Nothing good or true grows in the Southern California of True Detective. It is a world of contaminated lands and barren wombs, unchecked corruption and hollow progress. Anything that takes root is a lie, be it profoundly crooked Frank Semyon’s doomed quest for legitimacy or profoundly confused Paul Woodrugh’s desperate want to be husband and father to pregnant Emily. If it had an “aura,” it would match Ray Velcoro’s — green and black, and so huge you can’t miss it… just like the show’s on-the-nose symbolism. Behold the hostile soil in Frank’s backyard, rejecting the avocado seed the way Jordan rejects his own.
This season of True Detective has been a flawed one, for sure, and the first four episodes haven’t been the equal for the first four of the show’s rookie year. But “Down Will Come” was the first outing that really didn’t do much for me at all. (And it’s not just because there weren’t any cryptic masks for me to decode this week, although I must confess: Huge friggin’ disappointment there.) Yeah, sure, there was that blood-pumping shoot-out to close the story. It was terrifying. The panic of heroes as they were pinned down by machine gun fire. The moment when one of the gunmen opened fire on the bus. The body count. But it lacked the bravura, subtext, and character-driven drama of the last season’s mid-point climax, the single-shot set piece, tracking Rust Cohle’s hellish trek through a Louisiana housing project. It was a furious, noisy sequence, but it failed to connect with the significance it was straining to reach. Which kinda sums up the entire season so far, actually.
If anything, “Down Will Come” showcased the season’s most alienating aspects in the most alienating ways. As much as I am provoked by the hard-boiled existentialism and intrigued by dystopian Vinci and its western wasteland environs (the show’s version of Southern California is its best wretched character), it’s hard to care about a worthless world that doesn’t want to be saved, and maybe shouldn’t. I’m this close to abandoning hope that a character will pop or a relationship will emerge to engage my emotions. It’s a lot of waiting around for miserable people to get the balls to confront their painful pasts or resolve their conflicted presents, or get so miserable that they finally change their ways, or just destroy themselves, already, and take Vinci down with them. It bothers me that Ani Bezzerides doesn’t have eyes to see what we see: That the conspiracy she is investigating is the secret origin story of her own f’d up life and her own f’d up world. (The closest she got to this epiphany was when she learned that Mayor Chessani, Dr. Pitlor, and Caspere spent time with The Good People, her father’s commune, in the early eighties. “Jesus, that’s some f—ing coincidence.” You think?!) She, like everyone else, has a complicated relationship to the notion of self-knowledge, enlightenment, etc., but the show is struggling to make that idea dramatically interesting.
And the dialogue this week: Ugh. Every time Frank opened his mouth, I braced myself to groan. I think the idea with Frank is that everything he does is about escaping and transcending his base stock, but he’s so hopelessly flawed and his strategies are so meaningless that every expression of this desire is doomed to fail, including his language. But his pretentious words and his convoluted phrasing come off, well, pretentious and convoluted. Even his pulpy tough talk is silly. The stuff with the sugar and the cavities? It’s hard to give him any benefit of the doubt when other characters talk this way, too. Like this one from Ani, recalling a vivid, random memory of her mom: “Those moments, they stare back at you. You don’t remember them, they remember you. Turn around and there they are. Staring.” I think this line might be telling us something important about Ani — this abdication of responsibility for her own memory is suspicious — but the truth is, I really don’t know what the hell that’s supposed to mean.
In general, “Down Will Come” left me feeling more discouraged than ever about this season. Maybe the best line of the night came from Ray’s blotto’d partner, Teague Dixon: “You know what? I could give a s—-t!” I’m not there yet. But I’m close.
NEXT: The recap proper. New and improved with brevity and snark!