There’s a line in Freaky Friday when Jamie Lee Curtis asks, “You mean we’re like, stuck in this suckfest?” And now, 12 years later, we finally know that she was referring to Vinci, CA. Fortunately, Vinci is a fictional place; moving forward, we’ll assume that its official motto is “A Terrible Place.” Founded in the 1900s, the town morphed into an industrial mecca in the 1920s and pushed out its residents for manufacturing, before emitting the worst pollution in the state (27 million pounds of toxic waste and counting). City Hall is corrupt, the police force is a disgrace, and it embodies the worst parts of the American dream: While the 1% thrives, everybody else loses. And our characters are trapped there. At the start of the episode, Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) lies in bed describing a horrific memory of child abuse: One night, his alcoholic dad locked him in the basement and left him there for five days. A young Semyon was forced to smash rats and nearly starved before his father returned to let him back up. “What if I’m still in the basement in the dark?” he asks, staring up at two water stains that — to him — seem to symbolize end times. “What if I died there?” What if he did? Because figuratively speaking, Vinci is a lot like Semyon’s basement: a cesspool of horror and (moral) decay. And it’s already bringing out the worst in all of our characters. After finding out that Caspar (RIP) was tortured before being killed, we learn that each 'True Detective' has been given special instructions by their bosses. Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), a highway patrolman, is told he could become a state detective if he lands the killer (as if). Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) is informed that she will be primary commander on the case (good luck spearheading anything in this town), while Velcoro (Colin Farrell) will sit nicely in the pocket of the Ventura County task force. So, like the town, this case is damned — especially when it begins drudging up the pasts of people who have obviously never processed them. (Or told a joke or laughed or experienced joy. Seriously, these are the type of people who’d watch The Wire and think Detective McNulty was an over-the-top comedian.) And who can blame them? After making a stopover at his childhood home, Woodrugh introduces us to his mother (Lolita Davidovich), who channels the charm of Kim Basinger as Eminem’s mom in 8 Mile. Their dynamic is upsetting, and no one — and especially not Woodrugh — is going to talk about it. Just like how he also refuses to talk to his girlfriend about his stint in Iraq, or why he was put on leave of duty, or what case he’s currently working on (withholding that effectively breaks them up). See? This is what makes Vinci’s industrial wasteland so vast: It’s full of secrets.
But even within metaphorical basements and terrible fake towns, there are still safe places. In a rare moment of vulnerability, Bezzerides tells her new partner Velcoro about being raised on a commune, and he alludes to the revenge he took on his ex-wife’s rapist. Then, after he tells her that he thinks they’ve been set up to fail (because it’s Vinci a.k.a. Village of the Damned), she asks a simple, “How compromised are you?” He says nothing and leaves, effectively displaying one of the clearest acts of honesty ever to have occurred within this police force. If you’ve got nothing honest to say, don’t say it at all. This is why watching these three characters wrestle with their pasts trumps the case they’re investigating, or Semyon’s story, or even Caspar’s. Sure, Semyon’s terrible walk down memory lane was compelling, but it did less for his story, and more to establish the type of darkness the squad will be dealing with. I mean, if Semyon can house secrets like that — as well as his active involvement with the mob (which he uses to track down Caspar’s second address) — what else does Vinci harbour? Is it like the last round of the Triwizard Tournament, in which only one will survive? If so, which one of our heroes will be Cedric Diggory (and die)? Not Velcoro, I’m sure. The last scene may have brought him face to face with a masked gunman (who shoots him point blank, twice) at Caspar’s second home, but there’s no way we’ll lose Velcoro after only two hours of screen time, because that’s just obscene. (Like, why build up such an intense backstory, then? Why give us the fight with his ex this week?) Vinci may be a physical, mental, and emotional hellhole, but Velcoro is the Boy Who Lived — and if he goes down, it won’t be without taking the whole town with him. Until then, we’re a little closer to catching Caspar’s killer, all while learning that the rest of Semyon’s backstory is about as dark as his basement of childhood trauma. And now that we know Caspar had stolen his money, I’m sure next week we’ll be tackling what happens when you add Semyon’s desperation for answers and cash to a town already on the brink of combustion. (Let’s hope he’ll grab that net and catch that beautiful butterfly.) Vinci, California: It Can Always Get Worse. Odds & Ends - Velcoro is right: Bezzerides really can pull off an e-cig. (And it’s true, not a lot of people can.) - Nothing more confusing than Velcoro declaring himself a feminist (to Bezzerides) after we see him telling his ex that he “had a right” to take matters into his own hands, back when they were married. (#NotAllMen) - Nothing like hearing Bezzerides spit the harsh truth that the difference between genders is that one can kill the other with their bare hands. - Super irresponsible of Semyon to break his glasses in a fit of rage when he knows full well that he has no money to replace them. - Bezzerides watching porn in her hotel room: work for an investigation or just an example of her living her life? You decide.