If your complaint about this second season of True Detective was that there aren’t enough fireworks, this fourth episode pretty conclusively answered that criticism with a massive, Heat-style shootout that left everyone but our three heroes bleeding out in the street. But there was a lot that came before that shootout that raised the stakes for all the players, and it feels like the season is coming into focus.
Strapped for cash and increasingly resigned to the fact that the life savings he gave Caspere is not going to be recovered, Frank continued drumming up cash from old criminal associates, restarting his drug trade and inserting himself back into an old protection racket, while increasingly pushing his loyal wife out of the picture.
Velcoro continues to slowly pull his head out of his posterior, acting as advisor and hangover helper to Bezzerides and Woodrugh, each struggling with their own crises: Bezzerides is suspended after a formal complaint about her relationship with a deputy, which brought out her past relationship with her partner, who she wastes no time alienating on her way out of the stationhouse. Woodrugh, for his part, is so upset after waking up from a bender in his war buddy’s bed that he proposes marriage to his ex when she tells him she’s pregnant.
Following a lead Woodrugh chased down involving Caspere’s pawned watch, the detail prepares to raid a loft space in front of a crowd of protesters and TV cameras, ensuring that the fallout from the ensuing shootout will be very public; Bezzerides' job, already hanging by a thread, would seem to be history now, and the same goes for Woodrugh. Though Velcoro turned down Frank’s offer to go full-time into the muscle business, it ironically might seem like a safer line of work.
Now if I could only figure out who those dudes with the machine guns were, and why they were so eager to open fire on a dozen cops in front of TV cameras in broad daylight. But that’s probably a job for episode five.
Vulture’s Kenny Herzog sees the episode as a return to form for the series:
A year and a half later, creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto is up to his old tricks. A few hours of occasional tedium, tonal chaos, and ornate table setting has delivered us to where we are now. This iteration of Detective is not the buddy-comedy riff that resonated throughout our time in Erath, and some would argue it’s suffered for that. But familiar patterns are beginning to emerge, one that might create a groundswell of buzz deafening enough to overwhelm the vocal consensus of diminished expectations. Season two’s third episode, much like its predecessor’s, braced us for what the bad guy might look like. Yet again, he/she hides behind a mask and lets lethal weaponry do the talking. Then, after 45 minutes of by-the-books and ho-hum in “Down Will Come,” we get our adrenaline shot in the form of a climactic gunfight. Directed by the very capable Jeremy Podeswa (for all ye Justin Lin haters), our protagonists’ mêlée with Mexican gang members suspected in Caspere’s murder — an anarchic scene that spilled out into the streets of Vinci and claimed an untold number of civilian and PD casualties — was a truly shocking spectacle of ultraviolence. And like Marty Hart and Rust Cohle’s aforementioned, bracing escape from an undercover infiltration gone haywire, Paul and Ani and Ray are now brothers and sisters in arms and harm’s way. Still, one wonders about the effects of the stakeout-gone-awry on each of them (never mind the disastrous impact on their investigation). In an earlier scene, Ray remarked to Paul that after what the latter had seen overseas, anything over here is a breeze. But even Ray couldn’t have counted on what they were about to walk into, and who knows how the results will be coded into Paul’s PTSD. What’s almost certain is that Ray might be rethinking Frank’s offer to come work full-time for him after that rough day at the office. Whether his actions in “Down Will Come” bring him further shame or help save him from a self-perception of worthless failure remains unclear. Ani’s rattled but seems grateful to have Paul and Ray at her back, now that it’s clear virtually everyone in her department and higher up the chain is ready to stab her in it. All eyes are on these three now, so it’s time for them to close ranks, not that different from what Marty and Rust determined once they got the band back together. (That’s facilitated all the more now that Dixon’s dead and gone.) You could tell from the glances of the Vinci brass that their lame-duck assignees to Caspere’s case are getting a bit too close to the truth. There are no promotions to be had in exchange for abetting corruption, just as there are no rewards for valor. And now that they’re at the center of a public massacre, one instigated by their pursuit of a lead in the Caspere case, keeping their heads down is not an option.
Grantland’s Chris Ryan liked the episode more than the shootout:
In the show’s first season, minor characters seemed to have a small idea of the larger story — think Charlie Lange. But the audience was as in the dark as the two protagonists. This season, as the show sorts through more characters and a larger narrative, the conspiracy is starting to come into focus. Only our detectives can’t see it yet. Practically everyone — the Vinci police brass, Detective Dixon, Chessani, his family, Dr. Pitlor, Osip the Russian gangster, set photographers, even Ani’s sister — seem to be staring at them and making faces that scream, “Don’t you see the criminal conspiracy unfolding here?!” No wonder Ani brought a knife to a gunfight. Would you watch a show called Not So Great Detective? Well, if you’re reading this, you are. Thing is, I don’t know if Pizzolatto thinks these people are bad at their jobs. He certainly doesn’t think they’re stupid. Just watch any of those car scenes between Ani and Ray, or Ray and Paul. Pizzolatto did something brave by making his protagonists a bunch of failures. His mistake was making them try to sing from last season’s hymnbook. Which is a shame. Failure is interesting, because these characters are interesting enough failures not to repeat last year’s tricks. The second season of this show has its own rhythm. You can feel it, strummed out by the singer (played by Lera Lynn), in that purgatory bar where Frank and Ray like to compare notes on who’s apoplectic and who’s strident. It’s a lonely, sad beat that is always threatening to vanish into the smoky barroom air. I like that song. Mind you, I never need to hear that Lera Lynn tune again, but I like the weird, theatrical, melancholy way that this season had been unfolding. I like how Vince Vaughn and Kelly Reilly are in a totally different show from everyone else. I like that Vaughn’s Semyon seems particularly peeved about the quality of landscaping going on at his house. The intersection between the evil that men do, the evil that cities hold, and the evil that drives someone like Amarilla is fascinating, if bleak. I like the way Colin Farrell’s Ray Velcoro has settled into a kind of screwed-up confidant and mentor to Ani and Paul rather than just being a burnout living in a glass case of emotion. These are new characters, with their own music. They don’t need last season’s anthems. That’s why the shootout felt like blanks to me. Did this whole thing need a shot in the arm? Maybe. I just don’t know if it has earned thousands of them.
The A.V. Club’s Erik Adams praises Vince Vaughn’s performance and sees a theme:
The way Vince Vaughn seems to wake up whenever he gets to play gangster Frank can’t be emphasized enough. Compare his scene in the bakery with the later scene in which he can’t seal the deal with David Denman. One features a man relishing the lurid terms of doing business on the black market; in the other, he might as well be reciting U.S. tax code. That’s really to the detriment of the scene opposite Denman, which otherwise manages to be the plainest explanation to date of what Fraronk hoped to get out of the rail deal, and why Caspere’s death prevented that from happening. But that all gets glossed over as Vaughn attempts to keep Frank’s tooth-pulling Mr. Hyde at bay, a struggle that could account for the wild fluctuations in his performance from moment to moment. He’s playing a multifaceted character who only wants to show the one facet, and the strain to do so leads to emoting in dozens of directions and “f—”s that land like verbal anvils. He’s putting that harder side on display because he knows he’s being watched. The eye-like water damage from “Night Finds You” returns to haunt Frank in “Down Will Come,” taking the form of rings in a tablecloth. The eyes know what Frank has done, and they know what he’s trying to do, and they probably have something to do with the deaths of Caspere and Stan. There’s something to living under surveillance that season two is trying to dig at, manifested in voyeuristic tableaus (the view of Detective and the future Mrs. Woodrugh from outside the coffeeshop) or the overhead photography gliding above the freeway. High-powered interests are invested in the detail’s findings, and so everyone involved is being monitored. Ani has internal affairs on her tail; Paul has the L.A. media snooping around hotel entrances. The gaggle that prevents Paul from hangover recovery wants to hear about more than Lacey Lindel. In another love letter from Nic Pizzolatto (sharing the writer’s credit for the first time, with Scott Lasser) to his BFFs in the press, the reporters request comment on Paul’s experiences in the Middle East, questions he hears in a completely separate light. After ending an indulgent night at Lux in Miguel’s bed, he’s in a self-loathing panic. Bringing back last week’s doublespeak, Paul tells Ray that he doesn’t “know how to be out in the world,” a specific situation to which Ray, in bad dad mode, applies the most general of advice. (“Look out that window, look at me. Nobody does.”) Velcoro would do well to swear off of spoken advice and stick with the chemical support he keeps in the glove compartment. The reporters’ questions, Ani’s trouble with IA, the eyes following Frank: It’s possible (and likely) these are all just massive coincidences. That’s True Detective telling us to keep our eyes and minds open while encouraging a healthy dose of skepticism. Caspere’s watch turns up in a pawn shop with incriminating finger prints on it, but one of the people to whom those prints belonged is now unavailable for questioning. It all seems to wrap up the Caspere case conveniently—a little too conveniently. Especially considering that the prime suspect in the murder appeared to know that the cops were coming for him.
Rolling Stone’s Sean T. Collins appreciates the dramatic weight the episode gave the shootout:
The sequence’s primary strength initially appeared to be a weakness: the sheer scale of the death and destruction. When the cops, gangbangers, and bystanders were dropping by the dozen like NPCs in a Grand Theft Auto: Vice City mission, it was easy to suspect the show was going to shake off the end of all those human lives with a shrug or a “that was badass” shout. But however much it strained credulity for Woodrugh, Bezzerides, and Velcoro to be the last ones standing, their trauma and terror upon seeing post-shootout corpse after corpse was bracing and necessary. Woodrugh, we’ve learned, has seen his fair share of this kind of thing (as is so often the case in American media, we’re once again being asked to empathize with a war criminal rather than his victims — but we’re guessing there will be ample opportunity to discuss that later). But Ray and Ani are literally brought down by the weight of it all. The show’s willingness to linger on the aftermath, rather than blow it off, went a long way to selling the shootout as more than a mere shoot ‘em up.
And The New York Times’ Jeremy Egner predicts where we go from here:
Before everything went sideways at that warehouse, Ani picked up some quality intelligence this week, learning that her dad was chummy with the mayor’s family and that the reptilian Dr. Irving Pitler had all sorts of connections to the case. (The young Pitler in that vintage photo was not a young Rick Springfield, which felt like a missed opportunity.) The mayor’s daughter insinuated, between hookah drags, that the doctor had driven her troubled mother to suicide, something that resonates with Ani. (You’ll recall that she blames her father for her own mother’s suicide.) Now I’m a sucker for evil doctors and insidious sanitariums but I’m afraid that all this psych stuff will amount to a red herring. I hope I’m wrong but remain once bitten, twice shy when it comes to buying into this show’s macabre window dressing. Of course on Sunday, all of that mattered less than the fact that Ani hurt her ex’s feelings. Now she’s suspended, possibly at the behest of the mayor, and the one case she is allowed to work on just got wrapped up in hail of gunfire. On the bright side she’ll have more time to investigate Caspere on her own, off the books, after the big shots declare the case closed. It’s a well-established cop drama move, the flashy action scene that resolves the case for the brass and the public, only our heroes know better. Sunday night’s shootout reminded me a little of last season’s killing of Reginald Ledoux and his buddy. Hopefully that doesn’t mean Ani will have to wait for eight years to solve it. (It’s worth noting that our introduction of Ledoux ended on a legitimately chilling freeze-frame. So it can be done effectively.) Ani won’t accept that the case is over and will keep at it, presumably. (Feels like an easy call, with four more weeks to go.) Will Ray and his big ol’ aura be involved? I imagine so, though based on the preview clip for next week, it looks like he’ll be busy with his custody hearing. I don’t for a second think he’ll go work for Frank full-time. He has to put his best face forward for the judge, after all — it looks like he’s going to shave and everything.