A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
My sincere apologies on the delay of this review. This was the first week of my new, frenetic summer science course and I was ensnared within its grasp. The finale review will be up by Tuesday.
Everyone is trying to escape the traps that are seemingly closing in all around them, an exercise in narrative constriction that is wont to create tension but instead has, in this context, become a repetitive and cyclical exercise in vanity. Understanding the greatness of True Detective’s first season also brings with it the reality of its botched ending. It wasn’t the necessitation of a supernatural element that I had bought into, it was the quiet, methodical exercise in intellectualism the series brought with it. And then it seemed that after episode five, Nic Pizzolatto realized that he forgot about the murder and an entire episode was crammed with exposition so the murder in effect could be resolved properly. It had the adverse, additional effect of taking a meticulously crafted mythology and rendering a decent chunk of its ending mundane. Something similar happens here, albeit without the benefit of having actually decent material precede it. True Detective’s second season was constructed around the idea of decent, haunted people warped by corrupted systems. That narrative construct isn’t inherently original, since corrupt systems have been taking advantage of the people within them long before the first empire was created by Sargon of Akkad in the Middle East. That does not mean, however, that it’s an inherently uninteresting concept. There is something about the duplicity of the human psyche that can make narrative constructs like those downright thrilling (espionage stories done well, for instance). True Detective’s take is, however, the complete opposite.
The destructive seed if you will lies at the heart of the plot, thrusting the story forward on the foundation of a murder that frankly wasn’t that interesting to begin with. Caspere himself had about as much screen time as the surface area of a clothing pin, but that lack of knowing could have been worked to the show’s favor. Instead, even his aura was cast aside in favor of heaven knows what and the audience was just left with his name to the point where it felt like some sort of weird meta joke. I assumed at the end of the rather derivative pilot that perhaps the people around Caspere or the ones connected to him would be intriguing enough to cover that aspect, but that didn’t happen either. Murder mysteries, which is what this season inherently is, rest upon a variety of narrative devices to succeed, supreme of which is the aforementioned intrigue of the crime itself. The second most vital piece arguably is the revelation of the actual murderer(s), which hasn’t happened yet in its entirety I presume, but has to be shocking enough while making sense within the narrative framework. Here, much like the first season, the revelations all come through in a massive amount of exposition that is simply thrown at the audience with the hope that they either don’t care to put all of the pieces together or are actually performing the show’s work and keeping a meticulous flow chart on their notepad. And exposition dumps are lazy, lazy writing, simple as that. If you can’t craft a story where bits and pieces of information are scattered before being pieced together without the characters sitting on a sofa and exclaiming “I just realized!” for what seems like an eternity of screen time, maybe you shouldn’t be writing at all.
While the episode is garnering a fair amount of undeserved praise for actually doing something, the only thing it does sufficiently well is a thematic construct of everyone abandoning their lives for the semblance of safety. True Detective this season has had a fair amount of problems trying to convey the emotional sides to their characters, but their realization of the consequences to their escapade/investigation thrusted them into an emotional state that felt acutely germane. One of the few improvements Pizzolatto made over the first season was expanding the roles of the secondary characters (not that he always did so well, mind you) and the protagonists further understanding how much their loved ones were placed in danger by their actions crafted an emotional tension I had believed to be utterly beyond this season’s grasp. The best sequence in this regard was Ani shuffling her family off to safety, an action closely mirrored to Paul. But here the emotional constructs and Rachel McAdams’s performance provide a significant boost over the latter. When she’s seeing her family’s escape to Oregon, there’s a semblance of emotional connection and actual sympathy that I’ve only managed for Ray and in his case it was a small dosage as it were. As it has been for the vast majority of this season, however, there was still quite a bit of over the top dialogue straining these sequences of an emotional connection, where the logic was sound but there might as well have been a giant “Foreshadowing” sign flashing over the top of the screen. Subtlety has never really been this show’s strong suit, but such clear and emphasized telegraphing only takes away from the emotional power to be drawn from whatever inevitable tragedy befalls in the season finale.
Then again, using faulty logic to push for some semblance of emotional connection and plot movement has always been a bane in the existence of this season, with a few surprising exceptions. Take in case the idea of the plot consequences of the sex party invasion. On one hand, the aforementioned emotional drive for the characters to protect their families or any semblance of such an institution makes complete sense. The idea of Ani now being hunted by the police for the murder of a security guard is not. Backing up, the existence of these super secret sex parties with human trafficked prostitutes forced to take molly was meant to be a secret for reasons that are blindingly obvious. The idea of a security guard snuffing it at one of these sex parties is fairly expected for whatever reason one could come up with, considering the ambience doesn’t exactly scream “calmness” and “safe.”. The idea of the security guard becoming a focal point in the hunt for Ani, however, is utterly idiotic. For one, I earnestly doubt that anyone at those parties really gave a damn about the security guard to begin with. For second, wouldn’t the security guard’s death raise more questions than anyone involved in those parties would want to answer anyhow? “Um, yeah, this woman killed a guard at a super secret sex party, I mean, um, conference, where the attorney general running for governor just happened to be. And uh, yeah, she’s armed and dangerous.” A logical route would be to hunt for her without the publicity, which shouldn’t be that hard considering she was on the force to begin with and hasn’t espoused a truly untraceable identity. Or, if you want to get creative, pin another crime on her. The attendees certainly have quite the roster, one would assume.
The usage of sex and sexuality this season has arguably been more graphic than the prior one, even if the much-touted orgy scene was a lot tamer than anything on Spartacus. But it has certainly hasn’t been used entirely well, especially where Ani and Paul are concerned. On one hand, the episode depicts Vera as her own individual and someone who refuses to be rescued. There’s a tactful recognition of choice that is rarely seen in that sequence and one of the few moments Pizzolatto was able to transcend his own trappings to find something larger at play that didn’t seem shoehorned in. On the other hand, the episode takes a negative route with Ani trying to get it on with Ray. Theoretically, this is fine, but the show’s presentation of the context around it is not. There’s nothing wrong with Ani using her sexuality, but there is something wrong with the espousal of the traditional, sexist norm of her being the seducer and Ray being the one who refuses to give in. That’s not to say he ought to have given in, since legitimate consent from all parties involved is important. The “Yeah, bro, just take it!” is an idiotic sentiment that is espoused by frat minds who haven’t bothered to go through any semblance of maturity. It’s just that the episode doesn’t bother exploring why Ani feels the need to go that route. The admission of “this is what I always do” is like last week’s revelation about a traumatic chapter of her past. It’s cheaply thrown into the dialogue with the expectation of a legitimate emotional reaction from the audience, but here that choice of having used sex in such a manner is simply presented as being the wrong one without any consideration of what it actually means. There isn’t even an attempt to explore her psyche, which perhaps was too much work to do. It just is and the episode breezes on after a joke from Ray. Then their arc climaxes in sex, which not only clangs bizarrely in correspondence to the sequence earlier but is somehow supposed to ooze romantic feelings that largely arrive out of thin air because the script said so.
The most problematic character by far this season is Paul and that’s not just because Taylor Kitsch displayed genuine emotion for about three seconds. His character as it is written simply doesn’t make sense, to the point where his presence seemed to burdening the show more than anything else. The closeted macho guy that Paul is had the potential to be something beyond that stereotype but Pizzolatto’s script never gave him anything that was even close to that chance. He was a stereotype from his intro to the moment where Burris shot him dead in the darkened streets, having conveniently hidden behind the right door (Paul has a hidden tracker in his blood, right?). Bits and pieces about his past were constantly thrown at the narrative but none of it really quite tracked. His darkened military contractor past held some narrative promise but it never materialized in a significant fashion until this episode and it was perhaps the most significant disappointment yet, which is truly saying something. The scene that foretold the troubling developments here was the harassing reporters that literally appeared out of nowhere, a scene that suggested that Pizzolatto has no idea how reporters actually ask questions, regardless of the respective journalist’s credibility. And it seems like Pizzolatto doesn’t understand how military contractors work, either, unless in reality they like to seduce former members and then corner them in fairly obvious hidden places before they take their chief hostage and nearly escape in a shootout. Paul is insultingly told that he ought to have been honest about his sexuality (yeah, no shit), but maybe the show should be honest about itself at this point. As thrilling as it can be at moments this season, it has nearly always been an exercise in absolute disappointment. Well, it’s over on Sunday.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+I quite enjoyed the scenes between Frank and Jordan this week. Great work there.
+“My head’s so fucked up.” Well, that’s one way to describe that evening.
+“You’re too far out of my league anyway.”
+“I’m just trying to be a good man.”; “Well, you don’t try it right.”
+“How am I supposed to disappear?”
+“Maybe, and this is just a thought, maybe you were put on earth for more than fucking.”
+The slow-motion breaking of the face was a nice moment from director Dan Attias
+The detective in charge being found dead
+“Look me in the eyes. I want to watch your lights go out.”
+“I wish your life had been easier.”
+This week’s meta joke: “Well, it doesn’t make sense.”
+Dixon was a regular dick
+“We’re a goddamn political dynasty.”
+I stand by my general dislike of Vince Vaughn in the show, but when he does his gangster moment, his performance comes a bit to life
+I didn’t give a crap about Paul, but Emily crying while looking at the screen was an effective capper to the episode
-The whole Tascha storyline and connections
-Osip and everything about and around him
-“Stay safe. And stay alive.”
-The gas leak trick worked? Really? Sure, it was dramatic, but really?
Title: Black Maps and Motel Rooms
Written By: Nic Pizzolatto
Directed By: Dan Attias
Image Courtesy: Flipboard