“My Eyes Look the Same as Yours”
Riding off of some of the good character drama established after last week’s “Other Lives,” “Church in Ruins” finds season two of True Detective finally hitting its stride. There was a sense of urgency and heartache throughout the entire episode, established by the knowledge that Ani was going undercover as a working girl at one of the parties her sister had access to. It was some classic season one suspense that this season desperately needed. I actually found myself glancing at the clock in fear time was going to run out, which was a nice change from fearing it hadn’t moved at all during the former half of the season.
But first we had to resolve the Ray Velcoro/Frank Semyon standoff we knew we were getting at the end of last episode. Poised at Semyon’s kitchen table, both parties knew the other was ready to pull the trigger, although I suspect neither actually wanted to. It was revealed that Frank had no idea who he handed over to Ray eleven years ago. Ray assumes he was set up to do the mob’s dirty work, but all Frank will admit is that it was nice to have blackmail on a cop.
I’m actually surprised how much I came to believe that Vince Vaughn could play a mob boss this season. Even with his terrible lines, he commands a certain respect in every scene he’s in – or at least gives the impression he expects respect. He ends up back on Ray’s side at the end of their showdown, promising to find the man who supplied the false information, with both sides also resolving to move forward with the case.
(On a side-note, how great was that smash cut from Ray and Frank to the flash-bulb taking a picture of the bloody chair? It got my heart pounding, I actually thought someone pulled the trigger. It was a neat trick by director Miguel Sapochnik that kept me on my toes).
However, Ray can’t move on with the case until he handles his personal issues. Frank wasn’t shy in telling Ray that he was going to perform a savage act of revenge no matter whose name he had given him. The monster was always inside Ray, and it’s a reality he is terrified to admit. This is heightened by the scenes between him and his son. First, he visits the real rapist in prison in order to size him up. He has to know if he could possibly be the father. Ray tells him “you don’t even look like him, either.” He doesn’t want to believe this man, this monster, could possibly be the father.
But who is the real monster? “My eyes look the same as yours,” is what the rapist counters with. It might be a bit too on-the-nose, but the point is clear. Both of these men are horrible. Would you want to have either of them as a father?
Afterwards, Ray is given some time alone with his kid under the watchful eye of a guardian. It is here where Ray finally has to confront how he interacts with Chad. He makes fun of him for wanting to watch Friends, and then catches himself under the watchful gaze of the supervisor. When he suggests they build a model plane bomber, Chad doesn’t want to because “they kill people.” It’s a temperament so unlike Ray, who threatened to skin someone alive with a cheese grater moments before, and beat the crap out of a child’s father in the first episode.
The truth is maybe Ray doesn’t really want to be the father. After his drug and alcohol induced maelstrom, he calls his ex-wife and makes a deal. He will never see them again if they cancel the paternity test. As much as I want to think he was looking after the well-being for his son, I get the impression he doesn’t want to know for his own sanity. If it’s not his, he could grow up to be better man than he was. He has a chance at escaping the pattern set off by his own dad.
Frank, meanwhile, continues to make an attempt at finding Irina, the prostitute who was selling Caspere’s items to the pawn shop. After tense negotiations with a rival Mexican gang, he sets up a meeting where he can hopefully track down the hard drive he needs to buy himself back into the rail project. It’s at this meeting place where he is betrayed again, Irina slayed by the rival gang who claim “she was working for the cops.” Walls are closing in on Frank, and I’m enticed to see how he’ll crawl himself back from being this far gone.
This episode reinforced the industrial weight behind the City of Vinci, with a low, rumbling soundtrack permeating shots of the clogged city. The show has turned into a study of people who are crushed under the rubble of other people’s’ schemings and mess-ups, and we finally got a look at the shit crumbling off the upper class at the end of the episode.
Here, Ani goes undercover as a call girl for a party where the corrupt members of high-society meet. It was a tense scene, heightened by the drug induced hallucinations of Ani’s past. There were hints earlier this season that she suffered a traumatizing event at the hands of the commune she was raised in, and here we have blatant confirmation.
In a very “Eyes Wide Shut” moment, Ani stumbles her way through room after room of sexual debauchery, hallucinating her own sexual assault at the hands of one of the hippie commune members. She ends up finding her missing person, Vera, alive. We know Vera had ties to Ani’s commune before she went missing, which raises questions about how she ended up there. Does her father have a hand in the prostitution ring? It could just be another coincidence in a series of interconnected conspiracies, but that feels close enough to home to give Ani some investigating to do for the last two episodes.
In the end, the crew get what they wanted – proof of under the table deals and a recovered missing person – but at what cost? Ani will clearly never be the same again, having confronted a reality that she seemed to turn a blind eye to her whole life. She has reason to believe the commune she grew up in and her father has ties to this underground ring, she was very nearly raped and killed, and actually ended the life of someone else herself.
I hope the next episode gives us some character fallout that was skipped over when the show took a six month time gap from the last time the gang went through a traumatic experience. “Church in Ruins” was the best episode yet, and with only two left, it looks like True Detective has righted its course, for whatever that’s worth.
Odds and Ends
- Perhaps the comment about the rapist not looking like Chad either was supposed to hint that neither of them could be the father, but at this point in the show, what purpose would that serve?
- “Did your father teach you that?” – Frank really has a way with kids whose dads just died.
- “I don’t really get art.” – Ani, speaking on behalf of the whole first half of this season.
- I’m not sure how I feel about the Max Stein inspired soundtrack during the climax. It was nice to hear the show do something different, but I’m not sure this reference to a different era of cinema and storytelling was appropriate. Heck, maybe it was. True Detective was always on the fringe of classic detective stories with a heavy emphasis on the noir. You decide!
Steve Dixon likes TV, he swears. Follow him on Twitter @Driver194