A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Within a construct of a frenetic three weeks belonging to one of my favorite college courses in Herpetology, catching up routinely on True Detective and well, anything else, was a challenge. As it happens, watching the second installment of the season was a challenge in and of itself, opening with the most ostensibly shitty monologue I’ve had the visceral displeasure to experience and closing with a shocker that won’t remain true to itself. There was a singular moment this episode that excited me quite a bit because it was a moment that felt most closely aligned with what a prestige drama should be, a moment of quiet subtlety bursting with thematic intelligence and an understanding of greater quandaries without hitting them over the head and or ignoring them completely. Then the episode goes and wastes itself through a consistent repetition of undiluted misery that is seeped in an eternal melancholia. Eternal melancholia marrying misery can be an exciting event, or at the very least a philosophically powerful one, but Night Finds You takes the darkness of the story and drowns it so deeply in dullness that in essence little is left to be salvaged. After an opening that seemed to trip and fall over the highways Justin Lin’s camera fetishizes beyond a reasonable degree, there is at least some semblance of actual plot that bubbles to the surface here, so there’s something at least. It’s just that highway corruption simply isn’t as intellectually powerful as the philosophy of humanity and certainly True Detective’s portrayal doesn’t help very much.
At the heart of True Detective’s second season is a crumbling, dark portrait of the destruction of what is called the American Dream. It’s a reliable narrative to deconstruct in the differences between the mythology and the reality of that dream considering how utterly dismaying prospects for the non-wealthy have become. But it is also a narrative device that has been displayed numerous times in recent memory to varying effect. It works only when there’s something new to undercover about the status of society and I simply don’t mean from a narrative standpoint. It isn’t enough to replace one aspect of the economic downturn with another and call it a narrative win, you have to be able to draw somewhat unique conclusions from it. The California railway system that represents the first serious foray into modern transportation in this country is naturally going to draw a fair amount of scrutiny from developers and by and large the vestiges of crony capitalism will take root. Any hope otherwise is optimism. But with a plot device so potentially ripe for dramatic and thematic richness, the characters have to actually be invested in it and even the connection with Frank feels thin and undeserved. Perhaps this season can draw something out in its subsequent episodes, but we’re a quarter of the way in and so far there’s really nothing suggested through its central plot device that feels organic and fresh. It just feels like poor window dressing for a murder mystery.
The character work, or more properly the lack thereof, is severely hampering the thematic exploration the script is so obviously trying to grasp and even own. Everyone seems so utterly constructed by the darkness that lies within them it often feels like a miracle that they can breathe at all, let alone express any actual dialogue. Ani Bezzerides is emblematic of the character problem the show is having so thoroughly. On one hand, she’s tough as nails and a fairly complex leading female character whose revelations of her past in tidbits keeps her interesting and never overburdening. Yet her tortured past at the same time keeps everything from truly connecting, designed to keep the audience’s interest intact but resulting in a cartoonish alienation that makes the episode even tougher to get through. Key in point is the aforementioned opening monologue from Frank that has the result of feeling like that Hannibal Lecter’s less cannibalistic brother was his father. One of the strongest suits of storytelling is the art of subtlety, the art of conveying a plethora of information and emotion with minimal telling. We don’t need five minutes over a completely ludicrous and frankly stupid monologue of how a young Frank almost had rats bite off his finger and then he had to smash their heads into the walls to prevent that from happening, nor was it relevant to whatever was actually occurring around the characters to begin with. A simple mention of Frank’s father and the camera panning slowly to his crumbling expression would have been enough and right.
The dialogue continues to be the bane of this show’s existence, underlined by not just the utter lack of subtlety but also the recognition that there simply is no germaneness to almost every sentence uttered by the characters. Take the two most important scenes for Ray and Paul, for example. The former has a confrontation with his ex-wife, who is understandably upset at how utterly repellant his behavior towards his son was and the subsequent beating and the two actors give it their all, but it feels hollow. Not only is it a scene that has been done countless times in a similar fashion. No doubt future episodes will go in deeper to what really broke apart this relationship, but I simply don’t care. The latter is almost an afterthought at this point, the character who could have easily been cut and the story would have been affected negligibly (once again, I could be wrong, but those are my feelings at this point). Him breaking up with his girlfriend was just awkward and his visit to his mother was devoid of any catharsis that should have been abundant. At least there’s the intrigue of playing Ani and Ray off of one another, which is easily the most interesting aspect of this story that exists. Perhaps it’s an indication of how utterly off-kilter this season feels that the best scene was the final one that provided genuine shock, shock that wore off just as soon as the camera faded to black because you know they aren’t going to stick with it. On a lighter note, any bets on how many highway shots we’re going to get next week?
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“You don’t take anything with you.”
+The metaphor that did work: Casper’s death a window
+“Guy really thought about fucking a lot.”
+“You pull off that e-cig. Not a lot of people do.”
+“We’re not gangsters, Frank.”
+The good capitalists line was neat
+“We get the world we deserve.”
+“Fundamental difference between the sexes is that one of them can kill the other with their bare hands. Man of any size lays hands on me, he’s gonna bleed out in under a minute.”
+Ani’s smile at Ray’s body image joke was a nice touch
+“Tell me, how compromised are you?”
-The water stain metaphor was truly painful
-“Back on the bike.” We get it.
-“I don’t talk about the desert.”
-“You hurt me seeing you.”
-“You’re bad, Ray.”
-“I will burn this entire fucking city to the ground first.” Sorry, Game of Thrones monopolized that line.
Title: Night Finds You
Written By: Nic Pizzolatto
Directed By: Justin Lin
Image Courtesy: Dorkshelf