“Do You Want to Live?”
by Steve Dixon
To get the shocking stuff out of the way, yes, Velcoro is alive. I don’t think many people expected Colin Farrell’s character to get killed off a la Game of Thrones quite so soon anyway. Shock value for shock value is certainly an attention grabbing technique, but what “Maybe Tomorrow” does by putting a shotgun blast square in the chest of one of its main characters is much greater.
You see, they killed Ray Velcoro after all.
“Maybe Tomorrow” breathes life into many of the sprawling characters in True Detective by literally knocking it out of another. The first two episodes this season didn’t give me much of a reason to care for Velcoro or any of the main cast, to be honest, but looking back now, it seems like that was the point.
The Velcoro we see in this third episode is vastly different from before. He is physically bruised and now seems able to see the emotional scars on himself and others. His doctor asks him “Do you want to live?” and it’s a question he seemingly takes to heart. He visits his father, a retired detective himself, and has a clear look into his own future.
Getting Velcoro to question his own being is the kind of darkness True Detective needed to shift to. He’s not numb, or a drunk, or disinterested in his family. Velcoro doesn’t know if he wants to live himself, but “Maybe Tomorrow” showed him mulling over the question. His father tries to kill his own past every time he throws out his badge, but his son won’t allow it. His ex-wife tries to buy him off to hand over custody to the child, but he rejects it. He rescues Ani from getting run over by a truck, which he twists around to try and use to find out what the state knows about him.
We were shown a man who is actively trying to figure himself out, and that created some great drama this week. The old Velcoro is dead, and while he may not be shiny and new just yet, last week’s events kicked off a transformation which is fascinating to watch.
But while one detective is desperately searching for himself, another is trying to hide. Woodrough was given some backstory on his own, but in a very different light. He meets up with an old war buddy and they dance around an important event that happened to them overseas. They talk and they fight, but we gain no real information from this interaction, which is one of the most frustrating aspects of True Detective so far.
This dissociation between visual storytelling and narrative exposition is one of the greater meta conflicts this season. We are given some great moments with Velcoro early on. Showing him lying on the floor, coming out of a very Twin Peaks inspired dream, below the gaze of the masks (with one missing) was a strong opener. So, too, was the way he was framed when he confronts Semyon, the counter cutting him off at the neck. His head was served on a platter.
Contrast this with some of the more on-the-nose exposition and visual flairs later in the episode. The scene on the Hollywood backlot was particularly clunky and lacked a cohesive flow. Characters with important bits of information just stumbled into the scene, and left as abruptly as they came. The explanation of the movie as a revenge end-of-the-world flick and the blaring American Sniper billboard over tortured war veteran Woodrough were some of the hammiest moments of the episode. They almost overwrite a lot of the greater, subtler moments that we were given.
The inter-cutting between Velcoro and Ani in their respective offices was particularly effective. Here, two characters were being pitted against one another for the same, yet contrasting reasons. Neither seemed willing to do the job their higher-ups wanted, with Velcoro looking to remove himself from the case and Ani not even sure what to make of her partner. It was a great moment of visual and character conflict that added a much needed layer of intrigue to their interactions, which paid off at the end when Velcoro rescues Ani.
We can’t leave without discussing Semyon, another character who was colored in a bit more this episode. Vince Vaughn can pack a punch, pulling a page from Tony Soprano’s book. Backed against the wall, unable to have child, and leaking any remaining relevant influence he has, he picks out the biggest, baddest mobster of the bunch and delivers an ass-kicking that almost makes up for his horrible dialogue.
Here, too, we are finally given a character who is willing to do something. Forget the rail corridor. Semyon’s current goal is survival. In one fell swoop, he was cast to the bottom with the death of Caspere, and now we get to watch him build himself back up. While he struggles with personal problems being unable to provide a sample into the sterile cup, he takes hold of what he can change. He won’t stand for his own men being killed off, and he won’t be talked down to by any other thug. It’s another example of the show propelling itself past the jumbled mess of the previous episodes, and it seems to be working so far.
Ultimately, True Detective is finally coming into what it seemed to be promising all along: interesting characters. Even the investigation this episode, when contrasted with last episode, seemed to be an exploration of the dead man Caspere himself. We’re painting a picture of the city manager as we go along, filling in the blanks and unveiling clues to his ties and the bigger picture. It makes for an enticing watch and has me curious about the rest of the season.
And all it took was a shotgun blast to the chest to get us there.
Steve Dixon is an ex-bus driver who likes to talk about stories too much. Follow him on twitter @Driver194.