Spoiler warning: This article contains talk of the events within True Detective season 2, episode 2, “Night Finds You.” If you haven’t watched the episode, go do that first and come back.
Like any other internet-based baseball fan, I spend part of each morning reading recaps of the previous evening’s game. Most beat writers and bloggers are upfront about their habit of beginning recaps early; should their team be shut out for seven consecutive innings, they may write a few paragraphs highlighting the team’s struggles at the plate and tease it into a full recap when the game is over. When the game sees a late-inning flurry of activity, however, the writer may have to trash their early draft and start again from scratch.
So, yeah. Baseball writers of America, tonight I feel your pain.
“Night Finds You,” the second episode in this season of True Detective, takes another move from their expansive L.A. Confidential playbook by shooting the top-billed actor in the chest far earlier than we expected. Is Ray Velcoro truly dead? The scene certainly doesn’t leave much room for ambiguity. Velcoro is knocked off his feet by a shotgun blast and then shot again at point-blank range. As the camera slowly pulls back from the house, no additional shots are heard, meaning one character was unable to shoot and the other (for whatever reason) decided not to. Granted, this is a series where Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle was disemboweled only a few minutes before turning up fine in a hospital bed, but Pizzolatto has never been the sort to resort to cliffhangers to keep his audience engaged. If I were a betting man, I’d put all my chips on blood red.
This is a huge risk. Regardless of whether you like the actor or not – where you might place him on a hypothetical scale from Winter’s Tale to In Bruges – Farrell is the member of the cast best equated with gritty prestige drama. Rachel McAdams is playing against type; Taylor Kitsch is one wrong role away from Jai Courtney jokes; Vince Vaughn is the epitome of a veteran playing for his next contract. If you are a skeptic of what Pizzolatto can do without Cary Fukunaga, or if you worry about the writer’s ability to create three-dimensional female characters, then the first few scenes of dialogue between Velcoro and Bezzerides likely went a long way towards restoring your faith. Now we face the potential of six episodes of Kitsch and McAdams trading barbs in a car. It’s anybody’s guess.
If Velcoro is dead, this also brings an abrupt halt to the competing investigations, a great bit of parallel storytelling that promised tense dialogue going forward. State police offer Woodrugh a clean record if he’ll collect information on the city of Vinci; they also appeal to Bezzerides’s sense of honor and ask her to keep an eye on Velcoro throughout the investigation. Meanwhile, Velcoro is pressured by the Mayor of Vinci not to let anything about the city slide, and then reminded by Semyon that he is at heart a detective, not a sheriff, and one being paid handsomely to find the killer. It was this morass of ulterior motives that made the dialogue between Velcoro and Bezzerides shine; like Saint Christopher once said, everything becomes a game of show and tell, with each character trying to show nothing but say anything. Velcoro makes note of the many knives Bezzerides hides on her person; Bezzerides lets Velcoro know that she lives comfortably with the pressure of being a woman in law enforcement. Audiences learning about characters as they banter in cars is now and always will be Pizzolatto at his very best.
While this may have been an episode tilted towards character development, important bits of information about the town and the competing organizations also slip out. The season premiere had been surprisingly light on information about Vinci, with most of our insight into the corruption of the city coming from articles describing its real-life inspiration. This episode taught us that Vinci has a listed population of 95 residents and a booming influx of illegal day-laborers; it also taught us that Bezzerides’s childhood in the proto-Panticapaeum Institute involved a total of five children, two of whom ended up in jail and two of whom are now dead. This last piece may accidentally introduce a meta-game into the rest of the True Detective season. Which powerful and affluent characters may have ties to Bezzerides’s father and his potential cult? Certainly, the shrink knows more about the Institute than he lets on, but Vinci’s boozy mayor also hints at the past use of heavy narcotics as a way to expand their minds. Either way, the Institute looms heavy in the background of the show, just looking for an opportunity to give audience members the dash of the occult they’ve so impatiently been asking after. If there ends up being no connection between Panticapaeum and shotgun-wielding sex owls, I’ll eat my hat.
“Night Finds You” also addresses some of the criticisms of the first episode, suggesting that Pizzolatto and company worry aren’t particularly worried about our armchair quarterbacking and will get down to business in their own time. Vince Vaughn, who struggled so mightily at times with Pizzolatto’s dialogue in the season premiere, finds it much easier to play mobster than businessman after the death of the Vinci city manager. For all the moments that occur throughout the episode, Seymon’s excitement at being able to give a police-type lead to Velcoro during their meeting at the bar is perhaps the show’s best. And while both Bezzerides and Woodrugh are given moments that bring their sexual identities into question – with Woodrugh in particular spouting homophobic trash that will be discussed throughout the week – these are things to flag for future consideration, not necessarily to be used as weapons against the show.
The farther we get into season two, though, the easier it is to leave season one behind. I can’t blame anyone for taking an episode to adjust; even those ready to follow Pizzolatto down his newest rabbit hole might miss some of the location-specific Gothic horror of True Detective’s first season. Now that we’re getting into the rhythm of season two – starting to see the pockets of darkness in a sea of highways and sunshine – we’re ready to start judging it on its own merits and new questions emerge. Since Justin Lin was only attached for the first two episodes, will True Detective suffer or benefit from its first in-season director change? Will Velcoro appear in flashbacks even if his character is truly dead in the current timeline? And, perhaps most importantly, does the potential death of Velcoro mean no more haunting performances by Lera Lynn? Because it’s never too early to start asking for a Lynn and bartender Felicia partnership in #TrueDetectiveSeason3.