True Detective Recap: Damaged Souls Unite

Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
In the immortal words of High School Musical, we’re all in this together.

That’s the takeaway from True Detective’s season 2 premiere, in which we learn that Louisiana’s got nothing on L.A.’s law enforcement team. (Who, for the record, are tied together by a corpse.)

To start, we’re going into this season a little wiser than last time. Mainly, we know the opening credits hint towards the plot, so it’s clear from the imagery that the stories will deal less with the rural South (duh) and more with highways, casinos, and a case of the sads.

But TD’s overarching themes are still surprisingly similar. We meet a cop named Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) who’s a father to a bullied son and, like Rusty Cohle, boasts a serious drinking problem. (One that fuels a physical attack on a newspaper reporter and another on the father of his son’s school bully via brass knuckles.)

Also as in season 1, we see most female characters taking on unfortunately familiar roles: they’re girlfriends, sex workers, and in one case, an actress willing to trade a blow job for a get-out-of-jail-free card from ex-mercenary-turned-motorcycle cop, Paul Woodrough (Taylor Kitsch). The only woman who’s an exception is detective Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), who’s got more depth in her ombre bob than any other character, including Velcoro or his old-timey mustache.

Like most TV detectives (excluding Columbo), Bezzerides has a chip on her shoulder. The first time we meet her, she’s talking to a gentleman caller about her sexual boundaries, and then we’re whisked along as she raids what she believes to be an illegal prostitution ring. Turns out it isn’t, and that her own sister is one of the company’s webcam “actresses.”

This, of course, sheds a little more light on the steel-faced Bezzerides (who lectures her sister on her life choices). In response, her sister (Leven Rambin) accuses Bezzerides of being a prude, of being cold, guarded, and tightly wound. (So: a character I relate to.) Bezzerides’ guru father (David Morse), however, claims that Bezzerides is angry. And when a missing-person case leads her and her partner (Michael Irby) to her dad’s new age haven, we see their confrontation end with Bezzerides’ very simple description of her father: He’s a prick.

Bless. To watch McAdams shed her perpetual wife/girlfriend/rom-com role is enough to keep us wading through the episode’s whisky-soaked waters and into the rest of the season. (Seriously, please let this be the role that propels Rachel to the dramas she’s totally capable of carrying.) And then, after Bezzerides cleans up, arms herself, and heads to a bar, we’re back in Velcoro’s company, whose 24 hours put Rusty and Marty’s season arc to shame.

Well, hold onto your butts. After he goes to a lawyer (whom he pays in cash) and boasts about having nothing to hide (while trying to win custody of his son), we learn that years before, his wife had been raped and beaten (perpetrator, TBA) — which eventually led to their divorce. He’s also a liar, because he’s got plenty to hide: In a flashback, we see mob-tied developer Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) show young sheriff Velcoro the photo of the (alleged) perp. Velcoro liquors up, covers his face and hands, and assaults a journalist whom he wants to stop from printing an eight-part takedown of the department and/or Semyon’s associates. (If you can read this, Velcoro, please don’t take this recap personally.)

Which is all well, good, and gritty, but why should we care? Why do we need to explore three disjointed stories, each darker than the last? Enter: the body of Ben Caspar, city manager.

Before this Holy Trinity came together (via the discovery of habeas corpus), we’d learned that Velcoro was a sad, damaged, potentially very violent drunk. We knew Bezzerides’ upbringing was less than ideal, that her mother has died, and that after a long day, she’ll end up drinking at a casino. We also know that Woodrugh takes blow jobs from women he pulls over and that he’s an adrenaline junkie. (It was his high-speed motorcycle ride that led him to finding the corpse.) And Semyon? He’s a businessman trying to seem legit, and his business partner (Ben Caspar) is MIA...until Woodrugh finds him, propped up on a bench.

The murderer is no Yellow King (is anyone?), but dude did a helluva job sending a message: Caspar’s eyes are burned out with acid, he’s suffered trauma to the head, and he’s been taken from his home (which Velcoro had investigated earlier) and displayed for all to see. This is a hit. This is personal and business. This is how Woodrugh (who found him), Velcoro (who checked out Caspar’s home), and Bezzerides (who deals with murder) are forced into the same narrative. This is how Three’s Company would look if it was set in 2015.

So now, we get to watch three poor, unfortunate souls rally to do their jobs. Now, we get to watch what happens when Rusty 2.0 (Velcoro) has used his capacity for violence/darkness for good and for evil. Now, we get to see a strong, hardened woman assert herself in a show defined almost completely by men. We also get to see Taylor Kitsch.

May True Detective season 2 be the crime show we deserve. We’ve gotten acquainted with the characters (never an easy feat), we’ve learned they’ve got an endgame (find out who killed Caspar), and we know their biggest threat (alcoholism and driving recklessly). If McConaughey shows up at any point, driving a Lincoln, we’ll be totally set.

Odds And Ends
– Semyon’s advice not to eat, even when hungry, is just misguided. I’m sure he was just meaning to say, “The thirst is real.”
– He also should’ve totally sprung for the country club.
– It’s not too late to find out Bezzerides’ long-haired father is Don Draper, forty years later. (Actress mom, am I right? Megan, anyone?)

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