Spoiler alert for "True Detective" Season 2, Episode 4, "Down Will Come."
The Frank Semyon Comeback Tour is alive, but it's not going well. The mobster visits one ethnic criminal cohort after the next in hopes of rebuilding his empire, ultimately proposing that the soon-to-be-sonless Ray join him in business. Meanwhile, Paul lets loose with his army buddy, then hates himself for it. Ani's hippie father finally pops up again, informing his daughter, pre-suspension, that Mayor Chessani and Caspere had business dealings for years. A watch bearing Caspere's prints turns up at a pawn shop. It turns out one of his prostitutes sold it, which brings Frank, Paul and Ani together again -- like old friends! -- for a raid on the home of the her pimp, Ledo Amarilla. Unfortunately for these true detectives, a meth lab explodes and Amarilla tries to flee, leading to an all-out massacre. Vinci was such a tiny town, is anyone even still alive after that shootout? Do we care? Let's discuss.
Matt: Well, Erin. Let's begin at the end: with a 10-minute shootout and a freeze frame so silly it makes a joke out of the very notion that the Caspere case may have just come to a close. (We are supposed to think it came to a close, right?) I suppose the gunpowder symposium is this season's version of Rust Cohle raiding Reggie Ledoux's meth lab, which occurred at the same point last season, but had the advantage of immaculate direction and at least a pinch of poise. Last night's battle royale was gripping -- we wanted a manhunt, and you said you were okay with some violence, and that's exactly what we got. But with a score of civilian casualties and a free-for-all that did more to ignite a little adrenaline than to create a proper cast of characters for a combat setpiece, "Who even were those people?" is not an illegitimate question to pose. Nor is "How did everyone in the vicinity of the gunfire die except the show's three leads?"
Erin: I love a good shootout, and following last week's chase, this was just what "True Detective" needed. Throw the main characters into a high-danger zone, give the bad guys the weapon advantage (in this case, it was automatics versus our guys' handguns), and raise the stakes with a bunch of civilians in the area. The sequence was pretty great while it was happening, and I was alarmed and tense watching Ani run out of bullets and Ray and Paul finally corner Ledo Amarilla. But then, it all ended suddenly, and I felt just as dumbstruck as the three of them staring at each other. Besides being distracted by the fact that HBO cast Cesar Garcia, aka No-Doze from "Breaking Bad," as their stereotypical Latino gangster and practically ripped off the Walter White mercury explosion scene, I was completely sucked in to the sequence until its anti-climactic ending. Who were those guys, why do they matter and what the hell just happened? I have no idea how the shootout affected any of the story this season and why we should care. I've reached the point of losing all patience. I'm going to go rewatch last year's six-minute tracking shot while you respond, BRB.
Matt: Enjoy that while I see if I can work Frank's vocabulary lesson into my Monday morning. How about: This episode of "True Detective" was louche. That pass the Semyon Test?
Nah, it wasn't that bad -- if nothing else, the Three Aggrieved Amigos will suffer repercussions for the gunfire circus, which could sort of reboot the season's second half. In the meantime, let's talk about one couple that shouldn't be pregnant (Paul and his girlfriend) and another that can't get pregnant (Frank and Jordan). "I guess I love you too" was all Paul needed to hear to weasel his way out of the land of effeminate queers, except it's too damn late. "This is the best thing that could've happened," he said, and sadly he may be right. I was counting on Paul's confusion playing out as he climbed into bed with his hunky military pal, yet we couldn't even get any actual action there, just a lot of post-coital moping. I'm still invested in that storyline, but the angst is running its course when bookended with Frank griping about avocado trees and "whatever the fuck they call MDMA these days." I smell PTSD in Paul's future after that warlike spectacle, but with a visit to mommy dearest in next week's promo, it's time to move that plot forward. Where exactly it can go -- corny enlightenment? Suicidal reverie? -- is another story. At least show us the sex if you're going to subject us to the violence, HBO. I'm shipping Paul and Miguel. He made waffles!
Erin: Yes, please, so on board with Paul and Miguel. I mean, come on, Miguel even taped the game! I also think Paul's mama is about to make things even more messy for the guy, but can we not with the tears in the back of the cab again, please? We get it. I was hoping his conversation with Ray in the car would reveal some more vulnerable parts of both characters, but still, the debilitating dialogue keeps restraining these characters from the three-dimensional depths they're teetering on.
This week brought us another cringeworthy line that seems to give the middle finger to all of Rust Cohle's intellectual musings: "Those moments, they stare back at you," Ani said to her sister. "You don’t remember them, they remember you. You turn around, there they are," wait for it ... "staring." I'm further convinced that Pizzolatto spilled coffee on the original draft of this season and just whipped up whatever came to mind on set before production got pushed into overtime. Or how about Frank imparting his deep wisdom on Ray after they silently glanced at each other over the sulking sounds of Lera Lynn's guitar: "Sometimes your worst self is your best self." I think we've all figured that out about this show by now, but thanks for the reminder, Frank. To quote Ray in the best line of this season, though, I have one message for Pizzolatto: "Enough with this monkey fuck."
Matt: Oh, I get it. Because the offer we can't refuse is the urge to change the channel every time Frank talks about his poverty. I do wonder if there's something more to Jordan, though. Jeremy Podeswa, grabbing the director's chair from Justin Lin (Episodes 1 and 2) and Janus Metz (Episode 3), had the camera linger on her suspiciously, and she has a cozy way with their business honchos. We aren't asked to feel enough sympathy for Jordan's disheartening marriage, and I'm thinking maybe she has an upper hand that will reveal itself in the coming episodes. It would certainly be more revolutionary than the clues being planted against Dr. Pitlor and the mayor, which feel like red herrings, or the PowerPoint presentation that served as Amarilla's sole characterization. And look, the panicked gay dude can get his girlfriend preggers, but the gangster overlord can't -- how's that as symbolism for the Frank arc's inertia?
Let's talk about Ani. You criticized the suggestion that she sleep with Ray last week, and here she is challenging how her gender contributed to her suspension. I knew she'd seize a halfhearted feminist moment at some point, if only so the Pizzster can prove he's not a total slave to scripted misogyny. But she has a gambling problem? Did we know that before? Where does it fit into the larger story? Even as each episode offers better scenes than the last, it seems less and less likely that all of these threads are headed toward a true intersection. Maybe it would have been cool to see her storm through a knife fight, though -- we already knew she carried little daggers on her so she can feel like one of the guys. Now all she needs is the savagery of slitting a throat to feel empowered. (Just kidding. Sorta.) Hey, at least Rachel McAdams and Colin Farrell can boast that they shared screen time with not one but two "Breaking Bad" corpses, both of whom deserved far better characterizations. That was Andrea, Jesse Pinkman's beloved, smoking a weird hookah pipe alone and telling Ray and Ani that her father has been up to no good. At this point, I'm just here to spot actors who hail from superior hallmarks of 21st-century television drama.
Erin: That was Andrea! I wondered why I felt so emotionally drawn to her during that scene, which seemingly served no purpose other than reassuring us Chessani is "a very bad guy" and for Ani to reflect on her mother. Speaking of Ani's family, I find it incredibly odd that her own father, Eliot Bezzerides, is more connected to the players at the center of this crime than anyone. I know the two are estranged, but how did it take four episodes for her to connect the dots at her father's church? Obviously religion is at the center of this mystery, yet again, and I have a feeling we're all going to be scrutinizing every frame of Eliot's photo album to find the killer. The show is pointing at Pitlor and Frank's right-hand man, Blake, as the suspects to watch, but I'll wager that Eliot's past has a lot to reveal about the current corruption, along with Ray's former partner, Teague Dixon. I was surprised to see Dixon get killed so quickly into Sunday's shootout, since he's been suspicious from the start and told Ray to "burn all [his] shit quick" if something happened to him. Hmm. Also, next week's episode is apparently titled "Other Lives," (according to not-always-trustworthy IMDb) and W. Earl Brown's Dixon and Garcia's Amarilla are listed as appearing. Will we get some flashbacks? Perhaps we'll see one of Ray's many past lives, as Eliot's aura reading revealed.
Matt: The aura reading! Ray is all green and black, probably just like the show. You're right about Eliot, but is anyone actually scrutinizing this season for clues? The obsessive Reddit threads are part of what led to the vitriol over last season's finale, especially after the theorizing spilled over to the show's mainstream coverage. I'm not seeing much of that this year, maybe because the talky scenes go nowhere and the action pieces go too far. If it hasn't happened yet, good luck engendering such conversations in future episodes. Like Paul, this anthology series does not know how to be out in the world.
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