“You Were Good at Being Decent”
by Steve Dixon
If last week’s episode of True Detective transported us through the twisting highways of California, its second episode was a slog through a manufacturing plant.
Industrial, rote, and soul crushingly somber, Night Finds You worked its way through many conventional detective story beats. Exploiting a mole to get dirt on the City of Vinci’s mob boss? Check. Murdered bank roller having a second house for prostitutes? Check. A cop with a shady ex-military background? Check. A mobster losing his grasp on his empire? Double check.
It’s not that any of these beats are bad or work against the plot, but the second episode of True Detective still hasn’t given me a reason to particularly care for these characters who seem to be going through the motions. This is no more evident than in the scenes where our four main characters appear on screen together, particularly Velcoro and Ani Bezzerides. Their interactions are sterile, and even a snide comment about giving a robot a blow-job doesn’t land in a way that makes me believe the two are actually building a relationship.
Even though True Detective seemingly makes this negative-relationship a point by having them be upfront about how transparent they’re willing to be, it relies too much on telling us about these characters instead of showing them to us in a moving way. Take the episode’s first five minute scene of mob boss Frank Semyon monologuing to his ceiling stains. Delivery aside (still not sure if Vaughn is having trouble with the script or vice-versa), the clunky story seems aimless and thematically rings hollow against everything else going on.
The sum of it all is supposed to be “We get the world we deserve,” which was almost forgettably delivered by Velcoro when describing how the City of Vinci was formed. Except, Semyon’s story about smashing a rat because he was locked in a basement doesn’t reflect this. He didn’t deserve those circumstances, but the show seems to pass that experience off as his reasons for being the man he is today.
Despite this, that line of conceit is almost self fulfilling by the characters themselves. Velcoro rejects Semyon’s offer to become a lead detective. Semyon doesn’t know what he would do with all his money (despite desperately needing it now). Paul Woodrugh shrugs off any attempts to open up about his past to make his partner happy. Ani is open about her past, but fails to move beyond it. These are all interesting pieces that, so far, seem to belong to a bunch of unrelated puzzles.
The problem with season two of True Detective is that it doesn’t seem to be building towards anything. The investigation is dragging, taking its time, and fails to move with purpose or agency. Justin Lin’s direction doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to move the story along, which is a problem when your season is only 8 episodes. While seeds of conflict were sewn early on in the episode in a great scene that blended flashbacks with the autopsy report of Caspere, I would much rather the show give us character growth through action, not discussion. Season one worked around this by tightly focusing on two great actors who were given the time to talk and expand on the world they were seeing in between major plot movements. The format was a great balance of thoughtful reflection, character development, and action that season two can’t seem to find yet.
The most talked about moment of this episode, of course, is the sudden shooting of Colin Farrell’s character. It’s a great moment for the show that desperately needs something to propel it forward. Whether or not he lives seems irrelevant. What matters is that something is actually happening to one of these characters that will hopefully spark more interesting developments.
Night Finds You was a fairly conventional investigative hour that pushed some plot elements around, but still failed to reveal any depth to these characters aside from immense sadness. True Detective will have to quicken the pace if it wants to keep this season compelling, but seems to have set itself up well with a cliffhanger.
And will someone please rewrite Vince Vaughn’s lines already?
Steve Dixon is an ex-bus driver who likes to talk about stories too much. Follow him on twitter @Driver194.