The mask is pallid like the moon, save for some war-paint red marking. They accent the pinhole eyes, suggesting illumination. Three bloody dots in the middle of the forehead form a triangle, a humble third eye chakra. The rest of the head is covered by a hoodie, the rest of the body clad in black. He—or she—is an occult figure: hidden; esoteric; a mystery representing awareness of secret knowledge. He could be a character from a Grant Morrison comic book. Maybe he is. But then, what isn’t a Grant Morrison reference, or an allusion to… well, any number of pop culture things? Cormac McCarthy. William Wyler’s Detective Story. Xena? In the paper mache world of True Detective, everything is recycled pulp.
The phantom stands across from a car that’s been set ablaze, gazing upon Ani Bezzerides and Ray Velcoro as they scan the area for the person responsible. Watching the detectives, just like us. The phantom risks being seen… but that might be what the phantom wants. More mystery dance in a season of illusion and misdirection. That mask looks like a Japanese theater mask with some Mr. Robot contour and bulk. This Noh-Man’s malingering? Could be Kabuki. Regardless: When Velcoro glimpses the creep, the creep runs.
The chase cuts through a homeless encampment in a vacant lot. The vibe: post-apocalyptic wasteland. The phantom navigates this obstacle course of wrecked humanity and cultural debris with American Ninja Warrior ease, hurdling cinder barricades and pushing through anyone in the way. But Ani Bezzerides is close behind, and Ray, close behind her, despite his aching chest. The chase is a metaphor: Investigators scrambling after enlightenment in the dark, in a world where everything is filth and lies, for dubious reward, risking doom. Is their quarry trying to elude them? Or leading them somewhere…
The phantom scampers down an embankment, sprints across a two-lane highway, leaps a guard rail and drops out of sight. Ani’s quarry is going to get away unless she can cross the blacktop or put him down ASAP, and so she jets into the highway with gun drawn…
Just as a truck roars around the corner of a dead man’s curve.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we?
True Detective season 2, episode 3
The Doom Patrol
Buckshot Apocalypse. Last week’s episode of True Detective ended with an Angry Birds shocker. Dirty pig Ray Velcoro was blown down by a gun-toting bogeyman wearing a dusky avian mask—most likely the same headdress that kept Ben Caspere’s corpse company during the drive in ep 1 to its final resting spot. But maybe not. Perhaps a murder of crow-helmed cosplayers is flocking around Hollywood. (Of course, the ornithology of that mask is still a puzzle. Crow? Raven? Falcon? Hawk? For now, we call this nightmare creature The Birdman.)
This week, we met Ray in dreams. Frank Semyon’s tavern clubhouse, to be exact, where a country crooner in a powder blue suit was throwing himself with passionate theatricality into a (lip-synched?) performance of “The Rose,” perhaps best known as one of Bette Midler’s signature hits. Elvis impersonator? Wrong. Conway Twitty impersonator.* Ray sat at the table usually reserved for his testy tête-á-têtes with the devil that owns him, Frank Semyon. But sitting in Frank’s spot was a symbol of rectitude and authority, an older man in a cop’s uniform played by Fred Ward. He looked like a smoked and severe David Lynch with tamer hair. A choice homage, given the Lynchian vibe. Welcome to Country Western night at The Black Lodge.
*Conway Twitty’s version of “The Rose”—recorded for his album Dream Maker—was a smash for the country legend. The B-side of that single? Twitty’s 1958 classic “It’s Only Make Believe.” He co-wrote it with frequent collaborator Jack Nance, who just happens to share a name with… frequent David Lynch collaborator Jack Nance. You know him best as Eraserhead.)
On the surface, the scene smacked of judgment. The subtext—animated by the Conway Twitty homage artist going through the motions in the background—spoke idol worship and subverting influence. We would come to know later that the gray-haired lawman sitting in Demon Frank’s spot was a representation of the dark man who sired him, Ray’s ailing, retired cop father, a grumpy old racist who pines for the days when there were strong, proud toughs like Kirk Douglas and white men could enjoy their privilege without feeling bad about it.
Here, though, Dusty Authority Dream Archetype spoke of Ray’s pops in the third person. “You have your father’s hands,” said DADA. Ray examined his fingers. The knuckles were chucked bloody. (Maybe from meting out some brutal justice to, say, the speed freak that raped his ex-wife Alicia?) When Ray confessed that his father made him nervous, DADA got frank and Frank-like bitchy. “Maybe you were already nervous. Maybe you lacked grit.” This indictment could mean any number of things regarding Ray, but what immediately came to mind was how Alicia judged Ray for his lack of courage to “stay decent.” Now that’s true grit.
DADA said Ray was a small man running for his life through a forest of giant men. DADA said they were aiming to shoot him to pieces. DADA said they wanted him dead. As Fake Twitty sang of “a soul afraid of dying, that never learns to live,” Ray finally questioned this nonsense. Where are we? “I don’t know,” said DADA. “You were here first.”
NEXT: Ray is pissed.