TRUE DETECTIVE Review: “Down Will Come”

Scott and Phil weigh in at the season's mid-point.

Jumping right in! Find recaps for episodes one, two, and three at the embedded links. Also be sure you've read this True Detective post by Phil, because it's great.

Phil: Frank chews out a gardner over some withered avocado trees. METAPHOR.

Scott: Yeah, the fertility stuff was everywhere in this episode, starting with Frank and his wife (side note: is that Frank’s wife? I’m not sure if they’ve been explicit about that) arguing over her ability to have kids/ whether or not they should adopt.

Phil: Avocados, legitimate business ventures, babies - Frank can’t get anything to grow. I GET IT. He also refers to adoption as “Doing somebody else’s time”, in case his wife needed any more red flags over starting a family with this dude.

Scott: Definitely the attitude you want to have when signing up for parenthood. 18 years in prison, reading bedtime stories - what’s the difference?

Phil: Next up: Paul wakes up after apparently getting blackout drunk and sleeping with his old army buddy.

Scott: This was a surprise, but once again this was a scene where I was just cringing, waiting for Paul to start throwing punches. Soon as his buddy put his arm around him, I thought that was gonna be it. Maybe we’ll get lucky and avoid that bit of ugliness?

Phil: For four episodes we’ve been cringing in anticipation of Pizzolatto doing something embarrassing, like a racist uncle getting drunk at your wedding, but so far his questionable turns have not been flat-out disgraces. There’s some faint praise for you.

Scott: Yeah, take that, Fukunaga. And speaking of avoiding ugliness: soon after leaving dude’s apartment, Paul’s bombarded by paparazzi outside his hotel, asking about Operation Blackbriar or whatever...which the show has still deemed us not cleared to know.

Phil: Next is maybe my favorite scene - Ray opens Ani’s eyes to just how the mayor of “Shitburg Landfill” can mess with her life. Ray is overall more clear-eyed in this episode, and I like this scene of him spelling out the politics at work on their case. “Any member of that family ever gone to jail?...The State investigation is a shakedown, you understand? It’s the Attorney General with his fucking hand out.” He paints the picture to its logical end - when the investigation is over, Bezzerides and Woodrugh will be hung out to dry.

Scott: I agree that clear-eyed Ray is a welcome change of pace, but I also feel like this scene was the first of many in last night’s ep that had me sorta checking my watch: the people who run Vinci are corrupt scumbags? This entire investigation isn’t entirely about finding Caspere’s murderer? Ani’s a hardass? You don’t say. I mentioned during last week’s recap/review that I needed episode four to move things along a bit more, and...yeah, still too much water-treading for me. Liked Ray in this scene, not so hot on it being one of many scenes where I felt like nothing new was happening.

Phil: I hear you, but it’s a moment that colors in where characters are coming from. Ani “is here to catch a murderer”, but Velcoro’s point of view is more worldly - again, clear-eyed. Next to Frank’s arc in this episode, this bit of relationship building felt like an oasis of character development. And resetting the stage in episode four with a moment like this helps keep the live-tweeters up to speed.

Scott: Fair. Also, I wanna pause here and say this: I’ve enjoyed Kitsch on this series more than I expected to, but he was a highlight for me in this episode (an episode, I should point out, that I am largely ambivalent about; we’ll get to that a bit later). I really enjoyed the scene with him and Ray in the car. Not only was Kitsch selling the material, but I also dug the little notes of kindness Ray gets in this scene (“Pick a cure”). He even offers to go back to Paul’s hotel and move his stuff for him!

Phil: Did you notice here how Velcoro’s demeanor - even his voice - has shifted? There’s a weird, grave assurance to him I hadn’t noticed in previous episodes.

Scott: For sure. He looks cleaner, too. He looks like he probably smells better.

Phil: He’s asking about showers and stuff, so probably. At first I thought it was him adapting a “big brother” dynamic toward Paul, but he kind of has it earlier, when he tells Ani what’s really going on with the investigation. It’s a good fit; I find myself pulling for Velcoro to save himself.

Scott: I have thoughts on this, but will save ‘em for a wrap-up tirade.

Phil: FINE. Then we’re back to Frank resetting up shop. I like the idea of the nuts and bolts mechanics of a gone-legit gangster getting “pulled back in”, but this is really treading water by now. I really hope it goes somewhere. Soon.

Scott: I would like to give a shout-out to the end of this scene, with Vince Vaughn doing his damndest to make that line about cavities work. It didn’t really work - not quite - but once again, I appreciated the effort being put into it. I would not like to give a shout-out to more time being spent on Frank “resetting up shop”. Again: this feels redundant, and it only led to another scene of Frank shaking down another sleazy associate. Let’s move onto the Mayor’s daughter (who I only just now recognized as Andrea from Breaking Bad).

Phil: Ani and Ray tail her to a...vape shop? Medicinal marijuana?

Scott: I thought it was a hooka lounge. Shrug!

Phil: At any rate, she sure seems like she’s got something to say! But...not really. “Tony wouldn’t have much in common with Mr. Caspere.” What are they dancing around with Caspere?? “He liked to watch”, “he wasn’t really into that”, there are always these suggestive comments about Caspere. Let’s get into it, already! Anyway, we find out the mayor’s dead wife was a patient of Dr. Turkey Jerky Pitler…

Scott: I cannot tell you how excited I am by the prospect of Dr. Jerky returning to the show. He’s right up there with the naked-lady-in-a-bowl-of-milk and Birdman in terms of my favorite S2 elements thus far.

Phil: Then Ani visits her sister and rambles out a bunch of Rust Cohle speak. Do not want.

Scott: Meh.

Phil: Which brings us to the saddest marriage proposal ever.

Scott: Here’s another scene where I appreciate the performance taking place more than I appreciate the information that’s being conveyed. Another point in the Episode Four “Win” column for Taylor Kitsch. And kudos to whatever doctor just earned a lifetime’s worth of payments for all those boner-pill scripts Paul’s gonna need.

Phil: They’ll be over-the-counter by the time Paul’s kid is out of diapers.

Phil: Cult leader David Morse is back, offering up a tidy (yet completely unclear, natch) connection between himself, Dr. Pitler, and the mayor! Why? What could that mean! I hope someone tells us eventually!

Scott: If this is all moving towards an orgy sequence (which, rumor has it, it is) featuring Dr. Jerky, Mayor Chugsalot, and David “The Love Guru” Morse, I’m willing to write off a lot of this water-treading. And if the doctor wears an animal mask during said orgy, I’ll write off all of my misgivings about this season immediately.

Phil: We get the world we deserve, Scott, not the world you have sweaty daydreams about. Settle down.

Scott: On a slightly more serious note: speculation seems to be that this is all building towards a Bohemian Grove-style bit of hijinks for Vinci’s elite. I think that’s a safe bet at this point. I’d be into it, too.

Phil: Scott--

Scott: Phil I am picturing Ray and Ani whipping off robes to interrupt a Cremation Of Care ceremony and it is very satisfying.

Phil: Damn it, Scott. Anyway, Velcoro has a huge aura! I’m super not into Ani’s dad’s character but that exchange was swell.

Scott: Character seems mighty convenient, but I’ll allow it. I looked up the aura thing after last night’s episode, by the way. It said about what I expected it to say:

Phil: Then Ani and Ray drive to Fresno and I start to get lost. The rail line is being built over toxic land and…?

Scott: Yeah, I don’t know. I only watched last night’s episode once, and my takeaway in this scene was mostly just FURTHER FERTILITY STUFF. It sounds like whatever’s happening with the land is happening naturally (read: someone isn’t fucking with the land to drive anyone out), but if that’s the case...look, Phil, I don’t know. Did you know this episode has some subtext regarding fertility, though?

Phil: And, like, legacies. But next we’re back to Frank and his business ventures.

Scott: (obnoxiously loud groan)

Phil: I’m bored by this at the moment.

Scott: Yes. Enough.

Phil: He’s desperate, he needs money, he’s scrambling. He wants this guy to invest in the nightclub or something. What are we learning in this scene? I’m willing to learn!

Scott: Well, for one thing, that’s Roy from The Office playing Frank’s maybe-wife’s former would-be suitor/Frank’s current would-be business associate.

Phil: I knew that though. I last saw him asking Don Draper too many personal questions on Mad Men.

Scott: Whereas I have not! Honestly, the casting of Roy distracted away from anything of real value that might’ve been taking place in this scene. I guess the takeaway here is that Frank’s leaving no stone unturned in his quest to get the money flowing again - up to and including bringing in unknown/questionable buyers at his maybe-wife’s suggestion - but, again, I fear this is more padding. Can’t know for sure just yet, but that’s my fear. I want so badly to be done with these scenes.

Phil: At the pawn shop, they ID a working girl and a pimp as having pawned Caspere’s jewelry. Progress?? Probably not!

Scott: Almost certainly not. More on this in a second.

Phil: Meanwhile, Ani’s meathead fling has filed a sexual misconduct complaint with Internal Affairs. And this gets a one-night stand with her partner thrown in her face (by her boss, then the partner). It was interesting to see this bullshit close in from all sides at once, even her male ally. Especially her male ally. Then they throw the gambling debts at her, and she wonders if Chezzani is behind it all. Dicks! Has Pizzolatto figured out a way to continue his “ugly underbelly of the male psyche” thing through the prism of a female lead? Maybe!

Back at the task force, the team gets ready to run down their new suspect, Ledo Amarilla. Nice and tidy.

Scott: Yeah, tidy is right. This whole thing reminded me a lot of that sequence in Seven, where it looks like the lawyer did it. They got his prints, they have a believable connection to the victim...must be the guy! But Morgan Freeman knew that was bullshit then, and I’m pretty sure this is bullshit now. No way that’s the solution to Caspere’s murder. Too pat.

Phil: “I like a pimp for this”, just like Velcoro’s boss said a couple episode ago.

Scott: Nothing fishy about that! Probably just a good ol’ fashioned American cop hunch.

Phil: Ray then reports all this to Frank, who recognizes that “if he’s pawning shit, it’s safe to say this guy ain’t got my money.” And he points out the guy makes no sense from the perspective of Stan’s murder.

Scott: This was an interesting moment, too, with Frank not wanting to tell Ray anything about Stan’s death. On a practical level, of course he’d probably like to sidestep that detail (he did, after all, dispose of a body and kinda-sorta cover up a murder). But don’t these characters have enough shared dirty history to put Frank at ease on that front? And wouldn’t he want to share this information if it might help Ray find out who killed Caspere?

Phil: Was kind of hoping instead of “What happened to Stan?” Ray would’ve said “Who the fuck is Stan?” And why is that bar singer so bruised up & dirty? Did you see her knees?

Scott: Because True Detective.

Phil: The only interesting thing about Frank’s return to crime is here, as he asks Ray to “put this cop shit to bed” and join him full time. As far gone as Ray is, he declines. I don’t know that I’d turn down a job offer from a successful crime boss. They just haven’t asked me yet.

Scott: If I were Ray, this would’ve been a very easy decision to make. But then, maybe he’s hoping to redeem himself, to straighten things out to the point where he’ll be able to have a presence in the life of his “son” (er, time to face facts, Ray). Maybe he sees a legit way out, a chance to be the detective he originally set out to be. Or maybe Ray can tell the walls are closing in on Frank even faster than they’re closing in on him.

Phil: Ray uses his dad’s badge to try to solidify the bloodline from his dad to his son. Awkward moment.

Scott: Very awkward. Even more awkward: thinking that kid is actually a part of his bloodline.

Phil: Meanwhile, Frank hands the Amarilla APB to his henchman (and mispronounces his name; Frank is terrible with names). Then he puts his boy under a microscope, wondering how much he trusts him. “You got this Roger Moore thing, huh? Johnny Unflappable.” They wonder if the guy is working to undermine him.

Scott: Could be? Dunno. Almost all of Frank’s henchmen have a faceless quality to them (see also: the epic behind-the-scenes battle we waged over who “Stan” was last week). This one sticks out a little more, as I think this is the guy who delivered the word “reptilian” in a particularly creepy manner last week, but...y’know what? Don’t really care. If he proves integral, I’ll loop back around to it.

Phil: Then the shootout.

Scott: Ah, yes: we’ve reached the final ten minutes of the episode, which means it’s time for some bloodshed.

Phil: Notice that only Paul keeps his cool during the shootout.

Scott: Dude was in the shit over in Afghanistan! He’s in his element! I figure this is why he seems the least rattled during that freeze-frame that caps off the episode.

Phil: Yeah, Ani and Ray are doubled over sobbing and Paul’s looking around for someone else to shoot. I wonder if we’ll ever find out what whatsisname was doing taking pictures of Paul, what with the top of his head coming off and all.

Scott: This was the first thing I thought of when he bought it: “Welp, there’s another loose end introduced”. But to be fair, that’s one that could be tied up in a throwaway line during the villain’s big Scooby-Doo speech at the end. For the time being, I’m just going to assume he was yet another in a long line of dirty Vinci cops. Good riddance.

Phil: So, were our three scapegoats, as mentioned earlier in the scene with Ray and Ani, set up to be killed here? Blamed for a fiasco? Would the mayor’s office send ALL those cops to a slaughter just to serve that end?

Scott: If they did, I don’t think they expected it to get that messy.

Phil: I thought the shootout was fantastic. It was nearly ten minutes long, and it was a great counter to last year’s episode four showcase. (I joked on Twitter that they should have made it one unbroken take and people thought I was serious. Oh, people).

Scott: I enjoyed the shoot-out - there were some legit tense moments there, particularly once it came down to Ray and Paul on either side of that bus, and Ani over on the sidewalk, pulling one of her trusty knives - but it also brought something into focus for me, which I alluded to earlier in this conversation: I don’t really care what happens to any of these characters.

I went on a mini-rant about this on Twitter last night (sorry, anyone who gets to read this twice), but my biggest problem with season two right now is that I have zero emotional investment in these characters. I’m compelled enough by the show to see how all of this plays out, and I’m enjoying the ins and outs of the investigation well enough, I care who lives and who dies? Not really. I might mourn the loss of one lead or another because I like the performances they’ve brought to the show, but that’s a mechanical thing, not an emotional thing. This time last year, I had a lot invested in seeing Rust and Cohle solve the case, in seeing the two of them find redemption, in seeing justice served. Not so much this year. You?

Phil: Aw, really? Ani was so ready to use her knife! I wanted her to. And the scene was well constructed enough, and enough of an adrenalin boost, that I was caring about ALL of it. Every nobody who got shot in the face, every protester who did a bullet ballet in mid-air. This shit was like a Walking Dead season finale. Spectacle. We were due for some.

But I think the structure this year is creating that apathy in you and others. There are too many characters who require too much maneuvering to get them where the plot needs them to be, and mathematically we’re just investing less time in all of them. Last year we had Rust, Marty, and Maggie. That’s it. This year there are four mains, but the supporting players are much, MUCH more important to the story than last year, and there’s just too goddamn many of them. This ain’t Dallas. It’d be cool to pare down and focus (he says after a shootout with massive fatalities).

Speaking of, what did the preview allude to? A big time jump or just a personal lifestyle change?

Scott: I’m thinking time-jump. Which I think I’d be into. Kind of a clever way of incorporating the same “dual timeline” element from season one. Any final thoughts?

Phil: We’re halfway through. As much as I’d like to say the first season had similar loose ends and dead ends and wandering story threads, it was more focused, and I think the smaller cast of characters was part of that. Cheers to the show for trying something different, but the balancing act is not perfected. That said, as I said another time, I sure would have watched the next episode as soon as this one finished if I could have. The show’s still doing that much right.