The slow burn that began last week continues into episode two, with the cops from three jurisdictions looking into the death of Ben Caspere, and crime lord Frank Semyon conducting his own investigation in hopes of recovering the $5 million that Caspere apparently took with him. As they each nibble at the edges of the mystery in their own ways, the show continues its emphasis on character (as opposed to plot) development – that is, until the character we’ve seen the most of to this point, corrupt detective Ray Velcoro, takes a couple of shotgun blasts to the chest.
Colin Farrell has been the most interesting presence in this second season up to now, but it’s hard to imagine True Detective pulling the old “he only got me in the arm/actually I was wearing a bulletproof vest/it’s just a flesh wound” fake-out that is so common to other crime shows and movies. So maybe he really is dead, as it appears, and Farrell’s casting in this (as it turns out) smaller role was a bit of stunt casting, or misdirection.
If so, it worked, because it was a genuine surprise.
The episode also had more of the trademark True Detective flourishes that made the first season stand out: the dissolve from Frank’s haunted eyes, to the water stains on his ceiling, to Caspere’s burned-out eyes was wonderful; Ray and Ani’s car-ride dialogue brought Cohle and Hart to mind; and the creepy bird mask (not to mention the acid-burned eyes and the shotgun-blasted junk) would have fit right in last year.
The A.V. Club’s Erik Adams digs into the episode’s abundant backstory:
Surprise: Two law-enforcement officers jawing in a squad car is still True Detective’s greatest hit. Ray comes out and asks Ani the question that’s been on everyone’s mind—“What’s with all the knives?”—and she shoots just as straight: “Could you do this job if everyone you encountered could physically overpower you?” Forget that Rachel McAdams plays Ani with such low-simmer intensity that Detective Bezzerides could feasibly beat up any criminal in Vinci; forget that the line that follows (“Forget police work, no man could walk around like that without going nuts”) not-so-subtly keeps “Night Finds You” on the impotency-and-emasculation path. (We see you, Paul Woodrugh, spending the night in your childhood bedroom before leaving your main squeeze.) Bezzerides and Velcoro’s ride back from their expedition up north shows an interest in actually getting to know the detectives as people with feelings and opinions, and McAdams and Farrell rise to the challenge—even as Ani keeps her guard up re: her childhood among The Good People. Good for her, because there’s enough backstory in this episode to begin with, troubled childhoods and other prerequisites to brooding that aren’t nearly as interesting as Velcoro’s thoughts on vaping. “Maybe it’s just a little too close to sucking a robot’s dick”: Intentional punchline, or ponderous prattle that’s accidentally funny? Ani’s keeping to herself on that one, too. While Ray’s going through the e-cig spiel, Ani’s preoccupied with the details of the investigation, something she shares in common with “Night Finds You.” The mystery isn’t secondary to True Detective this year, and while that detracts from some of the things that once set the show apart, it’s nice to see the case of the season compensating where other components are lacking. This week’s all about building a profile of Ben Caspere and sussing out which of the cops assigned to the investigation might be compromised. With Ani, Ray, and Paul all assembled in the morgue, the episode slips in and out of the present tense, elaborating on the jurisdictional pileup that put all three officers on the case and dropping in on the briefings that ensued. The playful sense of time enlivens the sequence, which pumps 27 million pounds of motivation and information into the season’s ongoing arcs: a state probe, an abridged history of Vinci, a potential $900 million windfall for the city. All plausible explanations for Caspere’s death, all secrets that the cops have to keep from one another. Deft touches like these give me hope for season two.
Appreciating the specific dualities in each of the four main characters, Grantland’s Chris Ryan says that with this episode, season two achieved liftoff:
These are our “heroes,” hardly a whole hero among them. And that’s why this season — despite warranted critiques that it’s hammy, convoluted, and pretentious — is, so far, so damn interesting. Sure, I want to know the identities of the bird-mask killer and the woman wrapped in bandages in Dr. Pitler’s clinic. And I can’t tell you how invested I am in the enforcement of environmental regulations in Vinci. But in just two episodes, we have ourselves four very interesting, very damaged characters, and what this show will do with them is far more compelling than high-speed rail corruption. Remarkably, this show is shaking off the Yellow King. Last season’s MacGuffins nearly swallowed True Detective whole. To his credit, Pizzolatto has adjusted. Look around you: Carcosa is everywhere. It’s the people that change. This is why, when Ray Velcoro takes a shotgun blast to the chest in the final moments of the episode, I barely blinked. Sure, there was some initial shock, but once it wore off, I realized this could not be the end of this character. Putting aside for a second the “nothing is what it seems” philosophy that guides most noir, to say nothing of most television, it just didn’t make any sense. This show is a lot of things, but it’s not cheap. Ray may believe that a good beating provokes personal growth, but there’s nothing to be gleaned by losing him this early on. We’ve only spent two episodes with this damaged shell of a man; his story is not done. Arguing with his ex over his visitation rights, they trade assessments of his character — he’s a piece of s—, he’s a bad person, he was good at being decent. We’ve still yet to see the real him, or to find out if there even is one anymore. This goes for Ani, Paul, and Frank, too. Forget Ben Caspar — who are these people? That’s the mystery.
Over at HitFix, Alan Sepinwall considers the repercussions for the season if Velcoro is really dead:
If Ray’s gone, Ani seems the character best equipped to carry more of the show. She’s no less familiar than the others, but Rachel McAdams has a hidden advantage over her male co-stars: because so much of being a Hollywood actress involves playing roles that are thinly-drawn and/or recycled from lots of similar films, she has more practice at trying to find unexpected shadings and other things to play that aren’t necessarily on the page. The scene in the car where she and Ray discuss the knife collection she carries on her person was the closest anything in these two episodes has come to evoking the earliest parts of the first season. It’s not just that it involves two partners driving around talking about the way they view the world, but that there are a few hints of actual partner chemistry between Farrell and McAdams — nothing explosive, but still livelier than a lot of what’s been happening as they go between the many different moving parts of this season’s investigation. And because I felt ambivalence about so many of the other main characters, I ultimately couldn’t decide at the time whether I wanted Ray to be dead or not. But there’s something to be said for it being the first real surprise of the opening chapters.
Salon’s Sonia Sariya (say that three times fast) resonates with Ani’s plot in the episode:
Some of the best material in this episode are the dry and at times purely turn-taking conversations between Ani and Ray, who are now joined unwillingly at the hip to work a case that their respective departments don’t want to be solved. Kudos to Rachel McAdams, here, who as the e-cig sucking driver delivers just as much mystique as Colin Farrell did in the dive bar full of cigarette smoke. The conversations are not a match between equals, even as it brings out the better sides of Ray; she’s on some other level, forced to trade words with a man who has the temerity to proclaim that he “supports” feminism—when feminism, or something like it, is nothing short of life support for Ani. The plot doesn’t quite match the thematics—when did Ani ever display an interest in knives? If she did, it was subtle enough that I didn’t see it, and though this show is a lot of things, it’s not typically subtle. And yet I liked it for what it said about this character. Ani is a woman deeply, painfully aware of how dangerous it is to be female in the world, and that knowledge has almost entirely shaped her. Something very bad happened to her on that commune—the signaling of the plot suggests sexual abuse—and she’s spent the rest of her life being a bulwark against that, for herself and others. She came to this story through a tale of a missing woman, and learning that Casper hires prostitutes regularly seems to galvanize her to more action. She keeps asking men in positions of power about the escorts—asking for the simplest acknowledgement of their existence—and is more often than not, rebuffed with irritation, as if she’s offending their refined sensibilities. In the evening, in her hotel room, she drinks something stiff and navigates to the escorts’ page, looking for… something. Maybe for her sister Athena. Maybe, also, for a glimpse of how so many men see women—for the ability to watch pornography without identifying with the woman who is objectified. I think, too, that underneath her trauma, there is more than a little despair; she can see how f—– up the world is and can’t quite do anything about it except sharpen her own knives. Half the world can overpower her; a man would never stand for that, she says to Ray (which reveals her relationship with that ideal of masculinity that I discussed in my recap of episode one). But what if the man she’s planning to make bleed has a knife, just like her? What happens then? I think that’s the type of thing that keeps her awake at night, but it might also be a fear that looms so large, all she wants to do at this point is finally face it.
And Vulture’s Kenny Herzog considers the fit between the characters and the setting:
The most scintillating character in “Night Finds You” is SoCal itself. And, for that matter, the expanses of upstate, where we meet Caspere’s oddball shrink, Dr. Pitlor (Rick Springfield!), whose practice apparently also provides a safe haven for plastic-surgery patients. There are still plenty of harshly lit perspectives on the mass of metal and pollutants that pass for city interiors in Vinci, but director Justin Lin and his crew likewise delight in helicopter overheads of midnight freeways and the arid, smoggy atmosphere that envelops the ritzier hills with something sinister. The dark cloud that stayed affixed overhead a few desperate individuals and an isolated missing-persons inquiry is starting to stick to everything for miles like black ink, ready to swallow it all whole with bad vibes. As has been observed about this season (and was often true of how last’s depicted the danger and enticement of coastal Louisiana), the urbania brought to life for True Detective is one that evokes Michael Mann (particularly, in this instance, Manhunter) by taking full advantage of Los Angeles County’s paradoxical glamour and gloom. But two episodes in, Nic Pizzolatto’s California feels most closely in tune with how Paul Verhoeven saw it in Basic Instinct (with the requisite touch of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive madness): lurid and seductive, but a place where it’s easy to get in over your head and go under. Maybe that makes fictional Vinci the perfect kind of purgatory for a lost soul like Ray, he who utters the show’s tagline in this episode, about how “We get the world we deserve.” He was once “good at being decent,” as his ex-wife Gena (Abigail Spencer, adding to the roll-call of Rectify cast on hand) mourns, but now she sizes him up as simply bad. She tells Ray she’s pursuing full custody of Chad, who gets anxious even thinking about time with his volatile dad. If she has to, she’ll blow the bigger narrative of the series apart and request a paternity test, the results of which could have implications on everyone in search of Caspere’s killer. It’s enough to seemingly stir Ray out of his funk and take those first steps opposite his own personal hell. He opens up to Ani about his pitfalls enough for her, and us, to think he’s ready to pursue the perp with clear and conscientious intentions. Little does he know, Ani’s only begun to confront and fully reconcile her vices. Among them, as her sister Athena rightly suspected, a psychosexual curiosity imprinted by way of bad parenting that rivals Paul’s discomfort with intimacy. And Frank, well, let’s be honest: He’s still locked somewhere in his father’s basement, hungry and needing to lash out. It shows all over his face as he reluctantly relishes getting his hands dirty in order to start drumming up business and save his hide. He’s genuine about wanting a family but refusing to raise a child until he’s sure he can offer the steady presence he sorely lacked. But first, he’s gonna have to break some heads.