“Other Lives” launched the second half of True Detective‘s love it/shrug-at-it second season by skipping ahead in time and putting its protagonists on the offensive. They’re finally on the road to revelation regarding Benjamin Caspere’s savage murder, finally knocking at the door of confrontation with sinister truths about themselves. I’m not sure the drama was all that improved (that scene between Paul Woodrugh and his mother… I mean, was I supposed to be laughing?), and the dialogue was never more ridiculous (I can’t rationalize or apologize for Frank Semyon’s way with words anymore, not after “blue balls of the heart”), but at least “Other Lives” left you feeling like you were getting somewhere. Including the end.
On the leading edge of this heroic transformation was Ray Velcoro, whose activation came with some ironies, like how he’s not truly a detective anymore or how he remains a bullying bag-man. He’s just not a bullying bag-man for both the bad guys and the good guys. Putting some of that retrograde Kirk Douglas tough-guy stuff to redemptive use, Ray knocked some teeth and some answers out of Evil Rick Springfield, a.k.a. Dr. Pitlor, the Hugo Strange in the Gotham of this batty California Gothic. (Dad would be proud, Ray. So would Flannery O’Connor. The violent bear it away.) He also learned something we suspected since the premiere: The original sin that caused him to fall from decency and damned with anti-hero identity — murdering the speed-freak that raped his maybe pregnant wife — had been a set-up fabricated by that devilish snake Frank Semyon, who sought to own his soul. The guy he killed wasn’t the rapist, just a patsy. The episode’s conspicuous literary reference was Carlos Castaneda’s A Separate Reality, a book I don’t pretend to understand and don’t remember much about (I tried to read it in a night during the Lost days), but I know it’s major theme is seeing reality — layers of reality, actually — as it really is. That was Ray, developing eyes to see through the veils of his world, and to see the other life he might’ve had had he not been corrupted or corrupted himself. These were unpleasant epiphanies, but important ones. It made him what Castaneda might hail as “a man of knowledge.”
There was something of that “time is a flat circle”/eternal recurrence stuff in “Other Lives,” too. Jumping ahead to January 2015, three months after the wild shootout that culminated last week’s episode, we found the characters in different places, different jobs, or different homes. Ray even had a different face… in that he had shaved the moustache. (In True Detective’s symbolic language, bare face = the removal of his mask = Ray is ready to see himself, and present himself to the world, as he is, for good or for ill.)
Yet while they were living other lives, they were still under the sway of their past ones if not reliving aspects of them (poor don’t-call-him-a-gangster gangster Frank, back to being a drug-running pimp), reincarnated souls working out their karma. Or dharma. Both? (Memo to self: Brush up on your Eastern religions, you hopelessly Western clod.) The more things change, the more things to stay the same. Everything came full circle when Ray, Paul, and Ani Bezzerides were recruited to join a new task force, an off-the-books squad working clandestinely for a crusader within the attorney general’s office to find Caspere’s killer and expose corruption. Avengers (Covertly) Assemble! These were the goals of the original task force, of course, except now everyone is on the same page and the team is working in secret. Occult agents waging war against the insidious conspiracy that rules their world? Call them: The Invisibles.
True Detective Season 2, Episode 5
Ray Velcoro. We found him 60 days sober and getting him cleaned up for a day of doing dirty work for Frank. Officially he’s a security officer at the Vinci Gardens Casino, but really, he does a bit of everything for Frank, most of it under-the-table underworld stuff, like collecting rents from the illegals living and squatting at the ghetto apartment complex Frank reclaimed last week. But he’s a good-hearted goon: We saw him giving a family a day’s grace when they came up $200 short on payday. He quit Vinci P.D. after the industrial quarter shootout and the subsequent shuttering of the task force. He’d been used to frame a patsy for Caspere’s murder, and more, murder him. None of that went down right, and he couldn’t abide by that.
NEXT: Ray gets his 60 days notice.