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True Detective: Church in Ruins

“I was thinking about a woman drowning on dry land.”
“Well, I don’t really get art.”

Ray Velcoro and I have the same Edward Hopper print, “Hotel Room.” You can see it at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid. Or right over there -->.

Mine hangs above my desk; it is one of my favorite paintings because of its ambiguity. Is she leaving or arriving? Fleeing or starting a new journey? The woman is in her underwear, re-reading—or having read—a letter (or a timetable, according to the internet). I do not think it brings welcome news. She is penned in by dense blocks of color: the wall, the wood trim, the headboard and footboard. I am glad that she is leaving, even if she is not. It is a claustrophobic painting and she just might be drowning on dry land.

Ray Velcoro is leaving his home, and he is not glad. In the two months since the shoot-out, Ray has quit his job and started to work, officially, for Frank. He has to move out of municipal housing in Vinci. He has decided (again?) to give up claim to his son. He took a very deliberate leap off of the wagon. When Ray was shot by the rubber bullets, he seemed to see his survival as a new lease on life. When he wasn’t shot during the shoot-out, he seems to have decided to break that lease.

True Detective has become a claustrophobic show. For all the sprawl of its setting—most of Southern California and a swath of the Central Valley—the characters are trapped in their own flat circles. They are investigating a case that the world thinks is closed, if it ever cared at all. Ray’s life is composed of false starts. Frank has to relive his climb from gangster to legitimate business man all over again.

Paul Woodrugh is trapped, too. His trap is ironic. To an outside observer, his life would look like it was coming together: a fiancĂ©e, a baby on the way, a kind new mother-in-law, a fancy detective job. What he really wants, of course—or what he needs—is to make peace with his sexuality, detach himself from his Oedipal money-grubbing mother, and get “back on the bike” that he loves so much.

Ani is trapped by her own past. That she was sexually abused is not a surprise, as Pizzolatto seems to see women as abuse waiting to happen. This season, like last season, Pizzolatto connects massive corruption to those who sexually prey on children: two social ills that depend on silence to continue.

Ani’s flashback (sudden recollection? memory?) to her abuse situates pedophilia in the same realm as men who party with prostitutes. I have issues with this, mostly because Athena’s description of the party made it clear that at least most of the women knew what they were getting into. (Unless we are meant to think that, because they are Eastern European, this is a sex-slavery situation. But in that case, why would they have IDs in the first place?) Prostitution isn’t a happy situation, but high-class escorting and preying on a child are two very different situations.

Not for Ani, of course. The first time we saw her, she had just gotten friskier with her boyfriend than he wanted to get. With Athena, in this episode, she played with knives to avoid a serious emotional conversation. Ani likes to be in control, which she defines as on the offensive—sexually or otherwise. Going undercover may have seemed like going on the offensive, but needing to submit to the Molly breathspray (what will they think of next?) put her in a position more vulnerable than she realized.

The party scene was impressive. Paul going all Initiative on the security guards was fun. Ray vamping out on the security guards was less fun. Ani…well, did she kill that guy? What would it mean if she did? I’m pretty sure that this secret investigation squad doesn’t mean that they’ve got CIA-like immunity. On the other hand, if the guy is dead and no body is found, we’ll know that the movers and shakers are as creepy and murderous as they seem to be.

Frank said that “Sometimes a thing happens, splits your life. There’s a before and an after…And this is your first. But if you use it right, the bad thing, if you use it right, it makes you better. Stronger…Bad as this is, wrong as this is, this hurt can make you a better man.” The challenge that all of our characters continue to face is that each time they encounter one of those crucible moments—the shoot-out, for instance—they lack the ability to make the “after” any better than the “before.”

With two episodes left, the best I can hope for is that at least one of them gets some sort of emotional closure. Given the vague depths of the investigation, the way that the corruption is leeching into the land like toxic waste in Fresno, I can only hope that Ani, or Paul, or Ray, or even the verbose Mr. Vaughn manages to realize that they can leave, they’re not trapped in their cycles, and there can be an “after” worth the name.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)


  1. The statement about the before and afters in your life really struck a chord. I have had 2 before and afters in my life. The events, both bad, led to better things. The writing can be very good, even when the actors don't carry it well. This episode did turn a corner for me. A TV show is special if it can leave me with a satisfied feeling. This episode did this for the first time in the run of the show. Maybe it is my attachment to fast cars (I owned a 1970 442 as a teen). I enjoyed this episode. It is not as good as the first season, but at least I care about Ray, Paul and Ani now.

  2. Yes, I liked that before and after statement too, Docnaz. Although Frank's habit of saying everything two or three times still irks me. Some of that might be Vaughn's delivery, though.

  3. I've been to better 'hooker parties' than this one. J/k. I liked the ep but it was very weird at points in ways that haven't been featured throughout the season so it felt a tad jarring. I.E. the music at the party while Ani was walking around. Please don't get me wrong -- I love weird but this was almost weird for weird sake? Thanks for the review, Josie. As ever, I like reading your thoughts.

  4. Weird for weird's sake is a hallmark of David Lynch - alienating, uncomfortable, claustrophobic, and this is so, so obviously an homage to his work. Coupled with the oddly zany, stilted dialog...it's a weird, auteur kind of potboiler that never goes far enough. Why, exactly, are we supposed to think this is all seedy and corrupt? We haven't seen any real seediness - it's just been hinted at.

    Twin Peaks went a lot farther into the madness instead of skirting the edges - even something as simple as Audrey Horne sabotaging her dad's business plan was done with a kind of wicked delight that would have punched this show up to the next level. Why hasn't this director figured out that those little bits of claw and fang were the thing that made it magical?

    In other words, I think showing some of blech would have given it a bit of momentum. Instead we're treated to endless, needless conversation in a beautiful package.

    It's just odd. I feel I can't *quite* grasp what he's trying to do. Those few brilliant scenes have been really brilliant.


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