In the South they believed they had bloodied their land with history. In California we did not believe we could bloody our land, or even touch it. (Joan Didion)
After the wheelspinning of last week, where details got added to the investigation and the characters without much sense of interest, True Detective comes charging back this week with the season’s best episode, strong thematically, strong in its performances, funny, and all capped off with some quality ownage. Also, I don’t think they’ll have Dixon coming back after that headshot. Goodbye my friend, I wish I had appreciated you more in these reviews, W. Earl Brown made of you a tubby greasy Greek chorus.
That’s appropriate for the story Pizzolatto’s telling here (Scott Lasser has the first co-writer credit in the series), where it’s becoming clearer that the past never goes away, and that stretches back generations. All through this episode, there are reminders of the past and the way it demands you live with it. There’s the question of paternity and blood, voiced at the beginning with Frank shooting down adoption–“at least with your kid, it’s your sins”–and later with Ray handing his grandfather’s badge to his son, probably not his son by blood. (He has red hair and neither Ray nor his wife does, and I apologize for not noticing that before.) Frank says in a meeting that if you spill blood, you are blood. Most theatrically (literally so–this is the kind of thing Eugene O’Neill or Henrik Ibsen or Sophocles would pull), there’s the ruined land bought by Vinci’s mayor, destroyed by the mines that made California.
Frank’s line “it’s your sins” deserves a moment’s examination; it’s one of the ways in which Pizzolatto’s vision is distinctly old-school, even Puritan. “Sin” does not equal “crime,” nor does it equal “evil.” Sin–and this has been all through these episodes–is the cost of being in the world, of being in the world of man and not God. Everyone pays, not because they did something wrong but because they’re alive and that is the price for your life. Frank’s not saying having a child is bad or the result of bad things, simply that bringing a life into the world is itself a cost. You can hear that idea of sin again when Frank says that the young generation wants to go straight to the top–they don’t understand that you’re born with a debt that has to be paid. This idea of sin hasn’t been part of our pop culture for a long time (Arthur Miller may have had the strongest sense of it), and I’m glad to see it here.
Pizzolatto brought that sense of a debt that was in the blood and in the land to the first season of True Detective, set in Louisiana; it’s fascinating how he tries to impart that sense to Southern California, built so much on forgetting and ignoring the past. The long overhead shots are back in this episode, more than ever since the season premiere. As a Californian, the long shots and the landscapes often give me that sense that Didion feels–that whatever we do simply doesn’t matter. Here, the long shots develop the sense of a long time to go with the wide spaces. (Also, there are pieces of driftwood all over this episode, from Ani’s mother’s sculptures to a little piece in her boss’ office.) The land forgets nothing.
A cursory check of other reviews gives me the impression that other critics are landing hard on Pizzolatto for his dialogue, but I love it. It’s not realistic, but that’s not what dialogue needs to be, especially not in a work as openly theatrical as this one. (As a lot of us were hoping for, most episodes end in the bar with Frank and Ray shooting the shit. If we can get a whole episode of them talking the Lakers and the Clippers in Pizzolattan English, this would be 2015’s best show.) It’s memorable and it’s unique to him, a combination of theatrical soliloquy and hard-boiled narration, The Maltese Falcon crossed with A View from the Bridge. It’s a kind of language that’s distinctly American and distinctly masculine and it’s enjoyable as all hell; Ray’s “Glove box. Take your cure” was my favorite of the evening. Following with seeing the contents of said glove box was even funnier.
Speaking of which, this was the all-around funniest episode yet. I haven’t had much to say about Taylor Kitsch and Paul, but he hit it out of the park tonight when Emily, dumped just two episodes ago, told him she was pregnant. With the news coming after his (first?) gay one-night stand, Kitsch just made Paul light up like a six-year-old getting a puppy and you could see OH YAY I’M NORMAL! in a thought balloon above his head. (To use a line I often said while watching The Shield, this. . .is not gonna end well.) Also, David Morse just had to take a moment to appreciate Ray’s huge
tracts of land aura, selling the line by being so direct about it, like Ray’s jacket was on inside out. And Rachel McAdams brought some Mamet-level virtuosity in her use of fuck!
Ani’s now on suspension after a complaint filed by her ex, and McAdams brought so much more intensity to her this week. Everyone was able to raise their game, because the story has now brought people into conflict: Ani with the department, Paul with his sexuality and his past in Black Mountain, Frank with just about anyone who he can squeeze for money, and Ray with Frank, who has invited him back for some criminal work. (Colin Farrell’s Ray is starting to look a lot like James Ellroy’s Dave “The Enforcer” Klein” from White Jazz.) Another thing I enjoyed about this episode was how relaxed Ray has started to become–he’s survived a shotgun blast and he’s starting to get into his mentor role to Ani and Paul.
All this and finally an ass-kicking action sequence. It’s not the eight-minute tracking shot of last season and it wisely doesn’t try to be, but it’s a masterclass in editing and tracking people through space. Shots come down and shit blows up without any warning; I jumped at least three times watching it. Director Jeremy Podeswa uses the spaces within and between buildings as barriers to shots and to seeing, and it ends in a believable jam of two vehicles, concrete barriers, civilian protestors, and everyone trying to get a decent sightline on everyone else. (Favorite detail: the wide shots that show, Naked Gun-style, that people are hiding behind the same car.) Exciting and awful all at once, it ends in a huge pile of casualties (that will almost certainly cause further trouble) and Ray, Ani, and Paul gasping for breath. This is what we showed up for.
Reviews for this season of True Detective will appear weekly Sunday night/Monday morning.