29th Jun2015

‘True Detective 2×02: Night Finds You’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

Captions: (Crickets chirping)

After a pilot episode with little to recommend it, ‘Night Finds You’ recaptures a bit of season 1′s driving-in-cars-shooting-shit character chemistry, meanders through introducing what might shape up into a compelling setting and plot, and then ends by swerving with alarming suddenness into what might be some honest to God interesting territory.

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Ray Velcoro getting pumped full of buckshot in the episode’s final moments is so definitively framed that his survival would be a Dallas-sized lump of horseshit. The crow-masked man who does the deed, the kitchen sink filled to the brim by the slow accumulations of a leaky faucet, the golden oldies on the radio, the closet hiding what looks like a wiretap or a secret studio of some kind; it all comes together to make the last two minutes of this week’s True Detective feel like a reel from a lost David Lynch movie.

I don’t like speculating about what a show might do next week, nor do I really love giving air to my opinions about how it might change to improve itself. Neither falls under “reviewing” in any real way, but assessing what the show means by handing us Schrodinger’s Colin Farrell requires at least a little what-iffery. I’ll keep it short. If Ray lives, the shooting amounts to an obnoxious cliffhanger. If he dies, True Detective might be maneuvering to reassess the gritty, ugly masculinity which is its stock in trade and which in season 2 finds its truest exemplar in Velcoro. It’d be a hell of a stunt.

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That overfull sink is the close of the episode’s thematic circle as well as a weird touch in a weird house. Things get rolling when Frank, lying in bed, asks how a weird water stain appeared on his ceiling when rain has fallen only twice in a year. “It’s like everything’s papier mache,” he tells his wife. In the pre-dawn glow of his stark, modern home, Frank follows a wobbly trail of associations to a genuinely upsetting monologue about four days spent locked in a basement during his childhood. It plays out like a twisted, truncated creation story. “On the second day I ran out of food. On the third day, the light bulb burned out.” It’s a good monologue, but the show so clearly wants us drawn in and invested, pulled in close like the camera.

The stock just isn’t there. Frank isn’t much of a character yet, and asking viewers to connect to him or sympathize with his dark childhood at anything past a basic level is overshooting it on the show’s part. He’s served even worse by a forced return to a gangster past we haven’t seen and can’t feel much about. The past is inescapable, the show tells us at every turn, but that theme is all tangled up in foggy pacing, lines already bearing the tooth-marks of better characters, and cheaply sketched caricatures like Vinci’s day-drinking mayor. There’s potential in Ani’s cult upbringing, potential in Ray’s genuinely intelligent quip about needing the flies caught with honey in order to go fly fishing, potential in the little spots of weirdness crawling into the main narrative, but is it worth the slog?

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It would be a bold move to kill Ray after just two hours of time spent on screen. The episode took pains to show how near the bottom he is, how thoughts of suicide are infringing on his mind, how his relationship with his son is likely at an end. His wife Alicia’s blistering “Don’t you dare say you did that for me” takes all possible swagger out of his revenge killing of her rapist while his weariness after a long career of corruption both with Frank and with his superiors in Vinci (“Am I supposed to solve this or not?” he asks them during a debriefing) is starting to pile up. At the same time, he and Ani enjoy brief splashes of chemistry during their shared investigation. It’s more than you can say for Taylor Kitsch’s dull, unsubtly closeted Paul Woodrugh.

Vinci’s corporate corruption feels like rich territory. The shot of children playing next to a concrete channel full of runoff, splashing and shouting in a shallow lake of filth, is arresting, as is Rick Springfield’s portrayal of skin-peeled psychiatrist Dr. Pitlor. But even if Ray is dead and the show just killed its headliner as a means of interrogating its purpose and themes, there’s still plenty weak about it beyond its fixation on violent masculinity. Even with the fascinating backdrop of a town ruled by capitalist despots, can its remaining leads even shoulder the show? McAdams might could pull something out of Ani’s survivalist bitterness, but Vaughn is uneven and Kitsch is, charitably, not present.

I guess, as in the mystery of how intact Ray’s spine and intestines remain, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Oh, and I can’t be the only one thinking this.

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