“Sometimes Your Worst Self is Your Best Self”
by Steve Dixon
Woah, that was some ending, huh?
I sure wish I knew what was going on.
I’m getting too far ahead of myself. Earlier in “Down Will Come”, Ani’s sister commented on their mother’s wood carvings by saying she “polished driftwood till it shined like steel.” I feel like that’s an apt, unintentional metaphor for this season. We keep retreading the same points, the same locales, the same character problems each and every episode, and we keep expecting a different result. We want it to be better, to shine brighter, to turn into something that it’s not and can never be.
The shoot-out at the end of this episode is a great example of moments where True Detective seems to luster, however briefly. But it’s an isolated moment, one that relies on the tension of the now instead of the drama that’s been building. I could have told you this episode was going to end with a huge action sequence before the opening credits. It felt that, despite the false killing off of Velcoro at the end of the second episode, Nic Pizzolatto is hitting beats for the sake of beats.
The thing is, this season needed a moment like this, it just needed it to feel like a consequence of something greater. Last episode did a great job of propelling character drama, but it seems that push has fallen short. Instead we get Frank Semyon, still trying to hold onto his empire by striking old deals, trying to make up for lost ground after his failed attempt at going legitimate. We’re given another discussion about the couple’s impotence, complete with a really bland metaphor (the avocado trees that won’t take). Semyon took charge of his fate at the end of last episode, but this time seems back where he started. He’s shaking down old haunts, but has no teeth (hey, another metaphor for the show that it made for us!).
While Semyon looks to his past business ventures in order to move forward, so too does Ani take a trip down memory lane. We see photos of her as a child where she was “an old soul, even then.” She meets up with her sister and tries to talk her out of working her cam job. Her sex life catches up to her and she gets put on suspension from her job, but gets to stay on the Caspere case, effectively undoing what little drama was to be gained from her suspension.
Woodrough is finally revealed to be homosexual, and then quickly represses it the first chance he gets when his ex-girlfriend mentions she’s pregnant. “This is the best thing that could happen,” he tells her, without much enthusiasm. He’s going to continue living a lie, much like all of these characters. Semyon will never be legitimate. Velcoro will never straighten his crooked ways. Ani won’t move past her narrow view of the world.
The problem is that none of these individual character’s stories appear to be adding up to anything. They are so independent, sterile, and flatlined that even if they did come together, it would take some major plot twisting to bring them into something cohesive. This isn’t helped by the Caspere case, which is as equally bland and detached as the characters. Each new line of thinking takes the show in a direction that it wasn’t heading before, and I’m left scratching my head trying to fit the pieces together.
For “Down Will Come,” that direction was an all out action sequence that involved three of the leads in a massive shootout. It was fun to see these characters interacting with each other in such a high-octane environment, but mother-fuck me* if I can’t figure out who they were trying to raid or why those drug dealers were there.
It’s inevitable that the scene will be compared to Cary Fukunaga’s excellent ending to season one’s episode four “Who Goes There,” if only because the beat is exactly the same. Fukunaga expressed that he wanted the show to use the medium of film to the best extent possible and allow moments where the visuals could do the storytelling (huh, sounds familiar). His six-minute tracking shot is easily the highlight of the first season. So far, director Jeremy Podewsa and Jason Lin before him haven’t shown that affinity. That means when the writing isn’t up to par and the direction isn’t picking up the slack, you get a pretty dull show.
It has nothing to do with being “impatient” or “wanting it to be season one”. Season two of True Detective is officially stuck in the mud, both narratively and visually. We keep shining driftwood, hoping it will turn into steel, something strong and shiny (and chrome!). The repetitious nature of its characters and a case that’s blander than a run of the mill Law & Order episode makes this season the definition of insanity.
Then again, maybe that’s the point, in which case this season has been largely successful.
*Actual line from Vince Vaughn earlier this season
Steve Dixon is exhausted from driving back from Long Island today and may have been delusional while watching this episode. You can follow him on Twitter @Driver194