True Detective Recap: To Be Or Not To Be

Photo: Lacey Terrell/HBO.
Called it.

When Velcoro was shot at the end of the last episode, nobody here (including me) thought he was actually dead. How could he be? He’s the McConaughey equivalent of True Detective’s second season, and there have only been three episodes. We still have yet to learn the backstory behind the mustache. When we have it, that’s when they’ll kill him off.

Let’s do this.

It turns out hell (or the dreams one has post-shooting) is actually a dive bar with a Conway Twitty impersonator singing “The Rose.” After Velcoro wakes up following his run-in with a firearm shot at close range right into his chest, we learn he’s sustained only surface wounds. Bezzerides delivers the line we’ve been thinking since episode one: “What the f--k, man?”

Because I mean it: WTF? We’ve had monologues, dad-on-dad beatings, bullied kids, and missing people. We’ve seen communes, adrenaline addiction, and a bar owner with mysterious scars. And despite all of this, we’ve seen precious little that should compel us to keep watching further. Yeah, we know Semyon’s business partner Caspere left him broke before being murdered. Sure, we know Semyon is a mob guy with a flair for violence. We know Velcoro is sad and divorced and has a bad temper. We know Bezzerides grew up among new-age hippies (with a dad I hope is Don Draper) and that Woodrugh served in the war, loves his motorcycle, and is possibly closeted. But aside from figuring out who killed Caspere, why are we supposed to be watching? What’s in it for us? At what point do we get to hunker down and invest our emotions in a plot that inspires watercooler chats and conspiracy theories? The first season had a clear target (the Yellow King). What we have now is chaos.

At least this week it’s the good kind.

For the first time since the series premiered, True Detective winked back. After Bezzerides chews out Velcoro for almost dying, he tells her how he survived: The bullets were rubber — like what cops use. Like what cops use. Like what cops use. (YASSS QUEEN.) Someone is bad, and we’ve probably already met them. We’ve been thrown a bone. The plot thickens.

Not thickening (oh, boy) is Semyon (I’m so sorry), whose stress is starting to hit him where it hurts: in a place where it actually hurts. Dude needs to produce a sperm sample and he can’t get it up, despite his wife Jordan (Kelly Reilly) trying her patient, saintly best. That isn’t good enough. After conceding, Semyon throws a tantrum, claiming he thinks IVF is unnatural and that there’s nothing wrong with him.

Finally, it’s Jordan’s time to shine. Considering the majority of Nic Pizzolatto’s female characters (see: all but one) have been quiet, complacent, or cast as sex workers or victims, it’s about time somebody stepped out of the macho shadows and asserted herself as an actual person. Jordan goes for the jugular: In response to being blamed for their inability to conceive, she calls out Semyon’s moodiness, his erectile dysfunction, his bad attitude, and how he makes her feel like an incubator. May “suck your own dick” be the official response to any and all chauvinists who objectify women.

But then the next scene. Bezzerides and Woodrugh end up at the Mayor’s home, speaking to his hungover and/or drunk and/or high wife, which leads to a sequence in which a sex worker is either thrown from a balcony or jumps, topless, into a pool. She wades around, and we meet the Mayor’s son, a “party organizer” who uses different accents for different events and loves himself a pair of tight briefs. (Three points to Bezzerides: “Cover yourself.”)

In my head, after every scene, the young man who plays him (Vinicius Machado) shouts, “Act-ing!”

And while Bezzerides deals one-liners with the finesse of a woman who’s sick of everyone’s shit (and even ends her relationship with someone by telling him to walk away “with dignity”), the show diminishes her power just as soon as it doles it out. Vinci's Mayor (Ritchie Coster) refers to her repeatedly as a “c--t” and her boss tells her to act like she would sleep with Velcoro just to keep him close. Okay, sure. I’m thinking the actual villain this season is overt misogyny. Maybe that’s why everyone in Vinci is so sad.

Woof. So while women certainly “had a moment” in episode three, the ep also brought with it the introduction of what can only be described as Shakespearean-level plot points. Here’s how things played out: Velcoro’s bosses and the Mayor want Velcoro to make sure the Caspere investigation doesn’t lead to them. Bezzerides’ bosses want to make sure she’s got an eye on Velcoro, who they know is dirty. Meanwhile, Velcoro’s ex-wife shows up to offer $10K in hopes that Velcoro will leave Vinci and start over. Why? Because he’s being investigated by the state, and she knows he’s damned.

Okay, but this is where it gets all sort of Macbeth.

We learn — yes, in this episode — that Woodrugh may have had an affair with a fellow marine (Gabriel Luna) while serving, and that he will probably be blackmailed for this because we see a gentleman take his photo after fighting with his (alleged) ex. Moments later, while trying to interview sex workers he hopes to tie to the Caspere case, Woodrugh walks into Semyon's bar and Semyon himself, who is out for blood. (Whew.) It is confusing, it is convoluted, but so was Shakespeare, which is something I imagine Pizzolatto telling himself while writing these scripts.
Photo: Lacey Terrell/HBO.
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So arguably, this episode was the humorless, ponderous equivalent of Ocean’s 11. At some point, we will need a reveal, and then we will need to revisit everything so we can kick ourselves for missing huge Easter eggs we couldn’t be bothered to look for since watching the first two episodes felt like taking an exam. Now we know everybody’s playing everybody else. And we know that Bezzerides and Velcoro almost caught the guy they’re after. (Like, he blew up their car while they were going door to door: This fellow is thirsty for incrimination.)

We just need to know who’s actually holding the strings.

Spoiler alert, though: it won’t be Semyon. He’s too busy holding the gold teeth he pulled out from the gang leader (Pedro Miguel Arce) who challenged him in front of a room full of other gang leaders. Semyon is a man, don’t forget. And there is nothing wrong with him!

This week’s stand-out scene: one, two, three, four, I declare a gang war. None of us will ever forget watching Vince Vaughn beat up and/or torture (and/or kill?) Danny Santos, former owner of many gold teeth. I will never look at grills the same way again. I will never watch Wedding Crashers the same way again. I will never watch this scene again. Ryan Murphy must be so mad he didn’t write it.

Odds And Ends:

- Taylor Kitsch and Rachel McAdams are reportedly dating. I feel like we deserve an episode exclusively about that. I also feel like, as a Canadian, I would’ve been okay to write a few hundred words on why this development is important on a national scale. Also, if Rachel and/or Taylor are reading this, please make sure your first dance at your wedding is to something by Drake. (Happy belated Canada Day!)

- That said, I’d like to talk for 35 minutes about Bezzerides telling Woodrugh to “put those looks to use” before his day of talking to sex workers.

- #VapeLife: singlehandedly, this show is demonstrating all sides of the e-cig argument. This week, Woodrugh wonders aloud, “Is that a f--king e-cigarette?” Silence. Although his disappointment at her for having one was deafening.

- You’re right, Velcoro: You are not Columbo. Not even his former sheriff dad (Fred Ward) is, whom we meet during Velcoro’s dream, and again back at his home. Dude had more wooden knick-knacks than a nineties decor catalog. Also please remember that Fred Ward was in Sweet Home Alabama, thank you.

- Four points to Bezzerides for describing Velcoro to her superiors as a “burnout.” I imagine Velcoro saying, “Would a burnout wear this?” while putting on his spanking new denim jacket.

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