TRUE DETECTIVE Review: “Church In Ruins”

Phil and Scott visit an orgy!

Jumping right in! Find recaps for episodes onetwothreefour, and five at the embedded links.

Scott: So we picked up where we left off, with Ray confronting Frank about that whole “identifying the wrong rapist” thing Frank pulled. Or kinda pulled: Frank claims that if he identified the wrong guy, he certainly didn’t do it on purpose. And y’know what? I believe Frank.

Phil: I believe him, I think. We’re going to hear cries of “cop out” over this scene aren’t we? But it’s only a cheat if they set up a cliffhanger last episode and didn’t deliver. The thing is, that breakfast table scene WAS the delivery. Not perfect - Farrell struggled with some of that clunky dialogue - but I realized something watching it: I care about both these characters. It was tense because, like Ray, I’d like to avoid them shooting each other. But I reckon this scene will continue a season-long tradition of folks missing the good scenes because we expected different shit to happen.

Scott: Same thing happened to me. I’ve spent the last few weeks shrugging away the idea of being emotionally attached to anyone on this show, and that sequence - along with the lengthy “escape” set-piece that capped this episode - really threw that apathy in my face. I do feel one way or another about some of these characters, after all! Around the time that thought was occurring to me, though, we got an oddly-timed cutaway to Ani and Paul at the murder shack. Way to deflate the escalating tension in that Ray/Frank moment, ass.

Phil: Yeah, let’s just bisect this showdown with some procedural wheel-spinning.

Scott: Such a weird choice! And it’s over in, like, thirty seconds. “Hey,” the show yells, clumsily barging into a tense and effective opening scene, “Remember these guys? Remember that murder shack they found?” Yeah, yeah, we know. Then it’s back to Ray and Frank.

Phil: And in that conversation, we’re presented with the idea that if it wasn’t Frank who intentionally served up the wrong guy to Ray, his guy did. So that’s a new dangling thread, I guess? 

Scott: This is true. And at this point, the signs point to Frank’s guy being responsible for all manner of unpleasantness (side note: he’s my guess for Birdman). He’s running hookers with the Mayor’s kid, he’s intimidating widows, he’s supplying bad information to his boss...who knows what else he’s been up to? Probably killed Stan, as well. 

Phil: That bird mask-wearing sonofabitch. Who has had marginally more character development than Stan (RIP).

Scott: Anyway, Frank and Ray sorta make up (the “You might be one of the last friends I got”/”Wouldn’t that be fucked up?” exchange was an episode highlight for me), and Ray leaves having agreed to help Frank track down that missing hard drive.

Phil: “Don’t you fuckin’ shoot me, Raymond.” That one line might be Vince Vaughn’s best moment on the show. But yes, that scene ends with a new goal, and a new understanding of the dynamic between Ray and Frank. Or maybe just a new dynamic between Ray and Frank. I dug it.

Scott: Meanwhile, back in the woods, Ani and Paul seemed to rub the local sheriff the wrong way. He being a little obstruct-y because he’s dirty, or just because he’s territorial?

Phil: No idea. I’m at the point where I think every white dude who’s not Frank Semyon is in on this filthy sex-and-diamonds cover-up.

Scott: Ooh, I wanna talk about the diamonds, but first: Ray visits wife’s actual rapist in prison. Your thoughts on this scene? I’m mixed on it.

Phil: As I said on Twitter: this episode had some of the best and worst moments of the season on it. And if this scene wasn’t either, it was still a smoking gun as far as the writing and the acting on the show not always gelling with one another. This felt like a scene that was supposed to give you goose bumps. Emmy clip-type shit. But it felt kind of hollow. Farrell, still my favorite actor on the show, was kind of left dangling by the scenes he was given this week. Some of his lines to Frank in the kitchen were iffy, and here I wasn’t feeling his seething rage all that much. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to? Maybe he’s robotically going through the motions?

Scott: No, I think that's just a great performance meeting questionable writing. And speaking of questionable writing: what's the deal with the diamonds? Paul does some digging and finds out they were originally part of a robbery back during the L.A. Riots, but that’s...uh...I don’t know what that is, or why it matters. Remind where the diamonds fit into all this? I’m lost.

Phil: I was going to ask you?

Scott: Welp.

Phil: Weren’t they in Caspere’s safe deposit box?

Scott: Er, yes. I think so.

Phil: The mystery now being that Teague Dixon was already asking about the blue diamonds around town. I’m not sure.

Scott: Me, neither. No worries. I’m sure someone will overexplain this to us in the comments!

Phil: Here’s hoping!

Scott: Ani’s sister briefs her on her upcoming undercover operation. It’s clear that Ani’s sister feels like she’s in over her head, while Ani feels like she’s prepared for whatever shady business (read: boners, weirdos) this party might throw at her. I’m with Ani on this one. We see Ani practicing with those knives, and she is a stone-cold badass.

Phil: I wondered as this played how I would have reacted if that imagery hadn’t been exploited so much in the promos. As it is, it’s telegraphing in two directions: we’ve seen it before so it didn’t pack the wallop it could have (because yes, holy shit Rachel McAdams with them knife skills); and you know that handiwork is going to be called upon before the credits roll.

Scott: Then we move onto a scene wherein Frank and his wife visit Stan’s widow, which I don’t feel like we were given nearly enough context for (same goes for the follow-up scene between Frank and Stan’s kid). We didn’t know Stan, we’ve never met his family, we have no idea whether or not the things Frank’s saying about the guy are true or not, nor do we really have any reason to care. As our buddy Jacob Knight pointed out over on Twitter, it made me feel like we missed a “Stan episode”. 

Phil: We are invited to feel the weight of a man’s death by the massive black hole that represents his snuffed existence. Who was this man, they wonder? And we wonder too. By telling us nothing, his loss echoes in a more existential way. “Who was Stan?” is the most profound question of all.

Scott: What the hell happened with this subplot, do you think? Surely this wasn’t intentional. Did they edit out too much from the first episode or two, or is this just sloppy writing?

Phil: We are invited to feel the weight of a man’s death by the massive black hole that represents his snuffed existence. (No, for real, I feel like they chopped something for time. I get all the parenting themes at play here, but when the context is the Stan Vacuum, all I can think about it the missing emotional or narrative info that would make this stuff really land.)

Scott: Painful watching Ray get a taste of supervised visits with “his” son; it goes about as well as one might expect (read: Ray’s kid asks if they can watch Friends). Ray’s having trouble bonding with this kid, and y’know...I felt bad for him.

Phil: I’ll put this scene in the “good” column for Ray this week. It felt largely real and affecting. I hope the court-appointed supervisor wasn’t giving Ray demerits for feeding that kid garbage of both the nutritional and entertainment variety.

Scott: Meanwhile, on the other side of town Frank’s having no trouble bonding with Dead Stan’s kid. Tells him he’s a golden god or something. I dunno, it felt kinda weird, but it seemed like both Frank and the kid felt better afterwards. Unlike Ray, whose visit with his son is so disastrous that he winds up falling off the wagon, straight into what appears to be a drug-binge montage directed by the Farrelly Brothers.

Phil: I got more of a Pump Up The Volume vibe from the montage. (Hey, Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis for True Detective Season 3?) It was wholly ridiculous and I hated it, but the way that it sort of rolled to an undramatic stop rang kind of true.

Scott: Well, he breaks all of his toys and then calls his wife to inform her that he won’t be seeking custody. And then Ray’s ex agrees to keep the results of the paternity test to herself.

Phil: That paternity test means a lot more to Ray than it probably does to his kid, and more to Ray than being in the kid’s life! There was something gross and selfish about his “sacrifice” - “let me hang onto this lie and I will stop trying altogether, deal?”

Scott: Speaking of gross, Frank and his associates torture some dude with the nail-driver thingie to figure out where to find Amarilla’s girlfriend, who they want to talk to about Caspere’s pawned/stolen goods. Smart of that guy to give up the info before the stuck one in his eye. Knew a kid once who got a nail stuck in his eye, and it was not a good look for him in the long run.

Phil: I’m so paranoid at Gangster Frank scenes now. I feel like I should be taking notes on his crew, lest I find myself immersed in a scene of their family life at some later point.

Scott: So, Ray, Paul and Ani meet up to discuss how they’re going to infiltrate Fuck Mountain. Still not sure I understand why Ani needed to infiltrate the party if Ray and Paul were just gonna sneak in on their own, anyway? Or was Ray and Paul’s decision to break into the house sort of a spur-of-the-moment thing?

Phil: That’s the explanation that makes sense. They saw a super convenient business meeting through a window and improvised. I mean, Ani was just doing recon, right? That plan all goes to shit right quick.

Scott: Back in L.A., Frank goes to speak to Irena, only for the Cisco Kid and The Other Guy get the drop on him (I am ashamed to admit I snorted at Frank’s “Mexican standoff” line). While they work out a deal, Ray and Paul trail Ani’s party bus. Ani arrives and is immediately given some sort of drug, which she’s told is molly, while waiting for the festivities to begin. There was some back and forth last night as to whether or not the drug Ani’s given was actually molly, but I’m struggling to understand what difference it makes.

Phil: Folks pointed to the idea of Ani being given something else as evidence her cover was blown, but that doesn’t really wash with me. She has an Afterschool Special by way of Roger Corman drug meltdown, though, and if it was the same drug the other girls were taking, that’s some convenient plotting right there.

Scott: Yeah, we talked about this last night, and I just don’t think it matters. I think the aim of the scene was to get Ani disoriented, hallucinating, and not firing on all cylinders. This was a quick way to do that. Maybe her reaction’s unrealistic, but...whatever. I’ll allow it.

Scott: Back at the casino, Frank gets a phone call from Irena, who tells him that a cop put her up to pawning the stuff stolen out of Caspere’s house. She says he was “thin, white” and “didn’t wear a uniform”. My money’s on Frank’s guy (yeah, yeah, I know he’s not a cop, but I could easily see someone making that mistake; dude looks coppish to me), but I suppose she could also be describing Paul. Any thoughts here? 

Phil: I was thinking Ray’s supervisor, Lt. Burris (James Frain), but no real shortage of white cops up in this.

Scott: So Frank goes to speak with Irena, and of course she’s already been killed. And of course Cisco Kid and The Other Guy are responsible. Frank just can’t catch a break.

Phil: That rang a little false to me. I felt like Frank. “Why kill the girl? What is the point of that?” And the excuse was iffy as hell.

Scott: Ani is now rolling absolute balls at the party. I would like to pause here to comment on the scandalousness of the orgy itself: sort of a letdown, all things considered. This is basically the same territory as Eyes Wide Shut, just without much of the weirdo Illuminati flavoring. For something we’ve been hearing about for months on end, I was hoping for something way over the top, if only for the pure spectacle of it. Nope! Pretty bog standard, orgy-wise.

Phil: You’re an animal. I thought the orgy (replete with candy dishes full of Viagra) was kind of cartoonish: why do all these old white men get off on banging Eastern Bloc hookers IN FRONT OF EACH OTHER?

Scott: Everyone has a hobby, Phil.

Phil: That’s a pretty specific kink. I know grown-ass men who won’t use a urinal if other dudes are in the men’s room, but every man of influence in LA is into Eiffel Towering with his boys.

Scott: Anyway, before things get too out of hand, we spot that oily, loaded crime boss guy Frank was dealing with earlier in the season. Then Ani gets snatched up by a nice, friendly, older gentleman who’s totally DTF. The drugs kick in harder, and Ani begins having hallucinations that reveal - surprise! - she was molested as a kid, presumably while on her dad’s weirdo hippie commune. Your thoughts on this development? I found it tired and gross.

Phil: First, the big party guest: Richard Geldof (C.S. Lee)!

Scott: (stares blankly)

Phil: The California Attorney General who helped initiate the Vinci investigation, and announced his candidacy for governor after the shooting, was chatting up folks at that party.

Scott: Oh. Weird.

Phil: As for Ani, I didn’t mean “afterschool special drug meltdown” as a compliment, and found it to be a clumsy bit of exposition at best.

Scott: Meanwhile, Ray and Paul are sneaking around the party, and find themselves outside a window at the precise moment some shady deal-making happens to be going down between Oily Loaded Crime Boss and the Corporate Type who tasked Frank with finding his sensitive HDD. Once the room clears, Paul opens the window, steals a fistful of land contracts, and skedaddles.

Phil: I don’t know that it was “good”, but I liked Tactical Strike Velcoro and Woodrugh. For all the show’s wallowing in human failings, nice to see some people good at what they do for a hot minute.

Scott: So Ani’s not doing as well. Her hallucinations are intensifying. She heads to a bathroom, yaks, and instantly seems better. Then she happens to run into the missing girl she was looking for earlier in the season: convenient! As they make their escape, she ends up stomping on Older Gentleman’s balls and straight-up eviscerating a bodyguard who attempts to intervene. Most of this is pretty badass (speaking of which: shout-out to this episode’s score and song choices).

Phil: Felt a little Bernard Hermann to me; Matthew Monagle on Twitter says it’s this:

Final Thoughts

Scott: Overall, I thought this was a great episode, and the entire infiltration/escape sequence - from the moment Ani arrives as the lodge to the moment Ray screeches around that bend and down the road to safety - was great. I was engaged, I cared about the characters from moment to moment (even when I wasn’t entirely clear on the thinking that got them where they were). I felt like I reacted to the last 20 minutes of this episode the way a lot of other people reacted to the shootout in episode 4. As we head into these final two episodes, I feel my interest renewed.

Phil: The show can hook you/me when it wants to. And last night’s finale did it in a big way, even if I don’t give a crap that they got a document with “signatures ALL over it, man.” It makes me more and more curious about what’s NOT working. Too many characters? Too much weight given to tangents that play as laughable when given that much weight? We joke about Stan, but I have to wonder if Stan isn’t indicative of some kind of struggle - creative, power, whatever - to bring a truly focused story to season two. But call this rationalizing if you want: the second spin is where you work the bugs out, where you figure out why something worked in the first place, and what not to do going forward. (I call this the Lazenby Effect.) Whatever its failings, if they can deliver an ending to the season the way they’ve consistently delivered the endings to individual episodes, me and True Detective will be cool for season three.

Scott: What say you, commenters?