Honestly, it has been kind of hard starting off this review. We have already analyzed and pondered every frame of footage leading up to this premiere, so there is no need to speak volumes about the dark, brooding tone of this piece. It is the tone Nic Pizzolatto has set for this series and we go with it. There is also no need, at least for this writer, to reflect on or compare what we are about to witness to Season One. It has been established that this is an anthology series and we are starting from a clean slate with a new tale before us. All we can be sure of is that it will be more of a character study than a crime procedural and that the aforementioned tone will be present from beginning to conclusion.
Well, I am going to eat my words and cite a similarity to Season One already. The title credits share the same stylized look, but in a different color palette and the title song is once again by T. Bone Burnett. I am sure as the eight episodes play out we will be engrossed by the imagery and analyzing the relevance of the lyrics as the titles play out.
Now, let’s go to the specific episode at hand beginning with the title. “The Western Book of the Dead” is a play on the known work The Tibetan Book of the Dead which describes the Afterlife and the reincarnation of souls as written by the ancient monks. So, are we to say our main characters in Season Two are lost souls given up for dead and are on a journey to rebirth? You have to wonder, too, just what is the catalyst for this reincarnation? Will the crime that brings these players together change our players or will the solving of the crime after eight episodes alter their destinies? And don’t forget, just because you are reincarnated doesn’t mean the new life is a better one. Either way, I think we can count on all that becoming clear via Pizzolatto’s pen.
Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) falls within the description right away as we learn he is not a free soul but a bought one. He has been in Frank Seymon’s back pocket for a while now because Seymon IDed the guy that attacked Ray V.’s now estranged wife. A swig from a booze bottle apparently turns Detective Velcoro into a mask wearing thug for the other side! Just how much Seymon and Velcoro are entwined in the main crime is left to be resolved. It seems city manager Ben Caspere, who was about to launch a proposal for a state-wide railways system is kidnapped. Ray V. and his partner Teague Dixon (W. Earl Brown) are on the case, but if Dec. V. is involved than he doesn’t want it solved now does he? As for Seymon, is he out to take the front seat on the high-speed rail line?
As far as our other leads we have Ani ( it stands for Antigone and there is symbolism there for sure) Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) and Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch). These two don’t appear to have souls as damaged as our other two players, at least not yet. Yeah, Ani has family issues with her sister and her father and Woodrugh has his PTSD or whatever going on, but they seem minor for now. They are both moving independently in their respective jobs, until the body of Caspere is found by Woodrugh and Velcoro & Bezzerides are called in. As far as my take on the characters I’d have to say Bezzderides is one to watch. Both she and her partner Det. Elvis Ilinca (Michael Irby) are on top of their game, but she may just end up the most altered from this experience. Det. Velcoro is already tortured deep and Seymon’s actions will play out as more of a slow burn I think. Kitsch’s Woodrugh is the third wheel here. How involved should a Highway Patrol Cop be in this case? Yes, he found the body while off-duty, but that doesn’t mean he works on the case. We will have to see how he fits in. Can Pizzolatto’s writing cover exciting words for him as well? It is a lot to manage. My biggest whoa here is Taylor’s acting. Ouch. His performance and his character left me cold, but there is a lot more to reveal so all is not lost.
Anyway, all this sets up Season Two. We have a pretty good read on Ray V. already. More has too unfold about Ani B. and Paul W. and a slow unveiling of our evil Frank S. must happen. Or is there yet another unseen player? Is someone else behind the city manager’s death? We just got started and the mystery is set. It didn’t all fall into place until the last few minutes, but it is there now. Let’s see where it goes. Oh, and keep your eyes for clues like the books on Ani’s table and the name of the institute her father lectures at. I don’t know if they mean anything or not, but it could add another intriguing layer to it all.
Naturally, the questions set up here are the particulars of the Caspere crime. We also need to delve into Paul W.’s journey and what happened to him in the desert at a young age and how all this matters in the story; how Ani B. gets past her woes and why they drag her down so; how Ray V. survives playing both sides and if he redeems himself or not and to learn just what Frank Seymon is responsible for and just how evil he and his wife (Kelly Reilly) are. Maybe, Episode Two’s trailer gives us a clue. It is called “Night Finds You.”