blades in her belt and her sock, and there’s a wall of weapons in her house. Her reading material includes Musashi’s A Book of Five Rings, written by an undefeated samurai in 1643; Hagakure: Book of the Samurai; Master of the Blade; and Knives. Ani practices her slicing and dicing on a wood dummy rigged with head and heart marks that look a lot like Caspere’s holed-out eye sockets.
Porn, Prostitutes, and the Missing Maid
- Are Bezzerides’s sister Athena, a former druggie and current webcam performer, and the missing maid who worked at their father’s Panticapaeum religious retreat somehow tangled up in Caspere’s sexploits and/or murder? As for the 24-year-old maid, her sister says her phone’s been disconnected, and her roommate says she’d moved out. Her Panticapaeum co-workers say she quit for a new job “working some club circuit,” possibly in Sonoma, which is one of the areas where Caspere was buying up land.