I Welcome Judgment: True Detective Season 2 Episode 2 “Night Finds You”


Ben Casper

Dramatis Personae

Colin Farrell as Detective Raymond Velcoro, Vinci Police Department

Vince Vaughn as Frank Semyon criminal and entrepreneur

Rachel McAdams as Detective Antigone “Ani” Bezzerides of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department

Taylor Kitsch as Officer Paul Woodrugh of the California Highway Patrol

Season Plot:  Upheaval ensues when city planner Ben Casper disappears just days before he was supposed to present plans for a multi-billion dollar light rail project.  When he’s later found murdered by the side of the road, his eyes chemically burned out, the crime brings together a disparate group of characters including a corrupt Vinci city detective, a highway patrolman with a tormented past, a career criminal trying to go straight, and a County Sheriff’s department detective with a gambling problem.

Episode 2:  “Night Finds You”

After the resounding success of last week’s season premiere, there’s only one way to describe the follow-up episode.

Underwhelming.

While there were some strong moments in “Night Finds You,” mostly centered around Frank, the episode as a whole felt very disjointed.  Some of the metaphors were incredibly cliché.  Take for example the opening scene where Frank stares at a water stain on his ceiling and describes how when he was a child he was locked in the basement and forgotten for five days by his father.  From an acting perspective, it was spot on.  It’s the first real insight into what motivates Frank as a person, the fear that he’s somehow still in that basement, despite all he’s done in his career.  Frank’s words, “It’s all paper mache” directly correlate to what’s going on in his real life.  His house and casino are mortgaged to the hilt, and worse still Frank invested all his capital with Ben Casper, who didn’t finish the deal with Casper’s holding company Catalyst.  Not only is Frank’s livelihood in jeopardy, but his reputation as a criminal is diminishing.  He’s desperate to prove that he’s still the man, whether it’s reminding the mayor of Vinci what he did for his son when he’s short on a kickback payment or approaching a man who wrote a book about the sweatshops in Vinci, just after Seymon’s goons beat the crap out of him.  While the scenes bring to light the criminal element of Seymon’s life, they also reek of desperation, of a man frantically trying to cling to his kingdom.  And I doesn’t ameliorate the fact that the paper mache metaphor is extremely overemphasized.

Paper Mache

Aside from Frank’s development as a character, the rest of the show feels inherently flawed.  Paul, Velcoro, and Ani have all been assigned as a special task force to investigate Casper’s murder but each department (Highway Patrol, Sheriff’s Office, and the Vinci PD) have their own agenda.  How’s it presented though is so rushed and rapid fire that I had to rewind several times just to get everything straight.  What’s strange to me, and all three characters touch on it  in the episode, is why are these three  brought together to lead the task force?  It’s almost like they are being setup to fail, which suggests someone higher up the chain has a vested interest in making sure the investigation goes a certain way.

While I suggested last week that’s Casper’s death seemed personal, now I’m not sure.  The autopsy reveals that Casper was in fact tortured but the real question is why and who?  The why seems pretty obvious:  money and the incredible amount of tax revenue that was retained by the county due to his dealings.  Almost $900 million worth.  The who is the real mystery.  The Russian mob?  Someone in the California government?  A wronged investor?  While through the course of the investigation Ani, Paul, and Velcoro discover that Casper had a second house where he brought prostitutes, it’s doubtful that his murder was from a jilted whore.

Perhaps the pervasive and fascinating thing in the early going of this season is how sex plays a huge part in each character’s life.  More specifically there is a distinctly voyeuristic overtone to this entire episode.  There’s repeated shots of the L.A. skyline at night, when Velcoro enters Casper’s second house towards the end of the episode it’s implied that someone’s watching in another car, Ani likes to look at hardcore porn on the Internet but seemingly gets no pleasure from it, and Paul observes a gay prostitute from his window at a hotel. (Incidentally, there’s a distinct obviousness when it comes to Paul’s sexual orientation.  The signs are about as subtle as a Confederate flag at an NAACP meeting).

Ani

What’s annoying to me is the lack of cohesion between Ani, Paul, and Velcoro.  I’m not talking about chemistry, that seems present at least between Velcoro and Ani.  But Paul’s treated almost like a third wheel.  He’s an afterthought, disposable if you will.  It begs the question:  If Paul is disposable what’s the audience’s impetus for emotional investment?  Paul’s either a key element or he’s not and right now his storyline is less than boring.  It’s downright tedious.

Thankfully, Ani and Velcoro’s relationship isn’t mundane.  Their dynamic is strange but enticing.  Velcoro is much more forthcoming than Ani and tells her about his ex-wife’s rape, connection to the criminal underworld (although not to what extent), and his drug/alcohol addiction.  Ani on the other hand is still a closed book although she does reveal her hippie commune upbringing.  There’s a coldness and distance to her that suggests childhood trauma.  Perhaps sexual abuse?  And has Paul experienced the same thing?  The few scenes with his Mom definitely gave off a Jamie/Cersei vibe.  Probably too soon to tell.

Sexual abuse also alludes to the other overriding sexual connotation of “Night Finds You,” namely societal sexual taboos. We get hints throughout the episode:  Ani’s porn predilection, Paul’s homosexual desires–they all culminate in the final scene where Velcoro visits Casper’s secret sex house.  There Velcoro finds all manner of animal masks and sexually explicit paraphernalia.  This reinforces the bacchanalian aspect of Casper’s life.

It’s this final scene that redeems the episode somewhat.  It certainly ended on a dramatic note as Velcoro is shot (killed?) by a man in a crow’s mask, presumably the same person who killed Casper.  I say “somewhat” because although the act was unexpected and made for great television, I’m going to be extremely agitated if Colin Farrell’s character is really dead.  If he really is dead then the producers of this second season have hamstrung themselves.  Why would you kill off your best character in the show?  Especially when after two episodes the waters are getting a little choppy?  I mean I doubt he’s dead but can you imagine if that’s the case?  What a giant middle finger to the audience.

velcoro

In any event “True Detective” will need a strong third episode to make up for this decidedly blasé installment.

Best Scene:  The meeting between Velcoro and Frank.  It’s a nice juxtaposition to last week’s similar scene in the same bar.  Only this time Frank comes across as the boss not Velcoro’s friend.  That part where Frank tells Velcoro that being the chief of the Vinci PD isn’t a choice?  Chills.

Best Line:  “Maybe it’s just a little too close to sucking a robot’s dick.”  (Velcoro’s reference to E-cigarettes)

Rating:  On a scale of 0 to 10 Colin Farrell mustaches, “Night Finds You” rates a 7.

 

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