Last week, I plugged my nose, took a deep breath and cannonballed into an analysis of True Detective's second season. I began by saying that the show was two things: depressing and confusing. Upon reflection, I realize I may have missed a third: brilliant.
I know, I know. Hear me out.
The unavoidable truth is that I haven't felt this way about a TV show since Lost launched into its final flash-forward. In the week between True Detective episodes, I find myself chewing on the characters and plot, subconsciously trying to tease order and meaning out of Nic Pizzolatto's heady crime drama. This leads me to think it's maybe brilliant.
But I wrote that I "may" have missed brilliant above because I haven't decided if it's the proper term — or that it's warranted. It could be that this season is shallowness masquerading as depth, and I'm confusing difficulty with high art. To that point, I can also say this with certainty: Three episodes in, and True Detective season two has captured little of the magic of season one. That's not a mark for brilliance.
Despite that, its complicated characters and structure make me think about it to a far greater degree than anything I've watched in years. I don't know yet if it's brilliant, and I suspect I won't until season two's end. So, in this continuing series of articles, I'm going to work it out. I'm going to play the detective, piecing together the evidence, trying to make sense of the confusion. I hope we will together. I hope we continue to have lively debates in the comments and on Twitter.
But make no mistake: No matter what my conclusion, some of you will disagree. Today, I write about possible brilliance. Last week, a reader eloquently summed up the opposition in the comments of this series' first article.
"Jesus Christ in a tiny canoe," Flappy Buns wrote. "I liked the first season but this just sounds as pretentious as all get out."
I may not agree, but I get it. It takes all kinds to make a world, as my dad used to say.
So today were continuing our walkthrough — or #watchthrough, which I now prefer — of True Detective's second season with "Darkness Finds You," the second episode and then "Maybe Tomorrow," the third.
We'll follow the same basic structure as before, coloring in our character sketches and walking through the plot, though with somewhat less detail. To be clear, there is still going to be a lot of detail. True Detective is constantly dropping hints and disguising foreshadowing as innocuous conversation. It's our job here to document what seems mundane but might be important.
Plus, there's meat on these bones now, so we'll also do something new.
The first article wasn't about answering questions or speculating about the future. It was about establishing where we were, as well as what and who we were dealing with. From here on out, we have history to refer to, in the form of previously aired episodes. So, here and beyond, we're going to connect the dots, reaching back into previous episodes to learn what we didn't know we were learning.
The story is still unfolding. Imagine a wall full of newspaper clippings and huge photographs, pierced by pins and connected by half a dozen different colors of yarn. Yes, we're going full Carrie Mathison. Let's figure this out.
There's no better way to recap an episode than by looking at what a show's creators provide. So here's what True Detective thinks you should know:
The corrupt mayor of Vinci, California, population 95. A slumping, grumpy man with a narrow mustache and constant scowl. He is not the first of his family, he mentions at one point, to serve the tiny city in an official capacity. Chessani is always drinking and often straight up drunk.
His wife, and the mother of his child, is deceased. His son, who we've not met, is a wild man. The mayor is entwined with Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) in at least two ways. Frank runs the poker room at the Vinci Gardens Casino. For this privilege, Frank pays tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks (bribes) to Chessani. Also, some unspecified time ago, Frank got Chessani's son out of trouble after hit-and-run accident. His son's face, Frank said, "was so coked up it looked like a clown."
Jacob McCandless works in some unspecified capacity for Catalyst Group, the business that seems to be overseeing everything in and around the proposed high-speed rail system, the California Central Rail Corridor. He didn't have a speaking role in the first episode, but he was there. We saw him as the only unimpressed person after Frank said that the government had guaranteed cost overages during the party at the casino.
In the second episode, McCandless explains that Frank's investment in the project was never made official because Frank's middleman, the dead city manager Ben Caspere, never made a deal with Catalyst. McCandless offers Frank the buy-in, only at a different, seemingly lower price.
Ernst Bodine seems to be Mayor Chessani's right-hand man, maybe the equivalent of his chief of staff. His primary role at the beginning of the season is to speak for the mayor, either because the mayor drunk or incompetent — or both. In appearance and demeanor, Bodine is Chessani's opposite. The former is crumpled, slovenly, blitzed and always in motion. Bodine is dressed to the nines, composed and cool as lemonade when he speaks.
A prostitute who accompanied Ben Caspere to a party about a month before he died. Mayor Chessani was at the party, too. Bodine named her.
True Detective's second season centers around this tiny suburb of Los Angeles. This is what the State Attorney's office tells Ani about Vinci:
If you think back to the first episode, you'll remember that the establishing shots of Vinci had many factories and few houses. This explains why.
Later we learn that the city has a population of 95 residents, though something like 75,000 workers file in and out of there every day.
This is why a weirdly close analysis can be useful: They changed the lyrics at the end of the title sequence.
We already went over the history of Leonard Bernstein's poem turned song, noting that the entirety of the song didn't make it into the 90-second title sequence. In episode two, they edited it again.
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
It begins at dawn. The darkness referenced in the title is metaphorical. People are trying to purge their darkness and embrace. But it works literally, too, as the episode creeps toward the night. It's also worth noting that night is when they discovered the mystery at the heart of the show, and that's about death.
Frank can't sleep again. He's fixated on a water stain above the bed, worrying about money — having and not having it. He tells a horrible story about how his father used to lock him in the basement when he went on benders. Once, when he was six, dad got arrested and Frank was locked in the basement for days. The lightbulb burned out. He woke up to find a rat nibbling on his finger. He smashed it, in the darkness, until nothing but goo was left. Frank tears up while telling the story. He recoils when his wife, Jordan, ties to touch him.
He also discusses money, says he doesn't know what to do with it. He's obviously got a lot, as shots of his big, empty house on the hills prove. Jordan tries to comfort him by saying he always wanted to own a lot of land — which is exactly what he was doing in his deal for the land adjacent to the proposed high-speed rail with Caspere. Yeah, he says, but what good is acquiring it if you don't have kids to leave it to? And that's a direct link to the previous episode where he talked about trying to have kids via in vitro fertilization.
Here's the important part: It's not just that he had a rough childhood. It's that he thinks, sometimes, that everything is fake and he still might be in that basement. He thinks maybe he died there. And the water stain reminds him of that. "Something's trying to tell me that it's like everything papier-mâché," Frank says. "Something's telling me to wake up. Like … Like I'm not real. Like I'm only dreaming."
In a post-autopsy debriefing, the three law enforcement officers learn the gruesome details of Caspere's death:
As True Detective likes to do, it cuts the scene short and picks up later with more details:
Representatives of the Vinci County Sheriff, the State of California and the city of Vinci Police Department sit in a room arguing about who has jurisdiction over the Caspere case. Each thinks they do.
Vinci makes the most forceful case, thanks to Lieutenant Kevin Burris, in effect saying that the state can do what it wants, but they're not stopping their ongoing investigation.
He agrees to investigate on the state's behalf because it'll get him back on his bike. He has no interest in the promotion that the state representative, Katherine Davis, offers him. He agrees after she says "We can wipe away all that admin hassle," referring to the allegations from the first episode.
But it's not quite so straightforward. Officially, his job is to investigate the homicide. Unofficially, his job is to investigate Vinci PD. They call it his "confidential mandate" to gather intelligence for a grand jury. As a grand jury does, it will examine that evidence to see if it warrants a trial. It's "very important to the governor's office."
O'Neal, a sheriff or deputy who was at the turf war meeting, explains to Ani that the Attorney General's office "has concerns about obfuscation on the part of Vinci PD." Katherine Davis returns, saying Ani will be in charge of the investigation. Ray Velcoro is her secondary, and he is compromised. "Work him," Davis says. "Leverage something to turn him."
"Caspere's death is a window into everything," Davis says. They're going after Vinci with everything they've got.
This is a conversation between Frank, his unnamed lawyer and a Mr. McCandless, a representative for Catalyst Group, who seems to be overseeing the high-speed rail development. It is brief, but dense. Here's what we learn.
Frank partnered with Caspere, who took $5 million to, in effect, act as a holding company and a bank. On Frank's behalf, Caspere was to purchase "12 parcels below Monterey." These must be parcels adjacent to the proposed high-speed rail. Had that happened, Frank's company would have been added to the development charter.
"You're in the unenviable position of being owed money by a dead man."
It did not happen.
Now Caspere's dead, and according to McCandless, he didn't purchase the property. There's no written proof of the agreement between the parties.
Frank gave Caspere $5 million to purchase parcels through his "disposal company." Frank mentions something about chemical runoff, presumably on the land, and how he took the risk, which afforded him the opportunity to purchase land.
McCandless says that, without a paper trail, Frank is "in the unenviable position of being owed money by a dead man."
So Frank believed that he'd made a deal with Catalyst, using Caspere as an intermediary. But McCandless, as a representative of Catalyst, says that deal wasn't made. How does he know that's true, Frank asks. "We're not gangsters, Frank," McCandless says, an obvious dig at Frank's past.
At this point, it gets really confusing. McCandless says that, since Caspere is dead and therefore his interests no longer stand, he's willing to offer Frank the same deal he had with Caspere for the same parcels. Except that he says its $7 million.
"The same? We were quoted 10," Frank says.
"Not by me," McCandless says.
So the deal has changed, at least from Frank's perspective. That much is obvious. But what is the 10 that Frank's referring to? At this point there are four numbers in play:
Most of that makes sense.
It may be that Caspere planned on ripping Ray off in another way. It could be that the $5 million was a buy-in, akin to a down payment. Caspere quoted Frank $10 million total. McCandless says the total owed is really only $7 million, so Caspere might have been trying to make $3 million (the difference between 7 and 10) off of Frank.
We have no explanation for why Frank went through Caspere to secure the land.
The bigger problem is that Frank says he "went liquid for this deal," meaning he sold or mortgaged what he had to raise the funds, in cash, to give to Caspere. In economics, that's what liquidity means. In effect, he turned his investments — companies, mortgages — into cash. That left Frank broke.
Point is, he doesn't have any money, let alone $7 million to buy back in.
Frank is pissed. He says he doesn't have assets, his house and poker room being double mortgaged, presumably to raise the capital for this deal.
Based on this information, Frank believes that whoever killed Caspere has his money. And he's desperate. He's got nothing, so he's going to start shaking people down: Stan, Ivar and his cousins, his Glendale people, "fuckin' Blake, wherever the fuck he's been." This may be foreshadowing, not just an information dump.
So Frank, who it seems was a bad guy trying to go good, has been screwed by the ostensibly good system. And now he's being compelled back into the bad side. He has to. He has no other choice.
"I'll get it back," he says. "Every dime."
Night found Frank Semyon.
Ani and Ray are interviewing Vinci Mayor Chessani in his office. There is one other person present, Ernst Bodine, by the mayor's side. Remember that they're now leading the joint investigation into Caspere's murder.
Chessani talks about the last time he saw Caspere, which was maybe a month ago. He's annoyed, often shooting daggers at Ray, who remember is supposed to be working on the inside for Vinci. Caspere was with a woman — Miss Tasha, Ernst says. Chessani says they only met over business, so he didn't know much about him.
Ray speaks up for the first time, as Chessani pours himself a drink, asking if he might have pictures from the party. The mayor pours himself another drink, sits on a couch behind the investigators, stares into the distance and doesn't answer. But Ernst does, saying Caspere was a dedicated to the community. "A community of 95 residents?" Ani asks.
"County can't forgive our independence," Chessani says.
Ray gets up, says thanks, like it's over, like he can make it so. Ani sits, asks another question about when Caspere left the party. Chessani ignores her. Ernst answers, maybe 11 or 12.
This scene takes place in the investigation's base of operations, which is a dilapidated steel building somewhere. From the establishing shot, it feels like it could be in Vinci.
Teague Dixon (the Vinci policeman originally paired with Ray Velcoro) sits, feet kicked up on a table, looking like he's going to fall asleep. Paul is explaining his investigation. Dixon couldn't care less.
Dixon questions why Paul is there. Which is not a weird question, given that he's a highway patrolman, not a murder investigator. "Special detail," Paul says. "State owns the case." Paul tries to make conversation, says he almost punched a guy who hit in him at the bank earlier. Dixon mocks him to his face.
Ani and Ray arrive. It looks like it smells musty in there. Ani has a list from insurance companies of what was probably stolen from Caspere's house. If they find those, they might be able to learn more about who did this.
Paul noticed that Caspere used to withdraw $4,000 in cash from the bank once a month. Ray cross-references that with Caspere's calendar and notices that they coincide with blank days.
They discover that Catalyst Group leased him a Mercedes.
Dixon leaves, Paul leaves, Ray gets up to leave, stops. Using GPS data Dixon and Paul gathered, Ani figures out that Caspere traveled north, often on weekends, right after withdrawing that cash.
Ray shows up in a mall parking lot with a new pair of shoes for his son, Chad. But instead of his son, his ex-wife, Gena Brune (Abigail Spencer), is there.
"You're bad. You're a bad person," she tells Ray. She found out about the beating Ray inflicted on the father of the kid who bullied his son last episode.
"What I done for you," Ray says, presumably referring to murdering her rapist, but she pushes back.
"You didn't do that for me, Ray. Don't you dare say you did that for me."
"I had a right by any natural law," Ray says. "I had a right."
"I had a right by any natural law. I had a right."
She's "getting an emergency writ for supervised visits" with Chad. She and her husband, Raymond, want sole custody. At first, Ray pleads. He verges on pathetic. She starts to lecture him about not being good for Chad.
"You used to have something, a decency," she says. "You were good at being decent. Until something happened. You were fine as long as everything else was fine, then something happened, and you weren't strong enough to stay decent."
And that's when Ray turns, says it won't happen through gritted teeth.
"You won't get away with it," he says. "I will burn this entire fucking city to the ground first."
And that's when she pulls the trump card: She'll have a paternity test. In other words, they both know damn well that Chad isn't his son. Now he's back to pleading: No, please don't.
"All right, I'm a piece of shit but that boy is all I have in my entire shitty life."
"No, babe," she says, suddenly using an endearing term. "Then don't you know he deserves better?"
She walks away. They're both in the verge of tears.
Frank has a couple of his men rear-end a Mercedes and pepper spray the driver. Frank runs over, pretending to be of help.
"What did you do to piss somebody off?" he asks. "Can you think of anything?"
According to Frank, the driver seems to have written a book about Vinci's sweatshops. He tells him to think about that and take care.
Ani and Ray go to visit Dr. Pitlor (Rick Springfield), Ben Caspere's psychologist.
"You do surgeries here?" Ray asks as he walks by a room with a bandaged woman. "Only cosmetic," the employee answers.
Now, I can't see the future, but this seems like something to remember. It seems like more than just flavor. It seems like foreshadowing. Who would benefit from surgery? Better: Who administered something with surgical precision? Yes, the person or people who burned out Ben Caspere's eyes.
"Ben had a weakness for young women."
Dr. Pitlor, Caspere's psychologist, wears an ascot, like Fred from Scooby-Doo. He looks like he never left 1976. He looks like a creep. He'd been treating Caspere for about three years for, among other things, "guilt."
"Ben had a weakness for young women," Pitlor says. "Paying for them, more specifically. He frequented escorts although it ignited in him tremendous shame and self-loathing, which resulted in further damaging tendencies."
As they're leaving, Pitlor says he recognizes her last name. He knew Ani's father, did some work with the Good People, which may be what those on the commune were once called. She says five kids grew up there. Two killed themselves. Two are in jail. The fifth became a detective. This intersection with the commune we saw in episode one means something. But what?
Frank visits Chessani in the mayor's office with an envelope full of cash. His payment is $10,000 short.
Chessani calls it a kickback. It's Frank's price for running the poker room, after he took over from a Gene Slattery. Now there are outside interests interested who think they can run it at a higher profit. Frank assures him he'll have the money in a couple weeks. But he sold his "rent farms" and disposal business to raise capital for the parcels adjacent to the railway corridor.
"Caspere died with my money in his pocket," Frank says.
"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."
Frank says he's been doing this for six years, let him slide. Frank reminds the mayor what he's done for him, squashed some kind of illegal immigrant uprising, fixed a hit-and-run with the mayor's son, whose "face was so coked-dusted it looked like a clown."
"My son, I fear, is losing his mind, like his dearly departed mother," Chessani says. "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. Children are a disappointment. Remain unfettered, Frank."
In other words, he's telling Frank, who wants to have children, not to. And he's a drunk talking about drugs.
Want to bet that Chessani has some connection with Ani's dad's commune, the Good People and Dr. Pitlor?
Driving in the car through Vinci, they're discussing the case. Ani is convinced they're just scratching the surface. She looks around, asks who all the workers she sees are. It's sweatshop economics, according to Frank. "My strong suspicion is, we get the world we deserve," Ray says. They talk about the e-cigarette she smokes. He doesn't get it.
"The fundamental difference between the sexes is the one of them can kill the other with your bare hands."
Ray he says he's sure she heard or will hear about all his bad things. He admits to bad habits. He asks why she carries all those knives.
"The fundamental difference between the sexes is the one of them can kill the other with your bare hands," Ani says. "Man of any size place his hands on me, he's going to bleed out in under a minute."
She explains the Good People as a "commune … in the late 1970s and early 80s." He tries to follow up with a personal question about her time there. She ignores him.
She drops him off. Ray says he's "trying to affect transparency" between them. And that this investigation isn't supposed to work.
She asks him how compromised he is. He doesn't answer.
Paul's girlfriend sees an article about the allegations against him. The article says Paul worked for Black Mountain a Security, and they "did bad things."
"I told you I don't talk about the desert," Paul says.
"Who the fuck am I supposed to be?"
He's packing to go south for the investigation. She says she can't do this anymore. She doesn't know him.
"Who are you?" she asks.
"Oh, fuck you," he says. "Who the fuck am I supposed to be?"
She breaks up with him. He says it's on her.
The question of who Paul is supposed to be is paramount to his character, as we'll see.
Frank goes to visit a club and an old associate, Danny Santos. Women dance in their underwear, colored lights flash, bass booms. Santos is a big dude, Latin American, with gold front teeth that read FUCK YOU. It sounds like it used to be Frank's place. He's glad to be out.
Ani's in her hotel room, doing research online at a porn site. Or maybe just visiting a porn site for herself. The page reads "Naughty Cali Angels or Any Need or Taste" and "Naughty Cali Angeles Wherever, Whenever." She's browsing and drinking. She starts watching a video.
Her partner Elvis calls. She gets off the phone quickly.
He stands on a balcony, drinking, looking at people dressed up, walking down the street. Maybe cosplay. Maybe furries. Maybe pride. He sees what's probably male prostitute get dropped off from a blue car on a corner.
It's the same dark bar from first episode. The same woman is playing electric guitar and singing.
You were a loner
You were alive
Among the walking dead
He was a liar
Would not atone
Still leaving tonight
Frank meets Ray, who's already there in his usual seat. He gives him the address for Caspere's house in Hollywood.
He tells Ray to "grab anything that pushed toward Caspere's dealing with land purchases." What's up with what, Ray asks? "Money. Place is about to be worth a whole lot more."
"I remember you dumping a body."
Frank says Ray could be police chief by next year if things work out. Ray isn't interested.
"You remember how we got together?" Ray asks.
"I remember you dumping a body," Frank says.
"Well, the reasons for all this, all that, might not exist for me anymore," Ray says. "You see? I got no reason to keep at this."
Ray's tired. He wants out. Frank tells him to get some sleep — after he checks out Caspere's place in Hollywood. He also tells him he doesn't want to hear him talk like that again and leaves a bunch of cash on the table for Ray.
The waitress with the scar from the first episode hits on Ray. He's polite, but he's not receptive. He leaves without the money, saying it's not his. It transitions into the next scene with the sound of the woman playing the guitar and singing.
I love you, baby, like a miner loves gold
And this way, you'll never grow old
The noose recovered
Church and worms
Ray visits Caspere's Hollywood house.
There's nobody there. There's a big bloodstain on the floor. Soundproof padding covers the walls. On one wall are several animal masks. There's a sex swing. Music plays in the background, "I Pity the Fool" by Bobby "Blue" Bland.
I pity the fool, I pity the fool, I pity the fool
I pity the fool that falls in love with you
And expects you to be true, I pity the fool
Look at the people
I know you wonder what they're doing
They're just standing there
Watching you make a fool out of me
Look at me people
Remember: This is where the working girl from Santos' club said she went with Caspere, where he just watched.
Ray opens a closet and finds a two-way mirror. On the other side is a camcorder hooked up to a portable hard drive, presumably for recording what happens on the other side. Like, maybe the murder.
Remember that wall with the animal heads? It's dark and eerie and easy to miss, but one is missing. Keep that in mind.
Ray is examining the closet when he senses someone behind him. He turns to fire but a figure clothed in black and wearing a raven's mask — the mask that was sitting inside the burgundy Cadillac that ferried Caspere to his freeway resting place in episode one and, perhaps, the mask that's missing from Caspere's wall — fires first with a 12-gauge shotgun.
Ray takes the first shot in the abdomen and falls to the floor. The person in black walks over to him and shoots him in the chest at point blank range.
Study something, and you're likely to appreciate it more. You may not like what you see, but peering into the microscope engenders a kind of respect for the specimen.
The more I think about True Detective, the more I admire its difficulty. Maybe I wouldn't if I just wanted to be entertained, if I didn't spend untold hours reconstructing this puzzle. It is a show designed to be hard, often in character and in plot. It's inextricable from the philosophy that underlies it all.
This is nothing new. In the first season, Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) was an immensely unlikable, dense character, at least on the surface. You didn't have to side with his partner to acknowledge that Cohle was a weird dude.
Now we are faced with a pile of messes, human Tasmanian devils who ruin what they touch. Nobody is easy to figure out, and that's what makes it so damn interesting. The crimes may be macabre and the mysteries deep, but it's the fragile, fucked-up human beings who make True Detective worth watching.
"I wouldn’t say True Detective is even a show about ideas as much as it’s a show about intimacies," Pizzolatto said in a recent Vanity Fair interview. "The forced intimacy of two people sharing a car, the intimacy of connections you don’t get to decide. I write best about people whose souls are on the line. Whatever we mean when we use that word. I certainly don’t use it in a religious sense. But the essence of who you are—that’s on the line. At its simplest level, everything I’ve ever written about, including this and Season One, is about love. We transpose meaning onto a possibly meaningless universe because meaning is personal. And that question of meaning or meaninglessness really becomes a question of: What do you love? Nothing? Then you’ve got a good shot at a meaningless existence. But if you love something—how do you love within the necessities of life and the roles you have to play? I can see that that’s been one of the defining questions of my adult life and work: How do you love adequately?"
"And that question of meaning or meaninglessness really becomes a question of: What do you love?"
It wouldn't be insane to argue that this is a different show than it used to be. Because it is. If you replaced the cast of Friends, changed the location to Los Angeles, but made everybody new friends, just calling it Friends wouldn't be enough.
It's no longer a buddy cop show. These characters not friends. As close as anyone comes is Frank and Ray, but that's not equality. These are solitary people loving lonely lives. That's what they have in common.
"I found it liberating because of its constraints," Pizzolato said. "[With a novel] you’re staring at this infinity of possibilities; even though you take a point of view, you can describe anything you want, be as discursive as you want. Drama brings everything down to character and action. That’s it. I found that those constraints freed me from the paralysis of the full menu."
When the Vinci city leaders gather, you'll find the lieutenant. Though he hasn't had much screen time, he's been part of several pivotal scenes. When jurisdictions fought for control of the Caspere case, he made a forceful argument for Vinci. He was part of the group that told Detective Ray Velcoro what his real goal was — from "no surprises" to taking down Ani. And when Ray gets shot, he's on the scene because Frank is his officer.
For the first two episodes, Dixon basically sat around, looked bored and acted lazy. In the third episode, we see him with a camera spying on Paul after hours, so he's clearly working an angle for someone.
A representative of the state attorney's office, she's ostensibly there to oversee the state's investigation into the Caspere homicide. It is clear that she and the state have ulterior motives. First, she brings Paul Woodrugh into the investigation. Later, she appoints Ani as the lead law enforcement officer. She offers both promotions if they do what she wants: brings down the corrupt officials in Vinci.
A severely overweight Latino associate of Frank's, he runs a dance club that also offers prostitutes. His most distinguishing characteristic is that he has several gold teeth that spell out FUCK YOU. One of his prostitutes knew Caspere, which is how Frank finds out about the dead city planner's Hollywood sex house.
The mayor's current wife is young, blond, a mess, drunk and high in the middle of the day when Ani and Paul visit the Chessani’s Bel Air mansion. (Yes, it's odd that the mayor lives in a Bel Air mansion.) The only other thing we really know about her is that she cuts out dresses from fashion magazines.
The mayor's son exudes cockiness. We learned in episode two that he once got in a hit-and-run accident and that Frank got him out of whatever trouble he would have been in for that and having a face full of cocaine. We meet him for the first time in this episode. He affects an urban accent and describes himself as a high-class party planner.
The theme song changes again, continuing to pull new stanzas from Leonard Cohen's poem, "Nevermind." These are the new lyrics:
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
The montage is changing, too. It appears to be incorporating events from previous episodes.
"Maybe Tomorrow" begins with a couple of dead men. Probably. Elvis, who some think is still alive and Ray Velcoro, who some think is still alive. Unless that's a Conway Twitty impersonator singing "The Rose." He's dead, too. Either way, here's what he sings:
Some say love, it is a river
And that it drowns the tender reed
And some say love, it's like a razor
And that it leaves your soul to bleed
Some say love, it is a hunger
An endless aching need
I say love, it is a flower
And you, it's only seed
It's a heart afraid of breaking
That never learns to dance
It's a dream afraid of waking
That never takes the chance
It's the one who won't be taken
Who can not seem to give
And the soul afraid of dying
That never learns to live
When the night has been too lonely
And the road has been too long
And you think that love is only
For the lucky and the strong
Just remember in the winter
Far beneath the bitter snows
Lies the seed that with the sun's love
In spring becomes the rose
Ray is dreaming about his dad and a lounge singer. They're in a bar. They talk. Ray says his father made him nervous. His father, dressed in a police uniform, says maybe he was already nervous, and he lacked grit.
Ray lies where he was shot. Conway Twitty is playing on the radio. Ray wakes up. "I pissed myself," he says.
Now he's talking to Ani as he sits bandaged in an ambulance. She's yelling at him for going in alone. He says he's taking the day off and calls her Xena.
She goes inside and sees Lieutenant Kevin Burris of the Vinci police department.
Why didn't Ray die from the gunshot wounds? "Riot shells," he says. "You know, like, uh, cops use."
Ray sits in the back of an ambulance, smoking. He calls Ani Xena and says he's going to take the day off. He's shaking.
Frank looks uncomfortable, and it turns out he's got good reason to be. He and his wife, Jordan, are in a doctor's office to donate sperm for their IVF treatments. Jordan is on her knees. Frank isn't responding, physically. Its never happens, and he's pissed.
They snap at each other. He talks about it being unnatural. Screaming, he blames his wife. Jordan, heretofore the peacekeeper, storms out.
We find out that Catalyst Group leased the house, just like Caspere's Mercedes. Porpoise, LLC, Caspere's company, paid the utilities.
With Ray out, Ani and Paul team up. She's sending him after hookers to see if he can learn more. She makes a crack about putting his good looks to use.
She starts to ask something and Paul interrupts her. "If you're asking me if I did what she said, I'm going to get out of the fucking car," he says of the actress' accusations.
No, she was going ask if the exposure would interfere with doing field work. He doubts it. She tells him to sue her. They have a short conversation about e-cigarettes, just as she and Ray did.
Ray, who has been shot, is seething.
"You walked me into something, Frank," he says.
Where's the girl who tipped him off, Ray wants to know. Frank says she was one of Caspere's old whores, "one of Danny Santos'." Ray is pissed, wants to know what Frank and Caspere had going on. They both describe each other as apoplectic. Frank thinks Ray should have a drink.
"Booze tends to take the edge off. I want to stay angry."
"Booze tends to take the edge off," Ray says. "I want to stay angry." And now we know, in part, why Ray Velcoro drinks.
Ray says someone stole the hard drive connected to the camera in the Hollywood house.
He lives in a Bel Air mansion. A beautiful blonde, very high woman with a Russian accent answers the door in a dress. She is drunk. She's Veronica Chessani, the mayor's wife.
Ani walks away so Paul can use his looks to question her. She says she met her husband at a party.
We meet the son, Tony, after he throws a woman off the balcony into the pool. She and the wife don't like each other. He says he's an events organizer. She clips pictures of dresses out of fashion magazines. Ani wanders the house, finds a land title survey. It doesn't linger on this moment, but it feels important.
Ani hears a noise, walks toward it, and a black-haired woman who looks like she might have been looking at a land title survey, too, stops writing in a notebook and shuts a door in her face.
We meet the mayor's son. He clearly hates his step mother. He's affecting an accent. He says he organizes "specialty events."
He's not well. The doctor says so. He's cleared to come back to work, but the doctor suggests taking a couple days off.
"Can I ask you something, Mr. Velcoro?" the doctor says. "Do you want to live?"
Ray doesn't know what to say.
Frank visits an unnamed man at a construction site. He bought Frank's shares at a generous price. Frank wants more, wants a monthly payment. He resists. Frank mentions his family, by name, uses it against him. Remember, Frank's trying to start a family. He gives in. It's extortion.
They open Caspere's safe deposit box. Later, they explain to the state attorneys that it included relatively recent corporation and LLC formation documents. They also found blue diamonds in there.
They ask if she thinks Velcoro faked the shooting. She says no. Caspere is close to Catalyst, but all she knows is that Catalyst owns a lot of land.
State attorney Davis reminds Ani that she's after Velcoro. "I'm not saying fuck him, but maybe act like you might fuck him." She offers Ani a promotion if she gets Velcoro. It's the same kind deal she offered Paul in the previous episode.
The mayor is furious about Ani and Paul visiting his house. They want her gone. They want Ray to go after her. Ray, flummoxed, tries to get taken off the case. They won't have it.
She breaks up with him. He takes it badly. Elvis, her partner, mentions something about him being a momma's boy. Maybe that's what happened that made the weird post-sex scene in the first episode.
Ray brings his dad a bag of weed. Dad says he's not eating. Ray said the weed will help him sleep and eat.
Dad threw his old badge away for unknown reasons. So he was a cop, just like we saw in Ray's dream. Ray admonishes him, says if he doesn't want it, he'll give it to Chad.
He asks dad about Kevin Burris (the Vinci lieutenant) and Holloway (the Vinci police chief). Dad says they're good men. For some reason, dad's only getting a half pension.
Osip the Russian is there, says he needs to talk to his people before committing to the investment he's been considering before the series began. They both admit that Caspere is the problem. Frank basically tells Osip to fuck off.
"Where's Blake?" Frank asks after the Russian leaves. That's one of his henchmen. Stan isn't there, either.
Frank suspects Osip was in on Caspere's murder. He asks his henchman for his opinion. He says, in effect, yes.
He's hanging out with an old friend at a racetrack. He tells his friend he didn't do what he's accused of.
Paul doesn't go to meetings, which sounds like it's for PTSD for whatever he did for Black Mountain or maybe also in the armed services. His unnamed friend says he needs to accept it as part of him. Paul's not into that. You assume they're talking about the war.
"You know," his friend says. "I keep thinking about the village, outside Al Ajar."
"The valley," Paul says.
His friend says it was full of nice people. He could have stayed there. Not found the squad they were apparently separated from. That was the last time things felt right to him. "You mean combat," Paul says. He wouldn't go back.
His friend says don't pretend he doesn't remember "those three days." Paul pushes him to the ground and walks away with a "Fuck you, man!" His friend apologizes, says he's drunk.
I can't help but tie this back to the otherwise odd thing Paul said in the second episode about the bank employee who hit on him and how he almost punched him. I wonder if Paul and his buddy, alone for three days in a war zone, were intimate.
At the end of the scene, there's lazy Teague Dixon, hiding in the shadows, taking pictures of Paul. He's working for someone. And why wouldn't he be? Everybody else has an ulterior motive. Why wouldn't Dixon, under the guise of not caring about anything, be working an angle?
The burgundy Cadillac was registered to a film transportation department. They caught it on a street camera. It's from the movie they're filming in Vinci that the mayor mentioned, in passing, in episode two.
Frank returns, grunts as he slides the warehouse door close.
"You're back," Ani says.
"Yeah, not for lack of trying," Ray says, which isn't so much true.
They're on the set of the movie filming in Vinci, asking about Caspere, the Vinci city planner who got a producer credit on the movie. And that came with money.
The burgundy Cadillac that ferried Caspere's body to its resting place on the highway came from the set. A driver quit the week before "due to family issues," the movie's head of transportation tells Ani. He looks nervous.
Ray talks to the set photographer. Asks about Caspere. He's seen him. Said he heard Daisun, the director, and he partied together. Said he was at a party with a bunch of … "pussy." So they talk to the director, who is downright hostile. It's easy to see why everyone on set hates the movie, if this is the guy running it. This sounds like it could be the party the Vinci mayor, Chessani, talked about last episode. The director admits that he was at a party, but he says he drinks and can't remember more than that.
They talk to Caspere's secretary again. She was sent to there to collect tax documents. Why and who needs them, we don't know.
Blake returns and tells Frank that Stan is dead. Who the hell is Stan? Good question. He's Frank's guy — a henchman. He was in a scene or two previously. He pepper-sprayed the guy in the Mercedes in episode two. It's a big deal in the sense that somebody's going after Frank, one associate at a time. It would have been a much bigger deal if Stan had meant anything to the audience watching.
"Who the fuck's coming after me?" Frank asks. Another great question. It does seem to be the same people who did Caspere in, if only because Stan sure seems to have had his eyes tampered with.
Frank tells his guys to round up anyone who currently or used to work on their properties, tell them to get to Santos' place.
He's doing what Ani told him to do — visiting call girls to ask about seeing Caspere. At one point, there's an American Sniper billboard in the background. It's not subtle. He's drinking from a flask.
One guy he talks to saw Caspere before. Saw him at a club called Lux Infinitum. That's Santos' place. It's an expensive club, he says, trade runs through there, so there's a mix between party people and suits. He offers to get Paul in.
Ray says he builds models. He started with Chad, then by himself. There'a knock on the door. Ray goes outside. It's his ex-wife. Her husband is sniffling in the car. State police came to see her, she says. Two investigators. Asking about Ray, asking about if she'd seen extra cash, if she'd known about him being violent. If she knew or suspected that he "took retribution on the man who attacked her." She hands him an envelope filled with $10,000. She tells him to take it and go somewhere — and don't turn back. She thinks "it's a matter of time, Ray." He doesn't take the money.
Ani and Ray leave the house.
They're in the club. Paul bumps into Frank, literally. A bartender (or some other kind of employee) recognizes Caspere, says he liked to watch, which jives. Tascha is there, but we only see her from a distance. Dude says she used to work parties, hasn't been around lately, might've found a sugar daddy. Tascha is the woman who the mayor's assistant said was with Caspere at the party a month ago. Want to bet that the mayor's son threw the party?
Frank and a dozen or so of his former thug associates meet in the kitchen of Santos' club. At first, he suspects one of them is coming after him. Apparently satisfied that they didn't, he tells them that they are to ask everyone they know — hookers, mostly — whether they knew Caspere.
Santos will have none of it. He challenges Frank, believing that Frank's gone straight and soft. "You're the one who left that all behind," Santos says. "This ain't your club anymore."
Frank destroys him. He rips Santos' gold teeth out with a pair of pliers in front of everyone.
They visit the driver who quit the movie. He and his mom answer the door.
A fire flares up around the corner. A car is on fire. It's the burgundy Cadillac. They see someone in a white mask across the street. They chase after the suspect, running through a homeless encampment under an overpass. The runner is wearing some kind of mask. Ray saves Ani's life by pulling her out of the way of an oncoming truck.
She thanks him. "You want to thank me," Ray says, "tell me what the state has on me."
"I don't know," Ani says, and it seems like the truth. She may be the nominal leader of this investigation, but she's as much a pawn of higher powers with ulterior motives as anyone else.
Frank arrives home. He walks right past Jordan, like he's a robot. Pours a drink. She says she waited for him. He doesn't answer. Takes a drink. Throws Santos' bloody gold teeth in the trash. Jordan wants to make up.
"Do you want to talk?" she asks.
"Maybe tomorrow," he says.
Frank is not out. He's not the guy going straight anymore. He's back in. And he knows it.
There's a sad song — one man and an acoustic guitar played gently — that starts playing at the end of the episode and continues through the credits. It doesn't appear to have been released. It may have been recorded just for this episode.
These are the lyrics:
In time you find your way to release
And then it goes away again
What had been the strongest force against you
Becomes your only friend
You can't help but laugh
And I own your soul
A shadow unwanted by any on earth
Most of us rejoice
At your awful crying
We live to force you to regret your own birth
The balance of love is shifting
The title of this episode is also a strong contender for the best two-word encapsulating theme for this season. Every character has a place they want to be in their lives, and the constant interstitial helicopter shots of California freeways imply both that journey and intruding crossroads. Roads can lead you anywhere, not just the place you want to go.
Nobody is where they want to be. If you want to be optimistic — and they sometimes do — you can believe they might get there tomorrow. Maybe. But in True Detective, life and circumstances tend to intrude. This is not a world kind to optimists, and I sure wouldn't bet on it.
I have no inside information, but here are several things that stood out to me:
There are a lot of Russians milling about Vinci. Why?
Is there a connection between Osip Agranov and Mayor Chessani's Russian wife? Could he be working with or for the Russians against Frank?
I think it's a safe bet that Paul Woodrugh is attracted to men and doesn't want to be.
His personal dealings with anything sexual are all fraught with tension. Even his mother is improperly sexual toward him, with a string Oedipal complex vibe.
Each main character's childhood was in some sense traumatic.
Whether that's the writer, Nic Pizzolatto, making a point or just filling out back stories, we don't know. But that he spent time making sure we know that it's true and applies to everyone makes it important.
Everybody has an uneasy relationship with sex or sexuality.
We learned in the first episode that Ray and Frank became acquainted when Frank contacted him claiming to know who beat and raped his then wife.
We also learned that episode that Ray's wife had a child nine months later, that his doughy, red-haired son, Chad, looks nothing like him, and he wants no part of a paternity test.
We learn, indirectly, that Ray killed the accused and Frank helped him hide the body. They've been entwined ever since.
There's a brief flash of the man Frank killed in retribution. He was not fair-skinned, not doughy and didn't have red hair. In other words, he didn't look like Chad, either. And mom doesn't have red hair.
So: What if the man Ray killed wasn't the man who beat and raped his wife?
And if it wasn't, was it a mistake? Or is there a red-haired character in the show who might be the real culprit, but who framed the dead man? Frank said one of his guys heard about it at the time. More than one of Frank's henchmen has red hair. Which certainly does not make them guilty, but it makes you think. Did Frank know? Is this all a long con?