Not only was last night’s episode of True Detective a massive change of pace but it was a bit of precursor for how we, as an audience, are going to be played for the rest of the season. The question on a lot of people’s lips following episode three of this incredibly sprawling narrative piece is “who is the true detective?” We have three flawed detectives in play, each of them with their own personal demons and one of whom is severely compromised by past misgivings landing him in trouble. Each one is out to solve the crime at hand while simultaneously resolving matters in their personal lives that are the direct result of flaws in their personalities. For example, Velcoro is getting his son taken away from him because he has violent tendencies and a drinking problem, Bezzerides is pissing her casual, sexual acquaintances off when she tells them their relationship has run its course and God only knows what is going on with Woodrugh.
I can see what Pizzolatto has done here, he has taken episodes one and two as an opportunity to get us heavily invested in the four main characters. We know enough about them now and have seen enough of them in the show so far to make up our minds about them. The first two episodes have been so focussed on developing the four of them that minimal events have played out concerning the murder investigation that is tying them all together. However, episode three has taken the foot off the gas in terms of character development and slammed head first into the vast narrative that is taking place here. The episodes opening scenes of an Elvis impersonator crooning an old classic on a blue-lit stage in the dingy bar Velcoro and Semyon frequently have their meet ups had some interesting Lynchian undertones and felt like something straight out of an episode of Twin Peaks, of course what is actually happening is Velcoro is dreaming, as he sits opposite his Dad having a surreal conversation which ends in him clutching his chest. Killing Velcoro off in episode two would have been an incredible decision, one that would have terrified us all into thinking that if Colin Farrell can be so easily bumped off then so can Vince Vaughn or Rachel McAdams. It was a cheap shot, about as cheap as pounding someone with rubber bullets out the end of a shot gun. The long and the short of it is, Velcoro is alive but a bit bruised. Now where was that resolution at the end of Game of Thrones eh??
The highlight of the episode for me was seeing Frank Semyon break character and pull someone’s gold teeth out with a pair of pliers. Upon learning of the murder of his friend Stan (who?!) who appears to have suffered a similar fate as Caspere in that he has no long has eyes or a pulse, Semyon goes to a club to chase up people who might have known Caspere or know who killed his friend. However, the clubs new owners are not particularly forthcoming in their willingness to help him out and they end up having a scrap. The best line of the episode came from Frank here when he said to the humongous guy about to pummel him “you can leave your rings on” and he subsequently beat the shit out of him and pulled out his teeth. This break and change in character has shown us a glimpse of the unhinged and unyielding man that he perhaps used to be, as his assets and his life become increasingly threatened he is breaking away from being Mr Nice-Guy Businessman and just getting shit sorted.
Meanwhile, Woodrugh has taken to the streets to ask the cities prostitutes if they recognize Ben Caspere from a photo he is carrying around with him. As Caspere would frequently buy hookers, he decides that the streets are his best chance of seeing if anyone had been with him recently. He ends up talking to a male prostitute about him who says that he stands a fairly decent chance of speaking to someone who knew Caspere in the club, Lux Infinitum, which Semyon has also just walked into. We learn from this episode that Woodrugh is battling with his own sexuality, having had a sexual experience with a man while in the military, he is drawn to Lux Infinitum with the male prostitute, while he pounds the drinks he becomes increasingly edgy as he is fighting the temptations all around him. I have to pause here and pay praise to my fellow HBO Watch colleague who pointed out last week as I was musing over his strange relationship with his mother, that he might have been gay, so I take my hat off to her, she was right. That explains why he won’t have sex with his girlfriend, why he takes dangerous, helmet-free rides on his motorcycle to feel a thrill and why he has an uncomfortable relationship with his mother. I don’t know what the future is for Woodrugh in this story, he seems to lack the direction and control over the case that Bezzerides and Velcoro do. I think the best is yet to come with him, though. Here is a behind-the-scenes bonus clip that is insightful. Enjoy it.
Episode One had my attention, Episode Two maintained that and Episode Three has my full commitment to seeing the season through. It has stepped up a bit and after some hefty character development we are beginning to get into the nitty-gritty, the grime of the city and we are going deeper and deeper into the city of Vinci. The music was incredibly reminiscent of a classic noir cop drama, reminding me of LA Confidential, which keeps you alert and hunting for clues with the detectives. It may have been a cheap shot leading us to believe that Velcoro was dead last week, but it was the wake up the show needed to kick it into second gear. The characters and the story itself are so equally compelling, I’m beginning to get that familiar excitement with title sequence that I got with Season One. Roll on Episode Four and to get us started here is the sneak peek.