There's something about an episode four.
It's happened twice now, in two seasons, in the same episode. Writer Nic Pizzolatto has spent hours teasing us, dropping hints, throwing them past us like split-finger fastballs. And then in episode four, just when it seemed like maybe we weren't really getting anywhere, everything changes.
In the last two weeks, I've published more than 15,000 words on True Detective season two.
This is not to brag. I've often worried that it's been too much, in fact. But I published all of those words because I was confused, and I wanted to understand True Detective — and hopefully help you understand it, too. That, and I indulged what Stephen King once called "diarrhea of the word processor" because I thought it was necessary.
There is so much going on in every episode that the only way I could gather the facts was to write them all down, scene-by-scene, beat-by-beat. I figured that I might as well share that with you, and I did, first with episode one and then with episodes two and three grouped together.
That has its merits. I certainly wouldn't have been able to tease meaning out of mumbled details if I hadn't watched each episode multiple times, pausing and rewinding to ensure I wrote every detail.
I was also typing details with the suspicion that the future was hidden in those details. I'm happy to say that my instincts paid dividends. Pizzolatto has been dropping hints — disguised as innocuous conversation, throwing references by, cutting soon-to-be important characters into scenes, silently— since the very beginning.
With episode four,"Down Will Come," that exacting chronicle pays off. True Detective is still dense, still charges ahead like a certain high-speed rail — but we've entered a new phase. "Down Will Come" marks the halfway point in season two. Four down, four to go, and the story is beginning to reflect those constraints. We're not meeting so many new characters. We know our protagonists' histories, sometimes only in broad strokes, but we know them. Now, it seems that Pizzolatto is using all of the knowledge he dumped on us in three hours of thick drama and setting the characters in deliberate forward motion.
So we'll pick up this week not with episode recaps, but with character recaps. Then we'll get to Pizzolatto's forward motion in "Down Will Come."
Here's what True Detective thinks you should know about the first three episodes:
It ends with a reminder that Ani and Ray almost caught the masked person who set fire to the burgundy Cadillac that ferried Caspere to his roadside resting place.
True Detective's four main characters are now known quantities. They're still mysterious, but we've spent time getting to know them. It's less confusing. Here's what we've learned about them from their first three hours on HBO.
We found out quickly that Ray was messed up. We saw that he had anger management problems as big has his alcohol and drug problems. Now we know why. Twelve years ago, Ray's then-wife was beaten and raped. Nine months later, she had a child. It is not Ray's biological son. His life changed when Frank Semyon, a local businessman of ill repute, told Ray that one of his men (read: henchmen) identified the rapist. Frank and Ray, then a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy, tracked down the guilty party. Ray killed him. Frank helped him dispose of the body.
"I used to want to be an astronaut," Frank says at one point. "But astronauts don't even go to the moon anymore." That's about everything you need to know.
From all indications, that was the pivot point in Ray's life. The revenge he took didn't make him better. It made him worse. The drugs, his divorce, his entanglement with Frank, his move from sheriff to Vinci, California police officer — all of it stems from that decision, and none of it is good.
But by the beginning of episode three, "Night Finds You," Ray seems to have had enough. He's been shot, albeit with riot shells (the kind that cops use), and that changes things. He admits that he's "a piece of shit" in an argument with his ex-wife. He confronts Frank, saying that what has kept them entwined might be coming unraveled. But he doesn't have a Road to Damascus conversion. This is the beginning of his journey — assuming it winds up being a journey.
What's next for Ray Velcoro isn't obvious. But he seems fed up. And he balked when his retired police officer father tossed his badge in the trash in episode three, indicating that he still has some reverence for law enforcement, that what people do can have meaning. It could be that Ray is finding his true north by working this case. It could be that he's on a quest to regain some of the decency he lost more than a decade ago.
The problem, for Ray, is that he might be in too deep. The problem is that he might be too late. The problem is that, if Ray Velcoro wants to follow that north star, he has to destroy a mountain in his way.
Something terrible must have happened to Ani when she was growing up on a commune that her father, Eliot, ran with the Good People. Sure, people are responsible for their own actions, but as she said in episode three, five children grew up there. Two are dead, and the other two are in jail. Would you send your kids there?
Her father, Eliot, who we met in episode one, may be right. Ani's a rebel in the opposite direction we tend to think of rebels. She veered right to her family's left. But keep in mind that rebellion doesn't just have to be about being different. And it isn't always wrong. A Yankee rebellion a couple hundred years ago produced the United States. It can also be a survival strategy, a way to grow. Or a way to protect yourself.
"You're angry at the entire world, and men in particular, out of a false sense of entitlement for something you've never received," Ani's father says.
Ani's is supremely pissed off at her father, a man who's refused on principle to "impose" his will on anyone else, since 1978. So he's perfectly OK with one daughter doing porn, perfectly OK that she calls it a performance, perfectly unwilling to judge. That annoys Ani, who sees it as shirking his parental responsibility. And this wouldn't be the first time, as she references that he wouldn't even impose his will "not even to stop them walking into a river." She's talking about her mother. She's implying suicide.
"Yes, not even then," he says. "And if your mother's flair for drama had been more present in her acting, she might have gone on to great things."
The key to understanding Ani, I am convinced, is in a single line her father spoke in the first episode.
"You're angry at the entire world, and men in particular, out of a false sense of entitlement for something you've never received," Eliot says. That doesn't sound non-judgmental.
But what didn't she receive? A normal childhood? A mother? Going into episode four, we don't know.
We know that Ani's tough. We know she carries knives because she knows that dangerous men can overpower her. We can infer that this is learned, that she will not have something happen to her — or something that happened to someone else — again . We know that she keeps people at arm's length and is clear that she doesn't want to talk about herself or her personal life.
And we can speculate, if she was looking at porn in her free time in episode two, after having lectured her father and sister on the demerits of porn in episode one, that she has a private and complicated relationship with sexuality. Or, at the very least, the distinction between it being private and public.
Though it's never stated outright, it's pretty easy to understand that Frank was once … not a very nice guy. Maybe it was guilt by association at first — running a poker room, meeting with what appeared to be Russian mobsters, surrounding himself with men in suits who look like heavies — but we also saw a lot of humanity in Frank Semyon. He could get angry, for sure. He could also be tender. Emotional. Vulnerable.
His scene at the beginning of episode two, in which he recounted the story of being locked in a dark basement while his father was on a bender and smashing a rat to goo, was at once horrifying and pitiful. This guy, we know, came from a bad place and, we assume, did bad things. But he's also — though again, it's not stated outright — trying to go straight. He wants to work within the system, where his bad old life gives him some advantages dealing with corruption. He's sold off all his old, bad businesses like Lux Infinitum, the club that runs hookers and drugs.
He's not a thug anymore, at least not at the beginning of the season. He may not be a saint, but he's trying to be better. He's making investments, even if they're odd. He's trying to start a family. He may not be a saint, but the trend line points to good.
And then life intrudes, in the form of a murdered business partner, Ben Caspere, who died with $5 million of Frank's money and left him without the investment he thought he was making. He's broke. The man who runs the poker room at the Vinci Gardens Casino went all in on 12 parcels of land, and now he has nothing to show for it.
That's his pivot point. Desperate, angry and screwed, Frank Semyon was on the path to righteousness, but takes an offramp and circles around to vice. Night finds him. By the end of episode three — after he's rounded up a group of gangsters, beat one of them senseless and pulled half a dozen of his gold teeth out with pliers — he's back to the way of life he wanted to escape.
The question is: Now what? Can he escape that? I doubt it. Frank's going back, and he's going deeper than he ever did before. He's so incensed from being so close to out that he's ruled by vengeance, so dead set against being poor again, that he'll destroy whatever he needs to so can take his revenge.
Plus, he's being hunted. Someone's killed one of his henchmen.
If I had to guess at this point, I'd say that Frank's getting screwed by just about everybody. They're cutting him out, and he doesn't know it. The Russian investor (and probably gangster) Osip Agranov doesn't have cold feet because Caspere didn't show. His knowing smile, his "I look forward to meeting Caspere" and the laugh that follows in episode one all imply that he knows what's going on. And I wouldn't be surprised if he and Vinci powers that be like the mayor are all in on it to enrich themselves at Frank's expense.
He's scarred across what looks like most of his body. He might be a veteran. He's definitely a former employee of Black Mountain Security, a private military company of some unspecified disrepute. He almost certainly got framed by a woman who he pulled over for good reason. The most obvious evidence is that he uses Viagra later with his girlfriend, and probably couldn't have, well, risen to the occasion even if he'd wanted to. Also, he's probably attracted to men, may have acted upon that attraction during his time with a friend overseas, and very much does not want to be. Paul is a mess.
And his troubles didn't start there. His boss says "they're already looking at that mercenary work." Someone's investigating Black Mountain.
"The highway, it suits me," he tells his boss, Commander Floyd Heschmeyer. "I am no good on the sidelines."
He needs distraction. Something to do. Something to concentrate on other than himself.
"Black Mountain," Paul says. "We were working for America, sir." His boss says he knows, but Paul's still on administrative leave.
Lucky for the man who needs a distraction, he finds Caspere's dead body and he can investigate that in the meantime.
By the time episode three is over, his girlfriend has broken up with him and an old army buddy implies that they had a physical relationship — one that Paul would rather sweep under the rug.
The show's creators coninue to chop Leonard Cohen's poem turned song, "Nevermind," into thematically appropriate snippets for each episode. Here's how it changed during the first four episodes.
My woman's here
My children, too
Their graves are safe
From ghosts like you
In places deep
With roots entwined
I live the life I left behind
The war was lost
The treaty signed
I was not caught
I crossed the line
I was not caught
Though many tried
I live among you
I could not kill
The way you kill
I could not hate
I tried, I failed
You turned me in
At least you tried
You side with them
Whom you despise
I live the life I left behind
There's truth that lives
And truth that dies
I don't know which
This was your heart
This swarm of flies
This was once your mouth
This bowl of lies
You serve them well
I’m not surprised
You’re of their kin
You’re of their kind
I live it full
I live it wide
Through layers of time
You can’t divide
My woman’s here
My children too
Their graves are safe
From ghosts like you
In places deep
With roots entwined
I live the life I left behind
Frank's pissed and coming undone, and he's taking it out on everyone around him. His short, unhappy interactions are further proof (as if we needed it after the end of episode three) that man we saw in episode two — open, honest, vulnerable, crying — is fading. He's not trying to be good again. He's trying to stay afloat.
We learn two things in this scene.
First, the avocado trees. They're dying on Frank's land. He wants to invest in land. He tried that with Caspere. That lost him $5 million. He wanted to leave land to his children. The seed he plants isn't working there, either. And on the land he does own, the avocado trees are dying. The Latino man Frank snaps at says, "Man can come, test the dirt." Keep that in mind for later.
Second, Jordan, Frank's wife, thinks she may not be able to have children because of what she calls "the operation." I suspect that was an abortion. And I suspect that she knows more than she's telling Frank. God help her if that's true and Frank finds out.
Frank dismisses adoption out of hand. He says its akin to bearing someone else's burden.
"But you don't take on someone else's grief," Frank says.
"A child's not grief," Jordan says.
"I mean they all come in with their own. Don't you and I and every other hapless monkey on the planet? At least with your kid, it's your sins."
Paul never sleeps over. Not at his girlfriend's, not at his mom's. So when Paul wakes up, confused, in a strange bed, we know something's off.
He must have been blackout drunk, because he doesn't remember what happened. When he's forced to face it — he called his old war buddy, and they presumably had sex — he breaks down, freaks out and cries.
"Be what you want," his friend says. "It ain't bad."
But here's the rub: Paul doesn't want to be who he is.
He arrives where he left his motorcycle, only to find it's gone. He walks somewhere, and the press is there waiting for him. The sharks are circling Paul Woodrugh.
He runs away. I can hardly blame him.
In a Vinci PD garage, standing next to the burnt out burgundy Cadillac that was stolen from a the set of a movie being shot in Vinci and used to ferry Caspere's dead body to a highway rest stop on a stretch of California freeway adopted by Catalyst Group, Ray gives Ani the straight dope. It's a warning.
But before that, they're just law enforcement officials talking, agreeing that the kid who quit the movie didn't steal the car, though someone wanted them to think he did. Then Ray gets to it.
Ray: Listen, that thing at the mayor's house. I respect the sack, but it's looking to come back on you.
He doesn't have to say this. He's being honest here. Ani and Paul visited the Mayor Chessani's house last week, and by the end of the episode, Chessani told Ray that he wanted Ani's badge.
Ani: Oh, the mayor of the shitberg landfill's gonna get me?
Ray: His family's controlled this landfill for 100 years. And he lives in the biggest house on his street in Bel Air. You think men like that exist without a long history of high-up friends?"Caspere was in a lot of development money. These land deals floating around, those new corporations? You think this is about stopping Vinci from doing the same thing it's been doing for a century? Nobody wants to stop it. Nobody gives a shit."
Ani: I don't think he's going to have too many friends, once the state investigation shakes out. Unless it's his cellmate.
Ray: That's what I'm telling you, Bezzeridies. State investigation. You don't think they've seen that before down here? Any member of that family ever gone to jail? Look: Detective, the state investigation's a shakedown. Do you understand? It's the attorney general with his fucking hand out.
Ani: Hand out for what?
Ray: What's a hand usually out for? Caspere was in a lot of development money. These land deals floating around, those new corporations? You think this is about stopping Vinci from doing the same thing it's been doing for a century? Nobody wants to stop it. Nobody gives a shit.
Ani: I'm here to solve a murder.
Ray: And when our betters make nice, and the money's traded hands, and they need something to show for this big investigation, who do you think's going to be first in the firing line? I'm going to take a wild guess that you and Woodrugh ain't the most popular folks at your squads. Expendable, one might say.
Ani: Well, you're not dirty, they shouldn't be able to hurt you.
Ray: Well, I don't know about Ventura, but you can't be that naive down here. If there's a buyout with the state attorney, Chessani could make your ass part of the deal.
This scene, set in a bake shop amid gorgeous tiered cakes, elegant china for coffee and cubed sugar — culture, in other words — is all about Frank, desperate and broke, pushing more people around.
At some point, Frank was a gangster. He tried to go straight. But when it all went to pot, he started visiting his old stomping grounds, shaking down his old clients. His old associates. Creating revenue.
We also learn that he's "got the Lux back." That's Lux Infinitum, the dance club — and great place to pick up a hooker! — that Frank used to own, then turned over to Danny Santos, then took back after ripping Santos' gold teeth out with pliers. He said he didn't miss it last episode. That is now academic.
"Why you back to this, Frank? I think it's because your other plan, it somehow failed?"
Frank's back in the Lux and asserting control. He'll move their drugs through the club and give them what he believes to be a fair deal. They resist. He convinces them otherwise.
"Why you back to this, Frank? I think it's because your other plan, it somehow failed?" the one guy says. He's right. "Why not would we trust you not to fail in this, huh?"
Frank really does his best to present it as a good business offering — five percent margins, better clientele, bigger market. They push back. He tries to keep his cool. They agree to the deal. But as he gets up to leave, one of the guys makes a crack about the sugar he put into his coffee, how sweetness might've gotten to him, how expensive dental work is. This is classic True Detective dialogue.
"And I never lost a tooth," Frank says, threatening. "Never even had a fuckin' cavity." They are clear.
One other thing to note: "Santos had his own arrangement," one guy says. "Mexicans." We're going to meet some seriously bad Mexicans by the end of the episode. Are they the same?
Four episodes in, and each of the law enforcement officials have had some alone time. Ani and Ray do every episode. She and Paul did last episode. This time, we get a scene where it's just Paul and Ray. It came at the perfect time.
Paul's life is in the gutter, and Ray Velcoro knows a thing or two about living in sweage. When Paul's at his lowest, he talks to Ray, who gives him some homemade medication and a bit of a pep talk. It's going to be OK, he says, and you can sense that he's speaking from experience.
Of course, it's a terrible way to help. The glove box full of pills and weed and booze doesn't offer a solution. It offers a treatment for the symptoms, not the underlying condition. Ray's sobering up, as he told Frank in the third episode. Liquor made him less angry. He couldn't do it on his own.
"I did it. Everything they said, man. Army, PD. But it doesn't matter. You do what they say, it doesn't matter. Oh, fuck. Been listening to them for so fucking long that I don't even know who the fuck I am."
The scene's also notable because it's a true personal interaction. For most of season two, characters have bristled at even the thought of discussing their personal lives. Not here, not now. This is entirely personal. Ray's on Paul's side.
And Paul also admits his central struggle: He's trying to play by the rules, do what people expect of him, act in accordance with society, and it's gotten him nowhere.
"I did it," Paul says. "Everything they said, man. Army, PD. But it doesn't matter. You do what they say, it doesn't matter. Oh, fuck. Been listening to them for so fucking long that I don't even know who the fuck I am."
"You're a survivor," Ray says. "Everything else is just dust in your eyes. Blink it away, man."
You get the sense that Ray speaks from experience. The problem with Ray's philosophy, though, is that it ignores everything but reaction. He's not a dad, not a son, not a police officer, not a thug, not even an opportunist. He's a survivor, someone who takes the crap life flings at him and carries on. It's a fundamentally reactive way of living, and it's defined Ray's life for the last 12 years, since his wife was beaten and raped.
"I just don't know how to be out in the world, man," Paul says. It's a different way of saying what's he's been saying all along. When he got suspended, he wasn't worried about what the press might say. He was worried because he couldn't be on the highway on his bike. He's no good with nothing to do because, with nothing to do, he's got to face himself.
The scene ends with Ray being sick of sitting in traffic. Abusing his powers as a law enforcement officer, he puts on his sirens and drives in the turning lane.
"You need some help managing this place, Luke," Frank says, "My view: you need security, collections."
He's talking to a man who runs an apartment building where about 200 Mexicans live. He's not asking. He's about to pretend that he's here to help. But the apartment manager doesn't have a choice in the matter.
This is now one of several scenes in which Frank does the same thing: Shows up at a place he used to own, demands payment under the guise of offering help (here, he says he wants a 30 percent cut, but in a couple months, the landlord will be making more money than he is now), faces resistance, overcomes it.
The apartment owner is "already paying Chessani," he says. That's the mayor of Vinci, which would seem to place this apartment within the city limits. But Ani already said that the city has 95 residents. Either that was hyperbole, or she was right, and none of these people are U.S. citizens. The latter seems more likely, as various characters have spoken obliquely about illegal aliens. Frank, when meeting with Chessani, even mentioned that he helped with some sort of worker revolt and something to do with illegal immigrants.
Ani and Ray sit in a car, hidden, looking at Mayor Chessani's Bel Air mansion. Ray's advice earlier in the episode doesn't seem to have had much impact. At this point, I think, Ani still believes that, if she does her job, everything will be fine.
The mayor's daughter, Betty Chessani, pulls out of the driveway in a convertible gray Audi. They follow. In a hookah bar, Ani questions her about Caspere.
"Mr. Caspere was talking to someone on your second phone line a lot," Ani says, using the information she got from the dead man's cell phone records. "Think that was your dad or Tony?"
"I don't know," Betty says. "How would I know? There's no rules, you see? It's how it's always been."
We also learn that Betty's mother suffered from schizophrenia, starting when Betty was 11. She died sometime later in a Nevada hospital after the mayor had her committed.
"And that doctor," Betty trails off. "She hung herself in there."
Betty says she doesn't want to talk about these things. Ani apologizes, and it seems genuine. What little we know about Ani's mother seems to indicate that she, too, committed suicide. It happened when she was 12. That's as personal as she's ever gotten — and I'd consider it growth, except that it's also designed for her to get more information from Betty.
And now we learn another coincidence: The doctor who treated Betty's mother was Dr. Pitlor, the same doctor who treated Ben Caspere and has some connection with the commune that Ani's father runs.
"My father, he is a very bad person," Betty says and ends the scene.
Ani visits her sister, Athena. Last we saw them together, in episode one, Ani was busting up the house where her sister was doing webcam porn. Ani was furious. Her sister saw no problem with it.
Ani seems more sentimental than ever in this scene. Emotional, really. And it has to be because of the last scene, which got her thinking about her mother and her family.
They talk, not out of anger, about their late mother. Their memories are vague at best. Big dresses. "Polishing that driftwood 'till it shined like steel or something."
Ani: I lost her in the light. The light off the water.
Athena: Why do these memories stay so vivid, when I can't even remember stuff from last week?
Ani: Those moments, they stare back at you. You don't remember them. They remember you.
They're talking, I think, about their mother's death. In episode one, Ani and her father argued over her mother and his refusal to "impose" his will on anyone — "not even to stop them walking into a river." The implication is that their mother killed herself.
And I'll bet that driftwood that her mother polished was a precursor to the knives that Ani's so fond of. Maybe the lesson she learned came from her mother, who might have been abused.
No matter how much you want to escape your past or your memory, it's alway there, just in back of you.
The part of this scene that pushes the plot forward is when Athena says that she's not doing "real" porn, like prostitution.
"It's not like I'd do one of those parties," Athena says.
"What parties?" Ani asks.
"Like, the real hooking. No fucking way."
"Where are these parties?"
"I mean, all over. Up north. But I don't mess with that."
There are three connections we can draw here:
Ani apologizes to Thena, says she should have been there for her. "Babe," Thena says without malice, "you couldn't even be there for yourself." Ani looks horrified. It sounds like Ani escaped the commune and left her sister there.
Paul meets his ex-girlfriend, Emily, in a diner. He apologizes for being a jerk, says he doesn't blame her for breaking up with him.
She's pregnant, she says, and she doesn't believe in abortion. He professes his love, says they should get married. She resists, says he shouldn't do this because he thinks it's the right thing, but she agrees.
"I love you," Paul says, and I'm sure he wants to believe it. That'd give him an out from facing his repressed homosexuality.
"I guess I love you, too," she says.
He gets up, kisses her. She looks so sad.
"This is the best thing that could happen," he says.
In between scenes, beneath a shot of dusty California highway, Steve Winwood, with Blind Faith, sings two lines from "Can't find my way home."
And I ain't done nothing wrong
But I can't find my way home
Ani asks her father, Eliot Bezzerides, about Dr. Pitlor, who treated Ben Caspere and the late Mayor Chessani's wife. Here's where it gets downright crazy.
Eliot: Pitlor? Oh, yes. He was around for a time, early '80s, researching dynamics of communal living. Part of Chessani's lodge I think.
Ani: Chessani's lodge? What the fuck? You knew Chessani, too?
Eliot: I'm sorry. Your case, it involves these men? Theo Chessani, he would have to be somewhere in his nineties by now.
Ani: His son.
Ray: We have a dead body, Benjamin Caspere.
Ray shows Eliot a photo of Caspere.
Eliot: I recognize him. Never spoke. He attended some seminars here, I believe.
Ani: You remember anything about them? Those times, Chessani, Pitlor?
In Eliot's office, he shows a photo from the early '80s of Austin Chessani and Dr. Pitlor standing by a river.
"Jesus, that's some fucking coincidence," Ani says. Want to bet it's not?
Her father tries to explain it away by saying that "a lot of spiritual movements cross-pollinated in these parts. Being that I kept exclusively to such company, it's not so unusual."
"More unusual," Eliot says, "is that my daughter became a sheriff's detective."
The exchange doesn't quite explain but at least gives some context to Mayor Chessani's proclamation in episode two, when he said:
"Some people can't handle the deep trip. I fear he is a destroyer. In my day, you understand, it was about consciousness expansion. Tracing the unseen web."
Eliot switches topics after finding a photo that Ani's mom took of her when she was a child. An old soul, Eliot says Ani was, even then. He tells Ray that he's got a huge black and green aura, which means he must have had hundreds of lives.
As the partners walk back to their car, they joke and smile. They're becoming actual partners now. Friends, even. Maybe. But at the every least, they're beginning to trust each other and let their guards down.
The partners drive to Fresno, which is a good three and a half hours north of Los Angeles and Vinci. Up north, the vague direction where Caspere went on weekends and where these wild parties take place.
This is another example of why chronicling True Detective with obsessive detail pays off. When Ani and Paul visit Mayor Chessani's house in episode three, she wanders the house as he questions Chessani's wife, Veronica. On a desk, Ani finds land survey maps and soil readings for land in Fresno. The show doesn't dwell on her discovery for more than a moment, but it plants a seed that bears fruit in the next episode.
In "Down Will Come," Ani and Ray are driving to Fresno because of what we saw for a split second: maps of Fresno land with accompanying soil survey samples. Ani says that Caspere's GPS coordinates place him in this area, too.
Chessani's maps stretch west from Fresno to the Lost Coast, a region known for its rough terrain and sparse settlement. It earned that nickname after people began moving out in the 1930s — around the same time that Vinci's powers that be started rezoning the city to push people out and welcome businesses in.
And remember that, in a brief bit of pure exposition in episode two, "Night Finds You," State Attorney Katherine Davis tells Ani that Vinci is "the worst air polluter in the state" and that it "emits or processes 27 million pounds of toxic waste." What could a polluting city have to do with polluted wilderness?
It's also a link back to the very first shot in True Detective season two: an empty California field, filled with wooden stakes maybe a yard high, draped with neon pink flags and bearing latitude and longitude markers. They didn't accidentally start the season with this shot, but they didn't explain it either. Its pride of place implied importance. Now we're starting to learn why. This putrid stretch of California wilderness may be the fulcrum around which season two pivots.
They pull off the road and stop at a sign that warns of trespassing and tells readers to call the Environmental Protection Agency if they have any questions. They speak to a man from the EPA. They're looking at a map, standing next to a sign that reads "WARNING CONTAMINATED AREA REGULATED CHEMICALS PRESENT AT THIS SITE NO TRESPASSING."
"It's our biggest issue in the county," the man from the EPA says. "Mine tailings. Runoff. We're constantly finding new contamination, like in this area here. A lot of these mines have been closed for decades. A lot of these mines have been closed for years. The companies are bankrupt. There's really no one to do the cleanup. State doesn't have the resources."
And may be another link, this time to Frank Semyon, who sold his waste disposal company to come up with the $5 million to buy land adjacent to the high-speed railway set to begin construction next year. He told a disposal business to raise the money.
"Unsafe levels of lead, cadmium, arsenic and/or mercury" have contaminated the soil to the point where water isn't even drinkable. Someone's got to clean it up, if we assume that the railway will come through here. It's so bad that people are leaving, selling their land.
The next scene begins as Frank looks at a pair of water spots that spook him like the water spots from the beginning of episode two, which seemed to be trying to convince him that it's all face, like papier-mâché.
"The rail puts the land in line for commercial zoning and development. Fed money means cost overages. This is the last porkbarrel outside of defense."
He and his wife Jordan are in Lux Infinitum along with a potential investor, apparently a movie producer that Jordan had a relationship with when she was young. Frank gives the pitch. The guy seems interested but non-committal and flirts with Jordan in front of Frank. Frank tries to muscle him, and it doesn't work. "Trust takes time," the guy says. That turns into a fight between the couple, where Frank is angry that she wasted his time.
Here's the important, hidden information dump:
Frank: On paper, you come in as part owner. The club's equity guarantees the land investment.
Guy: How's the capital multiplied? In dry farmland in the middle of the state?
Frank: The rail puts the land in line for commercial zoning and development. Fed money means cost overages. This is the last porkbarrel outside of defense.
We just saw some dry farmland in the middle of the state, remember? And this is the second time that Frank's mention guaranteed cost overages (the last time was in the first episode when he was pitching at the Vinci Gardens Casino party).
"This is gonna get fuckin' worse, what I gotta do," Frank says. "You get that, right?"
"But just like that, you're back here?" Jordan asks.
In short, yes. Frank doesn't think he has a choice. She thinks they should slow down. "Someone hit the fuckin' warp drive, and I'm trying to navigate though the blur," Frank says. Again: no choice, from his perspective.
Their relationship is spiraling out of control.
In episode two, "Night Finds You," the four law enforcement officers ostensibly tasked with solving Ben Caspere's murder met in their Vinci warehouse headquarters. The insurance companies, first mentioned at the end of the first episode, had catalogued Caspere's ransacked house to determine what might have been stolen.
Teague Dixon, the cop first assigned to partner with Ray and the one who snapped pictures of Paul in episode three, got a tip from a confidential informant that some of Caspere's stolen property had been pawned. The shop owner retrieves the video of the woman who pawned it.
This scene starts innocently before taking its turn into darkness. Ani's briefing Commander James O'Neal, talking about the case. "And I'd like state to know, Velcoro put himself in harm's way for me," she says. She's beginning to trust Ray.
"Anything you want to tell me? About you and Velcoro?"
"Anything you want to tell me?" O'Neal asks. "About you and Velcoro?"
He calls her honey. He insinuates a relationship. The writer wants to show that O'Neal's being patronizing.
We've seen Ani's sort of boyfriend, Deputy Steven Mercer, twice: in the first episode after the awkward maybe sex they had and in the third episode, where she breaks it off with him in the office.
Steve is getting his revenge by reporting Ani to Internal Affairs, a law enforcement division that investigates law enforcement officers' misconduct. Ani is Steve's superior. Having a relationship is against the rules. He lodged a formal complaint of sexual misconduct.
"You do realize they're all giving Mercer high fives out there, right?" Ani asks. And she's probably right, if this is a boy's club and she is the lone, lonely girl on the force. It feels like they're ganging up on her. It feels like a double standard.
And it gets worse. Commander O'Neal then found out about her relationship with Detective Elvis Ilinca, Ani's partner. Except it was a one-night stand, not a relationship.
"This would not be happening to a man."
"He was your subordinate." O'Neal says. "That means you had power over him. The county had to investigate."
"This would not be happening to a man," Ani says.
"If a complaint were lodged, you bet it would. They just wouldn't be able to use that line."
She says she doesn't have anything to apologize for, and he councils her to soften that stance, if she values her future.
It gets worse again: Until the investigation concludes, she's suspended. She can't even enter the sheriff's building. She's allowed to keep working on the Caspere case, though, as a special investigator.
It gets worse. Again.
There's a rumor that Ani has gambling debts. He councils her again: If that's true, you should clean up your bank accounts.
Remember that Ray told her that she can't be naive anymore. Whoever is pulling the strings here is coming for her. And it sounds like that's becoming a reality.
Does this have anything to do with Vinci and Chessani, she asks. He doesn't answer, at least not directly. He just says he doesn't care who she sleeps with, just as long as it's not someone in that sheriff's department.
She leaves. Her partner and one-night lover, Elvis, follows her. He complains about his busted marriage, implying that their affair caused the break. "You didn't even give it a chance," he says. "There as no chance," she says. "Fuck off." He says he's been a friend. "With friends like these," she says and drives off.
Based on the information they got from the pawn shop, they believe they have enough intelligence to arrest and charge someone with Ben Caspere's murder.
Irina Rulfo sold the goods. She works, probably selling drugs and turning tricks, for Ledo Amarilla. Fingerprint analysis found Caspere's, Rulfo and Amarilla's prints.
"Our job now is to locate and arrest on the charge of murder," Paul says.
"Idea, of course, is that chica was turning tricks with Caspere," Teague Dixon says in a fine bit of exposition. "Got a look at how he lived. Led an possible accomplices tortured him for his valuables."
They send a fleet of law enforcement officers to find where Rulfo and Amarilla are hiding. Paul says nothing came from his interviews with prostitutes the night before.
"Tasha was a hooker," he says of Ben Caspere's female companion that accompanied him to the party where Mayor Chessani claims to have last seen him, about a month before he died. "Hasn't been around. Rumors of elite parties Caspere might have attended. High-end girls. That's about it."
In the dark, quiet, lonely bar where Frank and Ray always meet, the same woman plays an electric guitar in the corner, singing
My bed is now a cylinder of steel
Cold and hard and shiny
To match the way I feel
Ray tells Frank about Amarilla. That he's pawning things leads Frank to believe that he doesn't have the $5 million of his money that Caspere died with.
"What the fuck would this spic have to with Stan?" Frank thinks out lout.
"What happened to Stan?" Ray asks.
Whoops! Frank doesn't answer.
You were there to see me beg and steal
What kind of man would ask me then
If he could make a deal
When lovers of the future
Read these lines
The sound of steel and thunder …
They talk about Frank getting the club and other things get back.
"I thought that was behind you," Ray says.
"I thought being poor was behind me, too," Frank says.
"You know that shit never leaves you," Ray says. "Doesn't matter how much money you make."
Frank tries to convince Ray to stop being a cop and join his gang. Ray declines. He's not a thug.
"The things I'm planning, black rage goes a long way," Frank says.
"A long way to where?" Ray asks.
"Sometimes your worst self is your best self," Frank says. "Know what I'm saying?"
Ray has a secret meeting with Chad in the backyard. He gives him Ray's father's badge that he took in the last episode. He wants his son to remember him by that.
"Where you come from," Ray says, "that'll mean something to you one day."
Ray's saying goodbye. Not because he wants to, but because he thinks he has to.
Frank shares the news with Blake, his red-haired henchman who disappeared for a while in earlier episodes, only to return and break the news of another henchman's death. Frank says he and the other surviving henchman need to find Amarilla, the Mexican thug the cops are also after.
The other henchman leaves, but Frank tells Blake to stay. Tells him, in effect, he doesn't trust him. Jordan says he talked to the Russians for too long. He relegates him to being pit boss until he earns Frank's respect.
Frank tells Jordan about what Chessani said last week: Someone else wants to run the poker room. The implication is that Frank thinks Blake is trying to muscle his way to the top.
Jordan talks about getting out. Frank says that if they do, they walk with nothing.
The final act of the episode is a massacre, a point of no return, a relentless scene of gore and death. For those craving action in this season, your wish has been granted.
It has been building for the entire season, in tiny fits and spurts. It is based, in all likelihood, on bad information.
The actionable information comes from Dixon's confidential informant. It's probably wrong and he knows it, or it's wrong and he's a pawn in a larger plot to eliminate the Mexican drug dealers and pimps.
Either way, it goes to hell immediately.
It's early morning. Vinci's shops open up. A news crew reports on a group of protestors in front of a sign that says "Metro Rail, Vinci Extension," which is where the high-speed rail will make its way through the city.
They don't have a tactical team to do the job, but Ani says they should move because they don't want to lose Armarilla. Vinci Lieutenant Kevin Burris asks if all the manpower is warranted. "Better safe than something else," she says.
As they leave, Mayor Chessani says, "Alright. Let's be careful out there." It's more ominous than caring.
The TV reporters says the protestors are upset about a bus route shortage caused by the high-speed rail construction, service for which has been cut back to subsidize the railway. They're being hurt in the short-term to build something they won't use in the long-term.
Wearing bulletproof jackets, the group of law enforcement officials approach Amarilla's hideout. They're spotted on approach, and a thug with an automatic weapon opens fire. Many die, including cops and civilians. A quarter of Teague Dixon's head gets blown off.
The battle ends. Our three antiheroes survive. Ani and Ray are shaken to their cores. Paul, the combat veteran who said last episode that war was the last time anything made sense, is cool as lemonade.
Every bad guy we see dies, including the man they were going to charge with Caspere's murder. There is every possibility that the powers that be will try to use this situation as an excuse to end the case. There is every possibility that the law enforcement officers most directly involved know that this doesn't solve the case.
We know enough now, I think, to start making informed predictions. We can start playing detectives.
Here's my best guess about what's really going on, based on evidence and a bit of intuition.
Mayor Austin Chessani is behind city manager Ben Caspere's murder. For nearly a century, his family has controlled Vinci, California, current population 95. They are an elected, de facto, legalized crime family.
It seems likely that Police Chief Holloway, and Lieutenant Burris are in on it, too, if only because they're too high up in the pecking order not to be.
It is possible — and maybe even probable — that the Catalyst Group is, as well. Why else would Jacob McCandless have been the only civilian in the room in episode one, when the powers that be in Vinci were telling Ray Velcoro "no surprises," that his unofficial duty was to, at best, undermine the investigation into Caspere's murder and, at worst, feed them all the details so they know and can prepare for what's coming? Why would McCandless be there if he wasn't part of the plot, and therefore needed to know?
Consider this: Catalyst Group sponsored the highway rest stop where the unknown Cadillac driver dumped Caspere's body.
Consider the dictionary definition of catalyst: "a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change" and "a person or thing that precipitates an event. "
Based on what Frank said in this episode, the shell corporations buying up the land adjacent to the railway corridor — up to and including Catalyst Group — may be legal fictions designed to let people like Mayor Chessani profit from the upcoming windfall.
Everything flows through the commune, for reasons that aren't entirely clear. Does that implicate Ani's father? Not necessarily. Even if Eliot knew of Bad Things happening in Panticapaeum, his philosophical steadfast refusal to meddle in the affairs of others could give him an out, at least from a certain point of view. Ignorance of the law isn't reason enough to absolve someone from responsibility.
Chessani worked with Dr. Pitlor at the commune many years ago. Pitlor also treated Chessani's schizophrenic wife, who hung herself under his care. Ani and Ray visited Pitlor in episode two because he was treating Ben Caspere.
Caspere worked as Frank Semyon's middleman to buy land adjacent to the high-speed railway corridor. Frank needed to raise $5 million. He did, in part by selling his disposal business. We know that Caspere quoted Frank $10 million, so he was already planning on ripping him off.
The Russian gangster, Osip Agranov, who we first met with his attorney, Michael Bugulari, in episode one, agreed to invest the deal alongside Frank — to kick in the additional $5 million to Caspere — and then balked when Caspere didn't show up. But he didn't seem surprised that Caspere wasn't there. He seemed devious and playful. He seemed like he knew. And if he knew, then he was with the mastermind.
In episode four, we learn that Caspere's GPS coordinates out him in a rural area near Fresno. We know that Vinci is the state's biggest polluter. It could be that the powers that be are dumping on the land. It could be that they want to reap the profits for cleaning up the mess they illegally made, which would be easier now that Frank doesn't have his disposal business.
Regardless, it seems likely that Chessani was muscling Frank out without his knowledge. That getting him to sell his disposal business also took him out of future plans for the lands in Fresno.
Chessani was also muscling out the unaware Caspere. And he was doing it with help.
At a certain point, Mayor Chessani, probably with help from Dr. Pitlor and in concert with the Russians, arranged for the murder of Ben Caspere — and the marginalization and eventual elimination of Frank Semyon.
What was the motive? Monetary, at least in part. Caspere already had Frank's $5 million, which he never gave to the Catalyst Group. Chessani could have wanted Frank out of the picture and concocted this elaborate scheme to muscle him out. Although, to be fair, killing Frank could arguably have been easier.
Then again, Frank's not an easy guy to kill. But what if you could extract every cent he's worth without killing him?
In episode four, Frank starts to suspect that his red-haired henchman, Blake, might be the other party Chessani mentioned who wanted to take over Frank's poker room at the Vinci Gardens Casino. Maybe Chessani wanted Caspere and Frank gone, and partnered with more than one person to eliminate both.
Either way, killing Caspere was a pretty easy way to make $5 million. I still don't have any reason why Caspere wasn't just killed, but tortured. Maybe it's as simple as torture was the only way to get him to reveal where he had money hidden. Maybe Frank's alive because that was the best way to get his money. I've got my sights set on Mayor Austin Chessani.
Finally, I'll end with a wild guess. Ray's father, Eddie Velcoro, may be involved. In fact, if you'll permit me to be bold: Ray's father is the man in the raven's mask. Consider the following:
Now, just because he was in the raven's mask doesn't mean he was the murderer. Eddie Velcoro could just be the driver. But I'll bet he's involved.
Or maybe, if you want to take a brighter view, consider this: Eddie Velcoro is sick of the corruption, sick of the system, sick of getting screwed. So he kills Caspere and dumps his body in Point Mugu, Ventura County, which would spark a three-department investigation. He does it to end the corruption. He does it to end the Chessani dynasty. He does it … because doing something wrong is the only way to set things right.
You know: Just like his son, who tried to make something right, a dozen years ago, with a murder of his own.
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