Frank Semyon, played with desperate, often hilarious commitment by Vince Vaughn, is in a spot. His wife can’t give birth (or give him an erection). His house and poker room are double-mortgaged. He’s lost all his money in a land deal with a creepy pornographer whose dick was blown clean off. And if all that weren’t enough, his “fuckin’ avocado trees” are dying!
Now Frank is reckless. He’s just ripped the golden grill out of a fat pimp’s mouth with a set of pliers, and he’s getting back into the nightlife business—which is, apparently, the lowest rung of L.A.’s criminal underworld. Frank wants to move “coke, crystal, and whatever the fuck they call MDMA now” through his club and must convince a gaggle of shady Russians on the consignment deal. And thus, we viewers are treated to a scene in which Vaughn, in a cute lil’ wedding cake shop, slowly leans into the ear of an Eastern Bloc gangster and menacingly whispers, “And I never lost a tooth. Never even had a fuckin’ cavity.”
Maybe we’re thinking about True Detective’s second season all wrong. Maybe we shouldn’t be deconstructing all the repetitive visual cues, droopy faces, ridiculous lines (apoplectic!), and extravagant seriousness of the entire enterprise. Maybe we should just appreciate how deliciously campy Nic Pizzolatto’s Angeleno whodunit is. After all, this is a show where Rick Springfield (!) plays a creepy, Botox-crazy psychologist who runs a clinic that’s been linked to a series of gruesome murders. This shit is hilarious.
Which brings us to Episode 4. For those who tuned in to the first season of True Detective, the fourth episode was the game changer—you know, the one where Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle went undercover with a biker gang, leading to a riveting six-minute shootout through a project shot in a single take. “It was probably a relief because there’s so much philosophy in the first few episodes, and it’s great stuff, but it’s a relief from that,” director Cary Fukunaga told me about that episode. “The tension’s been pulled, and released.”
Fukunaga is, of course, no longer behind the camera for Season 2—though he may have made an uncredited cameo in last week’s episode as an orgy-loving prick.
Prior to the big action set piece, we learn that Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) is even deeper in the closet than we thought. He wakes up hungover in the apartment of his ex-soldier/lover with no recollection of their steamy sex the night before. “You let yourself go, man. Be what you want, it ain’t bad,” the fella tells him. But Paul is deeply ashamed of what he’s done—so ashamed he starts weeping during his cab ride back to his hotel.
Oh, and Paul’s beloved motorbike has been stolen; the Black Mountain operation he was involved in overseas (see: Blackwater) is getting media heat for, presumably, killing innocent civilians; and since his hotel is swarming with reporters—and Paul doesn’t know what Uber is—he needs to call Detective Velcoro (Colin Farrell) for a ride.
“I did everything they said, man,” Paul tells Velcoro. “Army, PD… it doesn’t matter. You do what they say, it doesn’t matter. I’ve been listening to them for so fuckin’ long, I don’t even know who the fuck I am.”
Later, he digs the hole even deeper when his girlfriend returns and says she’s pregnant with his baby, and since she doesn’t “believe in abortion,” she’s keeping it. Paul, sensing a chance at a normal life—since in Pizzolatto’s masculine world, there is no chance of a gay, sexy, macho man like Paul having a normal life unless he goes heteronormative—proposes marriage, and she reluctantly accepts. Also, in this iteration of True D, the only True D here belongs to the gay guy since he’s the only one on the show who can get a woman pregnant.
Antigone Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), meanwhile, grills Mayor Chessani’s daughter and discovers that he had his first wife committed to a mental institution under the watch of Dr. Pitlor (Rick Springfield, also Casper’s therapist). She eventually killed herself. This incident triggers Bezzerides’s memory of her own mother, who “went mad” and committed suicide when she was 12. So if Rick Springfield is also responsible for Bezzerides’s mother’s death, we could be gifted with a scene in which she utters something to the effect of, “This is for Mama B” and caps the “Jessie’s Girl” singer in the dome. A boy can dream.
We learn that Bezzerides’s mom also had a thing for knives, and the one heirloom Antigone took from her was a knife. Anyway, all this mom talk brings Ani back to the Panticapaeum Institute, a cult-ish facility tied to Dr. Pitlor tied to Mayor Chessani tied to that missing woman tied to a land deal (probably) tied to Semyon’s high-speed rail project, and led by that hippie-guru (David Morse) who also happens to be Ani’s father. Here, we get to see a ponytailed David Morse call out Colin Farrell on his intense aura, because this is True Detective Season 2.
If being named “Antigone” and having a ponytailed cult leader for a father and a cam girl loosely tied to Casper the Perv for a sister weren’t punishment enough, Bezzerides is also placed on administrative leave—but still allowed to participate in the state investigation—because her boy-toy Steve, who isn’t man enough to handle her BDSM bedroom action, got butthurt when she cut things off.
But her superiors should really be worried about Bezzerides’s penchant for leading botched raids. And the cop raid she leads in Episode 4 makes the big cam girl/pros-raid fail in the premiere seem like kittens by comparison.
In what seems like pretty obvious misdirection, our three detectives track down a pawned watch taken from Casper’s house to Ledo Amarilla—a pimp-thug with a laundry list of priors. This leads to a warehouse raid led by Bezzerides where all hell breaks loose. Over the course of 10 minutes, machine gun-toting gang members spray bullets all over the place, mowing down about 20 protesting civilians and somehow capping several cops directly in the head.
It’s a sequence that seeks to match the intensity of the one in last season’s Episode 4—and it doesn’t, not by a long shot—but it does bless us with scenes of Rachel McAdams leading a group of male cops in a raid, including paragons of machismo Colin Farrell and Taylor Kitsch, and barking out orders, as well as McAdams busting caps and yelling fuck repeatedly while chasing an SUV filled with heavily armed hoodlums down a back alley.
The show’s myriad problems aside, it’s a damn fine sight to see McAdams leading a team of men into a badass shootout. According to Gillian Anderson, back in her days on The X-Files, Scully was always made to walk behind Mulder—a studio edict.
“It’s like the way we were directed by the studios, I was to walk behind him, never side by side,” Anderson recalled. “I mean, that is fucking priceless when I think about it now. When we would get out of the car and walk towards the house I would have to be behind him, even though I had equal dialogue.”
McAdams may lead her men on bogus and costly raids, but at least she’s leading.