TRUE DETECTIVE, 2.5 – ‘Other Lives’

Ray Velcoro's Moustache, RIP
2.5 out of 5 stars

“It’s never too late to start all over again.” How very true Ani (Rachel McAdams)—although, in the case of this season’s True Detective, I’d add this corollary: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Thus, while “Other Lives” began two months after episode 4’s shootout, with the Caspere case closed and the characters in different places—Frank (Vince Vaughn) downsized to Glendale, back running girls out of Poker Rooms and paying a cut to the Mayor; a moustache-less Ray (Colin Farrell) having quit the force, now working for Frank as an inefficient enforcer; Ani on evidence-logging duty and attending sexual harassment classes; and Paul (Taylor Kitsch) getting married and working fraud cases—we ended the hour with the band back together, working once again for state investigator Katherine Davis (Michael Hyatt). Although this time it’s Off The Record, on the Q.T and very Hush-Hush.

As that reference should make clear, there was more than a hint of James Ellroy’s L.A Confidential to this hour, and that’s something that both helps and hampers the series. On the one hand, few people have captured the dark heart of L.A as effectively as Ellroy, but on the other it’s a story we know too well; and increasingly the problem with this season of True Detective is how it feels like a beautifully acted and elegantly constructed tale about… nothing.

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Pain is inexhaustible. It’s only people that get exhausted.

If that seems harsh, then consider this—we’re now over halfway through season 2, and yet we know little more about the central case than we did at the beginning. Yes, it’s a story of sex parties, and trafficked girls, of high-level corruption, and political skulduggery… but aren’t most big city crime stories? Perhaps the weirdest thing about this episode was that, when I wasn’t thinking of Ellroy, I was reminded of series 2 of Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty—which similarly revolved around a missing girl, a liaison with a high ranking official, and a cover-up that extended right through the force. The difference being that with Mercurio’s story I was on the edge of my seat every week; wondering which secrets would be uncovered and who was hiding the most lies. By contrast I watch True Detective with an air of amiable interest, to put it kindly. It’s enjoyable spending time with this group of people, but when it comes to the central case and its motivations I’m not sure I’m truly involved. I am interested in the notion that the Mayor’s family have tendrils hooked into every part of Vinci life, and I like the hints of something evil with its roots in Ani’s childhood commune, but there are so many possible strands to follow that the cumulative effect can be wearying.

Do I care if the barely seen Tony Chessani (Vinicius Machado) turns out to be the chief villain—no, not really—but on the other hand I’m interested in Frank’s mysterious right-hand man Blake (always absent at just the most inopportune time). And perhaps that’s why I keep watching this season—there’s so much going on that some of it can’t help but stick. It’s the hints that something fascinating might soon be unearthed—like the news that the late, unlamented Teague Dixon already knew about the blue diamonds—that prevents me switching off entirely.

The episode’s other big news was the revelation that Frank had set Ray up; giving him a false name in the assault against his wife, so that he could have a compromised cop on his team. Call me naïve, but that revelation came as a genuine shock to me, although once it was revealed it made perfect sense. Top marks again to Farrell who sold the hell out of those scenes; his despair and disgust at the man he’d become clearly making him feel physically ill. If I have one quibble, it’s that having set up the confrontation between Ray and Frank so cleverly the show proceeded to unplayed its best moment by having it finish the episode. No doubt episode six will open with Ray and Frank’s moment of reckoning but, for me at least, the pacing here felt slightly off.

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Case Notes:

  • Adding to the L.A Confidential vibe—Ray’s confrontation with the creepy Dr Pitlor (Rick Springfield), which was straight out of the Bud White school of interrogation tactics, and the reappearance of James Frain’s Lieutenant Burris, a man who might be sleazy enough to give Dudley Smith a run for his money.
  • Actually, Frain was so good in his brief scene that I found myself imagining a world where he’d been cast in one of the leading roles. In this alternate world, Frain’s partner would be the wonderful Michael Hyatt who plays Katherine Davis. I would watch the hell out of that show.
  • I’m still struggling to care about Frank and Jordan (Kelly Reilly), and why they can or can’t have babies. It just feels like something we’ve seen far too many times before.
  • By contrast, I have a lot of sympathy for Ray, and also for his ex-wife. The family court scenes made it all too clear that there are no winners in their case.
  • Paul’s problems are also increasingly interesting: from the money his mummy gambled away, to the drinking he’s hiding from his sweet wife-to-be. His suppressed rage is also worth noting—Kitsch does a good job of suggesting a man whose life, sadly and tragically, only seems to make sense when bullets are flying.
  • As for Ani’s mysterious sexual issues, we’re still no closer to uncovering just what they might be… although I await the arrival of her new single ‘I like big cocks and I can not lie’ with great interest.

Most Pizzolatto-esque quote:

I carried you for nine months and I’ve been carrying you ever since.

—Ouch, Mummy Woodrugh goes for the jugular.

Most Manly Moment In A World of Men:

Oh, Dr Pitlor—has no one ever told that you if you impugn a man’s capacity for violence he’s honour-bound to prove you wrong? Perhaps now Ray Velcoro has left you spitting teeth on the floor you might want to reconsider that…

So what did you think—are events moving forward enough for you or does this feel increasingly like a shaggy dog tale? Is Tony Chessani our bad guy or are more sinister forces at play? And most importantly of all—Ray’s bolo tie, good move or yet another example of poor judgement? As ever all commentary welcome below.

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