TRUE DETECTIVE Review: “Other Lives”

Britt joins Scott and Phil on another trip to the dark heart of Vinci.

Jumping right in! Find recaps for episodes onetwothree and four at the embedded links. Also be sure you've read this True Detective post by Phil, because it's great, and please welcome our own Britt Hayes, here to help us dissect episode five. 

Phil: Out of the gate, I’m happy to see we’re back to customized lyrics in the open! And they’re maybe about a hard drive of blackmail sex video!

Your victory

Was so complete

That some among you

Thought to keep

A record of

Our little lives

The clothes we wore

Our spoons our knives


And all of this

Expressions of

The Sweet Indifference

Some call Love

The High Indifference

Some call Fate

But we had Names

More intimate

Names so deep and

Names so true

They’re blood to me

They’re dust to you

Scott: Remember back during the season premiere, and I was like, “I predict this song will grow on me as the season continues”? I was right. I like it more each week, and the changing lyrics are a nice touch. Think you nailed it on that opening stanza being a shout-out to the hard-drive, Phil. Moving onto the episode proper...

Britt: Oh how the not-quite-mighty have fallen this week. Two months into the future (just as Season 1 skipped ahead in time) and Frank and his wife are living in more modest digs, surrounded by cardboard boxes, reminders of a life that was just within their grasp. If Pizzolatto writes Ani and Ray’s wife well, I think he fails with Kelly Reilly here. First presented as a tough and uncompromising woman, she’s sort of devolved into a needy nag who wants nothing more than to have a baby, as if that’s her only purpose in life. And I really, really, really hate all the talk of her “operations” (code word for abortions), which, I mean, unless she was getting them done in a back alley… this really just encourages unfortunate thinking about the physical effects of abortion. I want better for Reilly, who is so damn great, and I was sincerely hoping for A Most Violent Year-type situation where she’d be the woman pushing the man into dastardly deeds.

Scott: I’d have to go back and watch to be sure, but wasn’t that sort of how Jordan started off this season, as more of a Lady Macbeth type? I agree with you on being disappointed that she’s sort of been relegated to the “naggy wife” role here. Also agreeing with you on that tone-deaf abortion exchange. That gave me pause.

Phil: Eh, I feel like not everyone can be expected to own stuff like that in the same way. It’s not science fiction to imagine that Jordan might well house a lot of conflicted feelings about having three abortions. At any rate, given Frank’s not-terribly-progressive attitude toward things like adoption, maybe he’s the one with the hang-up and she’s used to tiptoeing around him about it. Unenlightened characters don’t necessarily equal unenlightened storytelling.

I kind of expected it to jump further ahead than just two months, but then I found myself surprised at how much had changed in just 66 days. New jobs, new looks - same damn bolo tie, though. Come on Ray!

Scott: I like that Ray took my advice last week and went with the gangster job. Strong move.

Britt: It’s strange how odd I thought Colin Farrell looked with a mustache at first, but without it, you realize just how much upper lip real estate he’s got going on. He looks so naked. Is his face cold?

Scott: I found myself unable to stop staring at that scar on his upper lip. Also, the lack of a mustache really brings out that mullet, and focusing on that made me realize for the first time how much he looks like he did in Miami Vice. Suits are cheaper and the bolo’s new, but...can’t believe I didn’t catch that Sonny Crockett vibe before now. Overall, though, I like “scrubbed” Ray a lot more than “hobo” Ray.

Phil: Totally pulling for fucked-up, putting-in-effort-at-the-11th-hour Ray. But the words of his dad in his dream still have me worried...

Scott: Also, I just wanna say again - for like the fifth straight week - how much I’ve enjoyed Farrell’s performance this season. His reaction at the end of that scene where he realizes he’s been duped by Frank was killer. Watch closely and you can see the vein popping out of his temple. I feel like both Farrell and Kitsch are really giving this thing their all. There are moments where the dialogue doesn’t flow well, but this season that’s a cast-wide problem. By and large, I’m impressed with both of ‘em, which I did not expect headed into this season.

Phil: Ani’s sexual harassment group therapy was kind of hilarious, but at the same time felt a little meta - like Pizzolatto not just writing a female character, but making a commentary on writing about a female character. Stuff like this and the Fukunaga-esque character betray the petulant hand that’s guiding the whole thing.

Britt: I know people give Pizzolatto a lot of heat about writing for women, but this scene might have been my favorite in the episode - it calls back to last week, when Ani said that if she were a man, she wouldn’t have been slapped with the sexual harassment charge. And as we see in the therapy session, she’s surrounded by men who are being coached by another man to avoid thinking like “she was asking for it” or “no means yes.” It’s very basic sexual harassment politics, and it’s clear that Ani doesn’t belong. To prove her point, she plays up her “issues” with big dicks, merely arousing the primitive, lecherous men around her. She’s in a very damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t place, where her gender is the reason for the punishment, but it’s also the reason why the punishment doesn’t fit and will not succeed in accomplishing anything.

Point proven: she’s clearly being punished for having sexual agency as a woman, and if anyone needs help it’s the men around her.

Scott: I’m in agreement here across the board, and only want to add this: coulda done without the “No, let ‘er talk about her ‘issues’” tag at the end of this scene. Felt like the whole scene would’ve been a little more powerful without that lame gag tossed in there.

Phil: Agreed, but I laughed. Meanwhile, Paul and his mom are behaving no less subtly over in her trailer.

Britt: I really want more Lolita Davidovich on this series. There’s something sinister and also sad about her entitlement when it comes to Paul, and I feel like we could spend an entire episode (or therapy session) diving into what happened to her. There’s also a strange sexual undertone to their relationship.

Scott: I remember back when her character premiered, and there were these weird little moments where I wondered, “Wait, have Paul and his mom been...y’know, up to something?” My fear there was, this would somehow be revealed as the “reason” behind Paul’s sexuality. But like the concerns we’ve had about Paul’s being two steps away from committing a self-loathing-fueled hate crime, this fear has thus far proven unfounded.

And I agree on Davidovich: she’s one of my favorite characters, and I wish we got more of her. I suspect that, after the developments in this week’s episode, she’ll have to pop up again. With only three eps remaining, however, I’m guessing it’ll be a limited appearance. There’s quite a few loose ends to be tied up, and I don’t see her being integral to much of it. Then again, who knows? Maybe it’ll turn out she was hooking back in the early days of...whatever the Chessani family calls these get-togethers (read: sex parties) they’ve been throwing. Speaking of fucked-up family dynamics: how 'bout that custody hearing? Oof.

Britt: The way Ray’s wife uses her sexual assault against him in the custody dispute is an incredibly daring narrative choice. On first viewing, I was torn, but I sort of applaud the nerve of it  - this idea that typically the one card a woman has to play is her sexuality, but in her case, that agency was taken from her. Rather than play the victim, she uses the assault to her advantage. It’s not a victory for anyone involved, and you can tell that she hates to do it, but just as her assailant left her with no choice, Ray has left her with no choice but to use her ordeal against him. There’s this interesting psychological battle between the two of them that reflects the real-life dynamics between a sexual assault victim and their significant other; obviously, the trauma she endured had an effect on Ray, but that’s not his pain to carry or claim.

Scott: The trauma she endured, and how Ray chose to deal with it. As Gena points out in that scene on the side of the highway, the way he dealt with that situation is directly to blame for the shambling mess he’s become.

Britt: Ray is trying (and has tried) to take ownership of his wife’s trauma - in his mind, this makes him a hero, and by eliminating the assailant, he mistakenly believes that he can right the wrong and wipe the slate. And although it’s horrific, that trauma belongs to Gena and no one else. To try and take it from her is an insult, and as if to prove that it belongs to her, she wields it now as a weapon.

Phil: I like that turn. He’s been beating his chest about it for weeks, and so she finally clubs him with it. I have to admit, at first I thought the revelation that her rapist was still alive meant that Ray never did anything when he found out about the guy, and his inability or failure to “right” the situation is what poisoned him and sent him down the pit of questionable facial hair and fashion accessories. Then when he let her think that was indeed what happened, I was left conflicted about the whole thing.

Scott: In regards to the kid: are you thinking what I’m thinking in terms of who the real father/assailant is?

Phil: I kind of hate the obviousness of that turn - that dark-skinned dude in the photo in episode one is posited as the biological father of Ray’s chubby red-haired kid, and we’ve been all “Really? Something’s not fitting here” since five weeks ago. Unless that’s the point of it - Ray’s denial laid bare? I wouldn’t be the first person confusing the characters’ thick-headedness with the creator’s. Or my own.

Phil: We also find out Frank’s #2 is working with L’il Chessani and Osip to supply girls to political/business leaders. It’s like every baddie EXCEPT Frank is in on this thing. Maybe they just don’t like him.

Scott: Not shocking! And I definitely want more of Lil’ Chessani, that fucking weirdo. I expect we’ll be seeing more of him in next week’s ep, which looks like it’ll be taking us straight to orgy town, population: Ani.

Phil: There’s a piece on Vanity Fair today that has some specific info about that orgy, recalling an older news item about actual porn stars being cast in it. I think next week’s water-cooler talk is sorted.

Scott: Speaking of which, here’s a weird complaint: if that cabin thing is where they’re holding the sex parties, I’m unimpressed. Really, that’s where you’re throwing lavish orgies with a small army of call girls and Ventura county’s political elite? There’s a wagon wheel chandelier in there, for chrissakes. Class it up a bit. And as far as the torture shack goes: I wonder if that’s where Caspere met his demise, or if that’s just where the loose-lipped call girls end up?  

Phil: Or that’s where they put on animal heads and make human sacrifices while howling at the moon. Live in hope! Speaking of awesome things: Dr. Pitlor’s ass-whipping. Nastier than the one visited upon Aspen’s dad!

Britt: I am a big fan of Rick Springfield and this whole Behind the Candelabra thing with his character. This season could benefit from more of Dr. Pitlor and Ani’s dad, and less scenes in shady casinos.

Scott: Agreed on Pitlor, not so much on Morse’s Love Guru. I thought Springfield did a great job in that ass-beating scene: both times I watched it, I was impressed with how legitimately terrified he appeared to be. Also, without the glasses, he looked particularly Cumberbatch-y to me. I enjoyed the moment where he spit out his teeth. One of my favorite moments in the ep.

Phil: If we’re doing rules of three, we have one more solid ass-beating from Ray to which to look forward. One assumes it’s Frank. If one is me, one hopes it’s Frank.

Scott: Another favorite moment: when Surly Cop From Nightcrawler put together a reunion with Ani, Ray, and Paul.

Britt: The band is back together! This sort of feels like a soft reset of sorts, and also a chance to help clear up any confusion viewers might have with the 800 or so plot threads. Season 2 suffers a bit, spreading itself thin with so many central characters, but I do like the Avengers-type way that the DA wrangles these three back together to continue investigating the Caspere case - a case that I am still trying to care much about. The weird sex party stuff, prostitute trafficking, and missing persons stuff all interest me. Corrupt city officials? Not as much.

Scott: Yes. A thousand times, yes.

Phil: Fits and starts, this plot’s been. We got a lot of plot this week, and it’s hard to know how the rest will be metered out. I feel like not not that much time has passed since our protags were thrust together in the first place! It made this scene feel premature? Off kilter?

Britt: Pizzolatto is no David Simon, obviously, and I’m still waiting for something to bring this all together to make me care about a tiny corrupt city.

Scott: Something I’d like to add here: I immediately felt for the victim in season one. I wanted to see her killers brought to justice (or, barring justice, a violent and exceedingly justified murder at the hands of Cohle and Marty). I’m having way more trouble feeling the same about Caspere. Call me crazy, but high-rolling and deeply corrupt city managers just don’t inspire the same empathy within me that, say, a victimized - and possibly kidnapped - young woman does. There’s being interested in seeing a mystery solved, and there’s being emotionally engaged in the investigation.

Phil: That’s a fair point. This is more like Ridley Scott’s The Counselor, just watching terrible people devour each other, with all the empathy of a nature documentary. That said, last year the mystery was far from the thing that made me keep tuning in. It was the characters and the show’s weird voice. I guess our three detectives all have stakes in solving the thing, but the mystery remains secondary to me. And I feel like anyone trying to help Woodrugh in his life goals is enabling a runaway train.

What’d you think about Ray learning he’d killed the wrong dude (“Frank set me up”)?

Britt: Of course Ray killed the wrong guy. Of course Frank set him up.

Scott: Yes. Not a surprise. 

Britt: I’m not saying it was obviously telegraphed or anything - the a-ha moment here is still effective, but once the realization hits Ray (and us), it seems like we should have known from the beginning. It was always presented as though Frank helped Ray in exchange for his shady services on the DL, but of all the terrible things Frank has done, having Ray kill someone who didn’t rape his wife is pretty low.

Phil: You’re right; it’s something people saw coming. But the anticipation of that confrontation had me pretty pumped as it happened.

Final Thoughts

Scott: Just to get this out in the open: I think this might’ve been my least-favorite episode thus far. There wasn’t as much wheel-spinning this week (Frank didn’t shakedown a single greasy scumbag!), but there were moments where I found myself struggling to stay engaged. My prediction is that this will end up being the legacy of season two: not the surprisingly good performances from the leads, not the elaborate orgy we’ve almost certainly got coming to us, not the clunky lines of dialogue that’ve approached meme status as the season’s gone on, but that - in its second season - True Detective failed to inspire another national obsession. It’s unfair and unfortunate, but that’s where I see the general consensus landing here.

Phil: Sadly, that was decided after episode one. But I can’t deny there’s been an imbalance in anticipation and catharsis this season, and that frustrates viewers, even if they’re NOT live-tweeting their apathy. And when there’s no catharsis in an episode, it’s like, as Frank says, “blue balls in your heart.” That last scene with Ray in Frank’s doorway, though. Much like the end of every episode, this one has me chomping at the bit for next week.