Midway through Sunday’s fifth episode of True Detective, Ani Bezzerides tells one of her colleagues, “It’s never too late to start over.” While that sounds nice, it’s a phrase often proved incorrect in life. In the case of Season 2 of Nic Pizzolatto’s HBO drama, I’m reasonably certain it IS too late.
We’re more than halfway through the season and following the wild events of episode four, we’ve flashed 66 days into the future and restarted the generator. Frank and his lovely wife have moved into a more affordable home as a result of losing truckloads of cash to Ben Caspere. They’re arguing a bit more early, but still appear to be in love. Ani is in sexual harassment class due to jilted former beaus, and she’s also a property clerk thanks to them being her coworkers. Ray is clean-shaven and helps collect Semyon’s debts in addition to providing security; he’s left the police department. Paul was “promoted” and is working an insurance fraud desk job, which some in his life love, but he hates. So, in short, to save space, here’s the deal.
These four people are in utter misery in most facets of their lives. They were never happy, but they’re now officially in hell. The cynical side of me would point back to Season 1 and how most anticipated Nic would kill off one or both of his leads, because the story pointed in that direction, but instead let them tidily survive and stare up at the stars in various forms of hope. The cynical side of me would say Season 2 doesn’t have the same feeling, but could end with all three detectives and potentially Semyon dead. The cynical side of me might think Ani’s father is a very very bad man, based on his close associations with, well, very very bad people. But that’s the cynical side. (I’m often a cynical man.)
As we hit START after seeing the GAME OVER screen last week and began again, here was the reality of Sunday’s hour of True Detective: It was better, but it’s still largely forgettable, this time for a far different reason. Had we started with these characters more as the people we met two days ago, the show might be completely different. But, we didn’t. There remains virtually nothing to grab onto here, and the season has increasingly become a contest to see which of the four lead characters is in the worst situation. Which one of these four is most likely to commit suicide in three weeks? It’s like some very depressing version of a game show with no host, because we’re left trying to find someone to actually like on this show.
There were a ton of events in “Other Lives.” It’s not a stretch to say too much happened, because there are three more episodes left to finish the story and we wasted an enormous amount of time over the past month. Semyon gets roped back into the rail project, blackmailed and lured by McCandless with a dangling carrot of Caspere’s stolen hard drive that might help him recover a good bit of the money he lost. He finds out Jordan might not be able to have children, which reignites the strife over additions to his family. He has Ray tail his associate, Blake, and finds out his fears weren’t wrong. Blake and Chessani snag a trifecta of girls from creepy Pitlor’s place and it leads, through other side-angles, to the realization that Caspere and Chessani had a business arrangement together that involved placing women with affluent or powerful men through exclusive parties. And then…they blackmailed the men. It was a pretty dope scam, but it clearly didn’t end well.
All the while, Ray finds out that Semyon lied to him about his wife’s rapist, setting him up with a false tip that would lead to Frank holding control over Velcoro. He finds out as the real rapist is arrested, which leads to massive trouble between Ray and Gena and even more ugliness concerning custody. It’s that custody dispute that serves as the leverage for Katherine Davis to lure him back to the reopened Caspere investigation. Davis has political aspirations and also believes State Attorney Geldof colluded and filled his own coffers during a bogus initial investigation into the murder. She pledges to ensure he remains involved in his son’s life if Ray helps her and the team. No one believes Amarilla was responsible for the crime.
After figuring out Vinci PD had used Dixon to sabotage the original inquiry, Ani and Paul head up to Guernville after another side lead and discover an abandoned shed used as a torture chamber, complete with a chair and restraints. Ray, simultaneously, makes a beeline for Semyon’s home to confront him about the rapist revelations. Frank and Jordan just finished making love and seem to be in very good shape as a couple after arguing over a return to a life of crime, even if temporary. Frank and Ray have a stare down at the door as the episode ends.
That’s much of what happened, and if you got lost in there somewhere and are wondering why I wrote it all out, you just answered your own question. If THIS had been stretched over three hours, it would all have much more impact. There was just too much happening. I didn’t mention every bit of it, but enough to showcase the highlights. I’m not sure what the answer is, but when the hour was over, I felt needlessly exhausted from the proceedings. The show lasted the full hour and used its time, but it was too easy to get lost and just watch much of it fly by in a haze. It left very little effect, except the torture chair, simply because that reminded me of the sinister side of Season 1.
You can’t fix a precarious situation in one week after four questionable ones, but this is an eight-week experience. By no means did I hate this episode, but I fail to see how the remainder of the story can play itself out with any kind of believable or smooth pacing. They’re moving 100 miles an hour right now after going 10 for much of the first month. It’s a problem, because now it’s just a mess of different angles, even if they’re all moving towards the same conclusion. Also, it seems like names and faces appear like a George R.R. Martin novel, but without exposition as to why we should care when we see them. Finding out later that these folks were noteworthy isn’t revelatory – it’s frustrating. Though it hasn’t fully happened yet, there are a bunch of cooks around this broth right now. The strands in several cases are awfully thin.
I’m much more curious after Sunday to see next week’s episode than I have been at any point this season, but that’s about all I can offer at this point. After needing them to speed up, or simply just be different people in a different story, I now need them to slow the hell down, cut some of the fat out along the way, and ensure they don’t lose people in an extremely convoluted, intricate narrative. That’s why I called it “largely forgettable” earlier. There’s too much happening for everything important to stand out appropriately. They are in danger of driving past their audience just to show off the speed of the Ferrari.
This was at least two hours of movement crammed into an hour, and some of it worked. However, some of it, which desperately needed to, did not. Let us take a breath and process one thing. Vulgar dialogue and a pretty effective scene showcasing a Velcoro beating notwithstanding, it’s all just too damn jumbled to be enjoyable.
Follow me on the tweets @GuyNamedJason…or never mind. “Never mind…never mind…I live the life I left behind,” he sings, wishing he was a quarter as cool as Cohen.