The fourth and fifth episodes of the first season of True Detective were transformative. “Who Goes There” included a 6-minute tracking shot that forced the viewer into the drug-addled brain of Rust Cohle, and “The Secret Fate of All Things” was all about forward movement.
Although the shooting of Reggie LeDoux in that episode was incidental to the overall mystery, it was a vital moment in the relationship of Rust and Marty: LeDoux’s death told us how the detectives moved from the 1995 selves to their 2012 selves. It also answered the questions planted earlier, as Rust and Marty mentioned the shoot-out earlier. In other words, the fourth and fifth episodes of the first season were all about characters and plot progressing. They eased some narrative tensions and created new ones.
This season’s “Down Will Come,” on the other hand, is all about stasis. Like the looping freeway interchanges featured in the bird’s-eye shots in the first two episodes, our detectives (and our criminal) (and our mystery) are moving nowhere fast.
Frank Semyon’s avocados, like his sperm and the barren fields of Fresno, aren’t fruitful. His life isn’t, either: Frank spent this episode revisiting old criminal associates, trying to worm his way back into the game. He’s returning to the life he thought he was leaving behind.
That his return is working is a point of some confusion. He owns the club now? That’s all it takes to possess a club—knocking out the owner/manager’s teeth? He gets a cut of the slum for undocumented workers because... he has the muscle to demand it? Those rackets seemed too easy.
At least his deal with the bakery-bosses (Armenians?) made sense: he offered them above the going rate for drugs and increased distribution. That’s the one racket that seemed like it would actually work, perhaps because it’s not a racket. It’s a solid business proposal, albeit one from a man who sounds like an idiot on a regular basis:
• Bakery Gangster 1: “All that sugar, Frank. I wonder you haven’t lost your teeth. Dental work’s expensive.”
• Frank: “It’s the only way I can keep your coffee down. [To Bakery Gangster 2] And I never lost a tooth. [Dramatic pause] Never even had a fucking cavity.”[Mic drop]
(Fun Frank Fact: did you know that the potential investor—Jordan’s ex-boyfriend—is Roy from The Office and Skip from Angel?)
Ani, Ray, and Paul are in similar boats. Ani discussed her mother with her sister, but was also forced to revisit her father, which appears to be—keeping the dental theme—about as much fun as pulling teeth. Her romantic past is coming back to haunt her, too. Although Ray seems to be pulling himself together, he’s also pulling away: he gave his father’s badge to his son, which feels like the ultimate goodbye.
Paul is haunted by his affair with his fellow soldier, and criticized by the media for war crimes when he was working as a mercenary. But he’s also got a child on the way: a bittersweet irony, given Frank’s situation. And a cruel twist of fate, as Paul welcomes this potential ersatz family because it will give him an even bigger emotional closet to hang out in.
Although the main characters seem to be stuck in time’s flat circle, the case appears to be progressing, with information emerging in three distinct arenas:
• Ani’s father revealed that Rick Springfield, Caspere, and Chessani all knew each other back in the day, and may have been complicit in the death of Chessani’s first wife. That information is treated as a vital revelation, but I’m not sure why: that wealthy people know each other is not overly shocking.
• Caspere had money wrapped up in land in Fresno. The land is toxic, but we know that Caspere, like Frank, was hoping to develop it with federal money. (Really? Even though it’s toxic?) For what it’s worth, Fresno is about 200 miles away from where I think Vinci is supposed to be located. The show seems to imply that it’s much closer.
• Detective Dixon found Caspere’s pawned jewelry, and from there realized that small-time criminal Ledo Amarilla may have had a hand in Capsere’s death. Why would Amarilla relocate Caspere’s body or cut his eyes out? Was he a murderer for hire? Who knows?
We won’t, since Amarilla and dozens of other people are dead in the shoot-out that is this season’s answer to Fukunaga’s six-minute one shot. In “Who Goes There,” Fukunaga’s direction was excellent without being flashy. Some viewers didn’t notice that it was all one shot; they just understood the emotional impact. The shoot-out in “Down Will Come,” on the other hand, was mostly flash.
Don’t get me wrong—it was darn impressive, especially the way that each character’s intense reaction came through even as the bullets kept flying. Director Jeremy Podewsa has an impressive (and controversial) record of directing TV episodes; he can use this shoot-out as an audition reel for directing a blockbuster action movie. That was, in fact, my first reaction: not “Oh, wow, look at these poor characters!” but “Oh, wow, look at this director being awesome.”
A bit more consideration reveals a few points of confusion. (Let’s not call them plot holes yet.) It’s hinted that Mayor Chessani set up the team, but why? And, seriously, if he knew that a huge gun battle was going to result, how does he expect not to get caught? That was a massive amount of civilian and police death. There will be an investigation, and that sort of messiness is not the easiest way to shut down the investigation into Caspere’s death. Hitting the detectives with the sort of bureaucratic nonsense that Ani is dealing with seems like a more effective way to let the Caspere case go cold.
And why didn’t people run away? It’s hard to tell exactly, but I think the bus driver was looking at a clipboard when he got shot. Why didn’t he duck under one of the seats? And why did Amarilla kill him, anyway? Why didn’t the protestors run away? Why... Oh, you get the point.
Many critics, including myself, seem to be coming to terms with the relative mediocrity of True Detective's second season. What was meant to be a watercooler moment has instead become an object lesson in trying too hard: the internet is a-buzz about this scene, but “I was left cold” seems to be the majority opinion, and that reaction is bleeding into the entire season’s reception.
We’re going to keep reviewing True Detective here at Doux Reviews. (Heather is filling in for me next week.) I want the show to reach—or even get close to—the heights of the first season. But I’m starting to worry that the magic just isn’t there.
Do any of you feel the same way?
Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, True Detective, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)
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