“You’re Not a Bad Man”

Editor’s Note: I apologize, I was in a cabin tucked away in the wilds of Cape Cod without internet since last Saturday (oh boy, you’ll hear more about that later). I have since returned to civilization and finally had the chance to catch up.

What is a true detective? The show puts the question in the forefront of our minds by the end of every credit sequence. But do we ever pay attention to it?

In season one, we were shown two men trying to fight for what scraps of good could be found in their backwards world. This often meant looking inwards at their own actions and how that affected their jobs as detectives. What made Rust Cohle and Martin Hart true detectives? They were real, conflicted people who had the unfortunate job of rooting out a primal evil that they themselves were susceptible to.

Black Maps and Motel Rooms gives us a different crux for the series’ title. The entirety of season two has been about our main characters forcibly rejecting who they are. That may sound like a lesson you’d find in a Disney Channel original movie, but for these characters, it makes for compelling television.

We’ll start with the obvious. Paul Woodrugh is dead, plain and simple, and he wouldn’t be if he was honest about his sexuality. He stifled his own being in order to fulfill some other vision of the perfect life. The consequences of his denial doesn’t end with his death. He left a child, his fiance, and his estranged mother in a motel room, isolated from the outside world and forever separated from the truth Woodrugh kept from them.

And for what? Paul was the weakest link in the main character chain this season. His one dimensional characterization hinged on his sexuality, so it makes sense that this was his undoing. Other than that, he provided general support and some exposition by actually working on the case. Yet, I still felt something when he died. It was a disappointment, I think. I wanted him to live because I wanted to see him do something more. His death feels poignant because it felt realistic. He learned his lesson but still didn’t learn from it, and as a result it feels like his life got cut short, like he never had a chance.

This gives me hope for the remaining members of the cast. If it was too late for Woodrugh, maybe it’s not too late for everyone else. Black Maps and Motel Rooms gave us the most intimate moment between characters this season, focusing on a great scene between Velcoro and Ani. Here, they too unravel themselves, letting their true selves be seen. “You’re not a bad man,” she tells him. His reply is a heartbreaking “Yes I am.” Ray believes this to be true, but some expert delivery on Colin Farrell’s behalf tells us that he doesn’t want it to be so. Ray is a bad man because his father was a bad cop. It’s what he knows, it’s what’s expected.

Velcoro knows what he’s done, but his steady progression throughout this season makes it hard to believe this is the same man who threatened a small child by beating up his father way back in episode one. He has no more son to fight for now. He doesn’t have to try and be or not be the father that he grew up with. Instead he can focus on fixing the problem in front of him.

true detective black maps and motel rooms ani ray velcoro

That problem is an APB out on him because Katherine Davis, the one woman on the force who was keen on ending this cascade of corruption (dibs on the band name) turns up dead. It’s also nice to see Ani having to face the consequences of her actions for killing a security guard at the party last episode. An APB is out on her as well, which will keep both of these characters moving (towards each other, I might add), but the real drama comes from her finally confronting her traumatic childhood experience. “I’ve been waiting my whole life for that,” she says, and it isn’t until later in the episode that we realize she could never remember the man’s face.

Here, Ani finally comes into her own, seemingly after finding a new sense of empathy. Her old partner agrees to help keep her family safe, and she apologizes for the way she handled their relationship. It’s a maturation that couldn’t happen if she was still stuck behind a personal wall.

Lastly, it was exciting to see Vince Vaughn act as a true mobster (spinoff series?) this time around. Again, when he’s given straightforward dialogue, he pulls off the tough guy persona quite well. Watching him keep his cool when Osip informed him that he bought out his clubs was even more entertaining than watching him slow bleed Blake.

The entire Frank Semyon plot line was heightened thanks to a simplifying of structure this episode. Once we know the stakes, he’s an easy guy to root for, and watching his revenge unfold is a highlight of this season.

True Detective would have been a stronger show this time around if it was clear about where these characters stood from the beginning, instead of drip-feeding information to us in the back half of the season. Think about how compelling the party scene at the end of Church in Ruins would have been if we had known, for certain, the dark childhood experience Ani had been through. There’s a time to show your cards and a time to hold them tight, and this season seemed to mix those moments up more than I would have liked.

The conspiracy could also use some pruning. The reveal that the police chief was behind Woodrugh’s shady organization meant nothing to me because I completely forgot who that character was. Ditto for the guy who shot him, which was Lt. Kevin Burris. I still don’t know who he is, even after doing my research. Plot has never been this season’s strong point, but at least we have decent characters to take us to the finale.

Odds and Ends

  • I will be watching the finale as it airs, but seeing as it’s 90 minutes, it will take me a bit longer to get a review up.
  • No real bad dialogue from Semyon this episode. Wow.
  • Speaking of Disney Channel original movies, Vera (Miranda Rae Mayo) is awake and gives us a very cringe-inducing scene.
  • I love that Jordan and Frank actually seem to love each other, but there was something foreboding in their scene after he kills Blake. At this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised if the script threw her into the conspiracy pot as well.

Steve Dixon is now an expert in VHS curation and you can follow him on Twitter @Driver194

Steve Dixon

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