TRUE DETECTIVE Review: “Maybe Tomorrow”

"What kind of way is that to greet the world?"

Let's just jump right in. With stridence.

Scott: Lots to discuss in episode three! I suppose it’d be prudent to start at the beginning, considering how delightfully bananas that opening was (and, y’know, because it immediately sets about resolving the cliffhanger from last week’s ep, with Ray Velcoro shotgunned to “death” inside the world’s quietest sex dungeon). I watched last night’s installment in the grips of a full-on fever, which made that dream sequence particularly memorable.

Phil: Straight up Blue Velvet territory with the Conway Twitty impersonator up top! This season’s got a pretty great soundtrack so far.

Scott: Same page here. Midway through the dream sequence I turned to my wife and said, “This is some straight-up Blue Velvet shit”, an opinion I feel would’ve resonated with her more if she’d ever actually seen Blue Velvet. Shoulda married you, Phil.

Phil: Flattered, but taken. I grew up in a house with that 60s/70s country generation playing on an endless loop, so when you open with Conway Twitty doing his cover of a song most people tie to Bette Midler, you’ve got my heart. Still, dream sequence stuff is a slippery slope, and while this was fun, I’m not sure if it was good. The dream sequence got me thinking about the idea of the observer effect. The show’s becoming aware of what it is, what its expectations are, and what it has to live up to or surpass. (Interesting that cover songs are so prominent so far.) I suppose that’s a natural evolution, but that second-generation level of awareness on both sides of the exchange - the show and the audience - can be destructive. Ruinous, even. That moment last night felt like a crossroads, or maybe a precipice. Things could go south really quickly here. It’s exciting in a way, but I’m pulling for the show to find its footing, and its own voice for season two. It’s still coalescing. But larger implications aside, I grinned at the audacity of the Conway Twitty impersonator opening.

Scott: It felt Twin Peaks-y. In fact, I felt the Lynch vibe running throughout the episode. It was there in all kinds of ways: in the unsettling soundscape T-Bone Burnett had running underneath a number of scenes, in the decadent weirdness going on at Mayor Chessani’s house (the strung-out blonde in smeared makeup working on some sort of arts & crafts project felt particularly Lynchian to me), in the sudden, brutal violence of Frank’s fight with Mr. Fuckyou Teeth (note: I do not remember this character’s name), in the sleazy atmosphere of that faux film set. And, of course, in that opening dream sequence. Lynch vibes for days, son.

Phil: I think you got his name right. But yessir, as the show widens its lens, it’s not getting less weird. A weird, tangled tapestry of fucked up vices and compulsions. That’s all good!

Scott: It’s also notable that this is the first episode not directed by Justin Lin. Director Janus Metz Pedersen - who, a quick trip to IMDb reveals, has very few directing credits to his name - turned in episode three, and I thought he did a great job with it, all things considered.

Phil: He was fine. Mixing up the occupants of the director’s chair feels like a mission statement, though, and maybe a wrongheaded one. Not to buy into gossip, but rumors flew that Pizzolatto was grouchy about Fukunaga getting all the credit for season one. Making sure your directors don’t overshadow your script reeks of an ego-driven decision, and as certain “True Detective”-esque moments fall flat here and there, clunkily unfurling, all season two has succeeded in doing on the “no Fukunaga” front is cause me to wonder if analogously clumsy moments in season one were smoothed over by Fukunaga’s work.

Scott: Meanwhile, on the screenplay tip, this was the first episode where I felt a little restless during between the opening and the bordering-on-predictable “big moment” towards the episode’s end. On the one hand, I appreciate the character work that’s being delivered; on the other hand, I feel like a lot of the same notes are being struck.  

Phil: It felt like chess pieces being moved around, but there’s only so much chess I’d want to sit and watch. But again, that feels like a planted flag: Pizzolatto is running this ship now. Which makes the weird meta dig at Fukunaga (directing the Fury Road rip-off) extra gross, and maybe a little premature? Let’s see how season two shakes out before you start with the chest-beating, Nic.

Scott: Yeah, what was that about? Can’t decide if that was friendly ball-busting or a not-so-friendly “Fuck you” for Fukunaga leaving Pizzolatto to his own devices. I have no idea what’s gone on between those two, but given the amount of creative control Pizzolatto’s rumored to demand, wouldn’t Fukunaga leaving actually be beneficial to him? Maybe you can invest that tweak with a little bit of jealousy: “You were hailed as the visionary for season one, but we all know you’re an ass-chasing clown who got lucky with a great script.”

Phil: Exactly. Why don’t we let season 2 prove or disprove that, Nic? No need to revenge-script your former collaborator into directing a Cannon film. And by the way, whoever shot Ray wanted him to live. This means we probably know who it is. Sad face.

Scott: Still possible it’s some rando who’s been hired by the Big Bad to clean house, but in my heart of hearts I know you’re probably right. Do you think the Car Exploder is the same guy? Possible that it’s not even a dude? I’ve spoken with several people who think Birdman’s a woman, though I can’t get a good answer as to why they think that’s the case.

Phil: Pizzolatto introducing strong female characters!

Scott: If Birdman’s the same guy who was chaperoning that dead body out onto the highway in the premiere, it’s definitely not a lady.

Phil: FINE. On another note: it was weird, as a guy who remembers it all happening, to see Chief Gates and pre-OJ LA characterized by Fred Ward as “the good old days.” Ray’s dad could be Kurt Russell’s character from Dark Blue.

Scott: I liked seeing Ward pop up here (wish that’d been left a surprise, but someone spoiled that bit of casting for me on Twitter about an hour before I watched the ep), but I don’t have much to add about the (non-dream sequence) scene between him and Farrell. More than any other scene in the episode, that one felt the most redundant to me: corruption and shittiness extend back generations within Vinci’s police force? No way! Ray has a strained relationship with his father? You don’t say! What that scene accomplished could’ve been handled with a few lines of dialogue and maybe Ray pointing to a photo of Fred Ward in his house and confirming that that’s his father.

Phil: Ray’s wife trying to pay him off. Ray most likely feels like she’s the reason he’s become a guy whose own wife thinks he can be paid off, no?

Scott: The scene between Ray and his wife was a highlight, mainly because Farrell is quickly becoming the highlight of this season for me. It’s the richest storyline, and he’s selling every minute of it. If, as you once theorized, True Detective might serve as a sort of rehab for actors who have fallen out of the viewing public’s good graces, then Farrell is benefiting the most from this season’s script. Yeah, this storyline isn’t exactly fresh - it feels a lot like a retread of material that was better handled on The Shield, to name one example - but for the time being, I’m allowing it because I like seeing Farrell play it.

Phil: “Can I ask how much you drink in an average week?” “All I can.” Less hilarious question: “Do you WANT to live?” As a middle-aged white guy who’s subjected his body to a death wish or three, I can't apologize for relating to that doctor’s office scene! When he says “I’m..I’m thinking of making some changes,” like even he doesn’t believe it, I think I caught a glimpse of Ray’s arc: a guy who realizes a little too late that he’s poisoned his entire being. “The light is winning” might not be the takeaway message of season two.

Scott: Yeah, I think Ray knows he’s in the End Game stages here. Walls closing in from work, from above, from within...I’m guessing he’s just gonna try and go out on a high note, redeem whatever’s left of his soul and take a few dirty cronies with him on the way down. I’m not opposed to this being Ray’s arc, but I do hope it’s not that thuddingly obvious.

Phil: LOL. The mayor’s son.

Scott: Suggesting “Mayor Chessani’s Son” as your Halloween costume this year.

Phil: My torso can never be that hairless.

Phil: And is Frank just fundraising, or has the Caspere situation demoted him back to protection rackets?

Scott: Both! And I thought it was interesting when Stan turned up de-eyed and dead. Someone really doesn’t want Frank to rebuild his nest egg.

Phil: Meanwhile, Paul’s in the closet. This is a minefield. So far, not that subtly maneuvered.

Scott: Soon as the shoving started, I was worried we were going to get the “Paul’s self-loathing manifests itself as a hate-crime beating” sequence we’ve been dreading ever since this plot thread was introduced. I’m glad it didn’t happen, but I’m not convinced it won’t happen eventually. This season will lose major points with me if/when that shit goes down. There’s tin-eared, and then there’s unforgivably cliched and gross. Let’s not go unforgivably cliched and gross, Pizzolatto.

Phil: It’s another precipice. I’m as reluctant to play Monday morning quarterback as I am to prognosticate, but I will say that subplot is gonna be really easy to mess up, and I’m not above saying I told you so. (Not YOU, Scott, the proverbial “you.”)

Scott: You can probably start drafting that “Told ya so” Tweet now, because I think we’re maybe 1-2 episodes away from it happening.

Phil: Noted. Ray and Ani’s superiors shove them against each other a bit harder here, but what we see is that they not only aren’t excited to oppose or harm each other; they like each other. More than that, they have an instinct to protect one another. And are starting to trust one another (despite Ray telling his bosses she doesn’t). I like this character dynamic.

Scott: I like it, too. And at the risk of second-guessing this thing only three episodes into its run, I’ll say that I kinda wish this season had one less character. Namely, Paul. I want to note that I’ve actually been pretty impressed with Kitsch on the show thus far - heretofore, I have not been pro-Kitsch - but I think he’s doing alright with the material. I just feel the wind getting sucked out of the show every time it stops being the Ray & Ani Show and picks up Paul’s storyline.

Phil: I only felt it start to become the Ray & Ani show this episode.

Scott: Fair.

Phil: I also loved their solo scenes this week: Watching Ani deal with the messy aftermath of workplace romances by threatening to knock the jilted cops teeth out was fun. Watching her superior tell her to seduce Ray? Less fun. And Ray “I ain’t ever exactly been Columbo” Velcoro kind of covering for her in his office scene nicely deepened their relationship. This is a slow build I can get behind. But yes, that leaves Paul out in the cold, with a subplot that I’m not particularly excited to watch unfold. If the preview is anything to go by, he’s going to see a lot more action next week.

Scott: Final question: think we’ve seen the end of that “momma’s boy” that was giving Ani grief in the office? I get the impression that’s the kinda dude who’s likely to kiss and tell (and probably in graphic, as-humiliating-as-possible detail). Maybe that’s where we’ll get a reveal on Ani’s particular brand of kink? For the record, I’d be fine never having that spelled out for me - more interesting that way! - but it is a fact that three different people approached me this week asking my opinion of the “What’s Ani into?” mystery, so...maybe that’s an answer people are clamoring for.

Phil: I doubt they're clamoring for her partner Elvis to pick fights with her exes, so I hope that’s done. I hate to keep comparing this season to last, but maybe that cop is the (COMPLETELY SUBPAR) stand-in for Alexandra Daddario from season one, a dalliance that blows up instead of ending quietly.

Scott: To be fair, anything's sub-par if you compare it to Alexandra Daddario. 

Phil: Or is it the the inverse: Ani has the good sense to end something when it’s over, whereas Marty brought armageddon to his own home by not walking away from Ali Dada when she told him the fling had, to use Ani’s words, “run its course”? The old question - is Ani a direct response to the male characters from season one? There’s something attractive and tidy about having season two be, to some degree, a response to last year’s content, but if that doesn’t happen, it’s probably for the best. I do, though, want to start trolling haters on Twitter by accusing them of not liking this season because no women have been murdered yet. Cool?

Scott: Would RT.

Phil: My final thought is that we’re starting to tread water a little. But speaking of living up to last year’s expectations, episode four should prove to be a defining moment if Pizzolatto is using last year as a yardstick. By episode four, season one of True Detective was appointment viewing. He needs a big moment, and I wonder if those chess pieces have been placed correctly for that moment to happen. If episode four doesn’t grab people by the throat, you’re going to see some tourists dropping out.