The pieces of the puzzle start to come together, culminating in a shocking (and very violent) cliffhanger.
Credit: Lacey Terrell/HBO

In a glass mansion on a hill overlooking the ocean, Frank Semyon lies in bed staring at a pair of water stains on the ceiling. They unnerve him like omens, these rusty blooms of rot. They are tiny twin maelstroms, sucking him into a void he’s been trying to escape his entire life, drowning him with ancient questions. What is real? Is life a dream? Did he die long ago and now haunts a realm of dead-end desire like a hungry ghost? And of course, the most important: When the hell will I finally be rich?! When Frank was six, his bad dad went on a bender and locked him in the basement. After the second day, when the light bulb burned out, the rats came for him. They nibbled at first. Then, they gnawed. The buggy blotches of omen on his million-dollar ceiling—thieving weevils nibbling at his store of worldly treasure—remind him of that harrow. They flood him with doubts about his own existence; they mock his want for permanence. Nothing lasts. There is legacy in land, but only if you have children, and he has none. You can’t take anything with you into death except yourself. “Whatever that was,” he tells his wife, joining him in his sleepless mope. Behold what is left of a man after a dark night of the soul: A yellow king, grieving his cracked mask. “It’s like everything is paper mache.”

“Honey,” replies Jordan, “have you been drinking with Rust Cohle again?”

“Night Finds You”

If you gaze into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you. From life-sapped Frank mulling his flagging fortunes, “Night Finds You” cut to another life sapped man through an inspired dissolve. Those splotches of decay were replaced by the burned-out eyes of a corpse lying on a slab. The graphic match created the fleeting illusion that Frank was staring up into these hollowed-out orbs, and that those floating dead eyes were looking down on him as God might do, if God existed in this world. The symbolism smacked actually of Nietzsche. Battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster, God is dead, yadda yadda abyss. (If Frank gets to project meaning upon likely meaninglessness, so do I. It’s the existential way!) The match also created symmetry between metaphorically dead Frank and the literal deceased, which was fitting as the DB in question was Frank’s treacherous business partner Ben Caspere, the corrupt city manager of profoundly corrupt Vinci, a fleecing weasel who took $5 million of Frank’s fortune and then lost it when he lost his life. And his eyes. And his penis. We got flashed with Caspere’s emasculation: It looked like the gaping hole that’s left after someone yanks a weed whole from the soil, root and all.

The coroner ticked off the deets and the damage. Ben Caspere: Expired October 26 (note the proximity to Halloween) between the hours of 4 and 9 AM. Alcohol and Xanax in system. Gonorrhea. Eyes burned out with hydrochloric acid, administered with droppers. Bound upside down or close to it. Heart attack as a result of trauma. Genitals obliterated by a 12 gauge shotgun blast. Now that’s a blow job… is an awful, awful pun that nobody in this scene uttered. Weirdly not discussed—in this scene, or at all in the episode—was the fact that whoever killed Caspere—or at least, whoever was responsible for driving his body up the coast and leaving it on a park bench by the ocean clearly wanted the corpse to be found. We might wonder why.

A series of cutaways over the course of this well-constructed sequence re-established our anti-heroic detective heroes and established their new relationship to each other. Ventura County Sheriff’s Detective Ani Bezzerides, Vinci Detective Ray Velcoro, and California Highway Patrol officer Paul Woodrugh—a CHiPs stud with a Chippendale’s body—have been assigned by their respective law enforcement agencies to investigate Caspere’s murder together. Yet their task force is a clusterf— of competing, corrupting interests. Each cop has a secret charge or hidden agenda; each wears a mask, one of the episode’s explicit and implicit motifs. Clock the ways in which the three-headed beast resembles or evokes eyeless, castrated, diseased Caspere:

Ani’s function as lead detective is to be the eyes of an investigation that runs every risk of being misled and blinded from within by its poisonous agent, Velcoro, a compromised cop owned by an array of Vinci demons. Indeed, Ray’s secret agenda is to “control the sprawl” of the inquiry, to “control the flow of information.” Even he’s not sure what that means. “Just one question,” he asks. “Am I supposed to solve this or not?” Paul’s clandestine mandate is to collect intel for a state probe into Vinci corruption. If he does well, the attorney general’s office will make those (bogus?) charges of sexual misconduct go poof (see last episode) and bump him up to state detective. He’d settle for simply regaining the thing missing between his legs. “When this is over, can I just go back to being on the bike?”

NEXT: A history of Vinci

How The West Was Won. Amid the complex sweep of Caspere post-mortem and character check-ins, we also got a history lesson about Vinci, California, a fiction inspired by the Bear State’s notoriously bad burgh of Vernon. In the high strange pulp of True Detective, it feels simultaneously gritty-real and like some mythic representation of the most cynical critique of capitalism if not America in general. The symbolically loaded décor in the office of Vinci’s third-generation power broker mayor, Austin Chessani, tells a tale of a place that sold out its people to advance the interest of Big Business. On the wall, an old Diego Rivera-style workers mural, perhaps a relic of the New Deal era. On the shelf behind the mayor’s desk, a framed photo of two oily, oligarchical CEO-style chief execs, Chessani and the second President Bush, shaking hands.

It was “a vice haven” in the beginning, the Mos Eisley of California, a wretched hive of scum and villainy. I’m imagining Deadwood on the coast. Then, in the 1920s, new pirates replaced the old. Under Mayor Chessani’s granddad, Vinci became a haven for industry. Neighborhoods were rezoned for manufacturing, displacing the residents. Few if any of the laborers who pull the levers and turn the cranks in in this misbegotten Metropolis live here. Apparently, 70,000 people come in and out of Vinci each day. Many of them undocumented. Even Vinci’s reigning Moloch commutes: Mayor Chessani hangs his crooked hat in Bel Air. The current, official population? Just 95.

Vinci’s name means “victory.” We wonder, though, what exactly was gained here, and at what cost, and if anyone really cares. All billowing smokestacks, poisonous run-off basins, and more billowing smokestacks, this vast, poisonous industrial complex is the worst polluter in the state, crapping out 27 million pounds of toxic waste. (“Move on! Peligroso!” Ray yelled at the kids playing in a toxic aqueduct. They brushed him off by flipping him the bird.) (Also remember: The tone-setting though unexplained shot that opened last week’s premiere—a parcel of land dotted with ominous markers, a sign declaring CONTAMINATED. If this is Vinci, the image tells that this place is corrupt to core. Did it also tease some endgame development? Will Vinci be declared a cultural Chernobyl and get shut down?) The EPA has been trying to sue Vinci into changing its filthy habits, but it’s the perspective of the dirty pols running the extant agencies bent on making Vinci clean up its act are more concerned with what it’s withholding than what it’s expelling: In the last election, Mayor Chessani pushed through an initiative that allows the city to keep 75 percent of its tax revenue for the next eight years, denying the county coffers $900 million. Mayor Chessani is convinced that the state probe into Vinci is a shakedown in disguise, and you wonder if he has a point. (“This probe is very important to the governor’s office,” AG Geldof told Paul. Foreshadowing flag: Planted?) If the love of money—literally and metaphorically—is the root of all kinds of evil, then root, thy name is Vinci.

Still Life of a Blinded Eunuch. The prevailing thought was that Caspere was tortured and brutalized. But I saw meaning in these precisely applied, deliberately-inflicted injuries. It called to mind the crime that catalyzed season 1 of True Detective, a ritualized slaying in which the corpse was defiled with pagan and religious symbolism—a coded message from the killer to be broken. Caspere’s body got me thinking of Matthew 18:7-9: “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.” Yes, those are some severe remedies for bad people, bad habits and a bad culture that allows degrading vice to flourish and inherent vice to go uncorrected… but then, this season is fixated with bad people, bad habits, bad cultures, and severe remedies for all. (This week in the season’s survey of distinctly SoCal, possibly odious self-help gurus: Dr. Piltor, a leathery shrink played by Rick Springfield doing an impression of movie producer Robert Evans doing an impression of movie director Michael Cimino.) What Ray said about the father of the bad kid he beat to a pulp last week: “I don’t know anything about that, but you know, sometimes, a good beating provokes good personal growth.” Ben Caspere’s murder: S&M gone haywire? Grotesque self-correction? Religiously-charged vengeance against a sexual deviant? Or the sick centerpiece of conspiracy—which might have included Caspere himself—to expose and collapse the web of evil that emanates from Vinci? Again: Someone wanted that body to be found. And that someone might have been Caspere himself.

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things. Before giving himself over to the task force, Paul had to take care of some personal business. First stop: Greasy fast food with the flirty and frayed woman he calls mother … although Nancy Simpson kinda wishes he wouldn’t. “Don’t give me that Mom shit. It’s too late for that now,” she cooed, sucking in a cigarette and sipping from glass crusted with salt or sugar or something. She’s got cold sores. The syphilitic trailer trash sexpot makes money working shifts at a diner. Sure she does.

Nancy stroked Paul’s muscular back and admired his taut arms as he stripped the breading off the KFC chicken he brought her. “So strong.” She told him about running into Paul’s prom date from high school, mocks her. When he defended the girl—“She was nice to me”—Mom countered: “All the girls are nice to you, Pauly. You haven’t figured that out by now?” She smiled a sly smile from behind that crusty rim.

NEXT: Yep, we’re going to talk about Oedipus.

Mom asked him to stay the night. Twice. “We can watch a Clint mooooooovie,” she wooed. When Paul tried to nix her date night sleepover pitch by telling her he was “working on something,” she interrupted him with a jealous assumption about said work: “WHO IS SHE?” Mom snapped. “Little scamp. You got hound’s blood, just like your daddy.”

Mom’s clear sexual interest in Paul was unsettling, for sure. How did you interpret that “Don’t give me that Mom shit. It’s too late for that now” line? Just a confession of bad mothering—or a proof of incest? Regardless, count it as one more allusion to Oedipus in a story full of them. Where are we going with this? I don’t know. But here’s a thought: Just like the politically minded L.A. conspiracy noir of Chinatown (which hinged on an incest twist), L.A. Confidential (which hinged on a land-grab scheme linked to a major transportation project), and Inherent Vice (which hinged on a wealthy, morally sketchy real estate mogul’s doomed bid for atonement, much to the chagrin of various crooked interests), this season of True Detective (which contains echoes of all the aforementioned) seems to hinge anti-heroes steeped in the cynicism of their culture choosing to overcome their inherited worldview and pursue actions that could affect just change. Now, Oedipal theory is more than just the contention that deep down, all boys want to kill their dads and get with their Mom. It explains why we blindly follow the rules of our culture. Fearing punishment for our socially unacceptable desires, we internalize the moral codes of society for the sake of survival. Okay. But what if the society is like Vinci, and the moral code of the culture is rotten with inherent vice, which is to say, defective and worthless? What a bind! We’re screwed! So maybe True Detective is saying that for the world to change, we need to reboot the operating systems we’ve downloaded from their culture. Or just kill our dads. Or both! Which is kinda what Ray starts to do when he defies godfather Frank after his ex-wife kills his illusion of fatherhood…

But we were talking about Paul, weren’t we?

Mom’s fixation with her hunky Nancy boy was part of the episode’s sexual objectification of Paul, a provocative choice for various reasons, including that it comes after criticism of the first season of True Detective for its sexual objectification of women. (Also see: Ray pitching Paul to work undercover pumping prostitutes for intel on Caspere. “He’d be smooth for that.”) Is he gay? We heard him slag homosexuals with an epithet while recounting an encounter with a man who hit on him—“I almost clocked the guy,” he said, protesting a touch too much—but then we saw him on his apartment balcony, ogling two men in angel costumes and another man loitering in a park, waiting for action. If Paul wears his new century macho man persona like a mask, it’s starting to slip.

Applying Oedipus complex to Paul in the most general sense: He’s a mess of competing drives he doesn’t understand and maybe doesn’t want to know. To appropriate Mayor Chessani’s diagnosis of his lost soul son: He probably couldn’t handle “the deep” trip through his “hidden web.” He needs the “consciousness expansion,” though, lest he “destroy” himself and others. Paul’s defining scene: Parting ways with the other woman in his life. Whereas Mom was all hot-and-bothered shoulder rubs, Emily is all cold shoulder. She’s totally into Paul—we remember the way she hungrily dug into him when he emerged from that shower with his pill-popped boner; we remember her frustration when he refused to stay with her and give more of himself to her—but she’s had it with his ambivalence, his distance, his secrets. She has to find out from the Internet about the allegations brought against him by starlet with Lindsay Lohan-like alliterative name (Lacey Lindel) and about his work with a shady military contractor called Black Mountain Security. “I told you: I don’t talk about the desert,” he huffed. Emily sees him as having some irreparable defect—“whatever happened to you, I can’t fix it”; “you’re not right”—and she won’t suffer it anymore. He snaps: “Who am I supposed to be?!” As Paul packs his bag for the task force mission that’ll keep him away from home for awhile, Emily tells him to stay lost: She can’t be with him anymore. Paul’s response is fascinating. He doesn’t want her—I think he keeps her because a man like the man he’s supposed to be should want her—but he refuses to accede to a break-up because he can’t submit to her narrative that he has failed her as a friend, lover and most of all a man. “It’s on you, not on me,” he seethes, refusing to accept any responsibility for her unhappiness, or himself. “You’re doing this. This isn’t me doing this. This isn’t me.” This isn’t me. Okay, then. What are you, Paul Woodrugh? And do you really want to know?

NEXT: Breaking bad with Frank Semyon

Paul in general is quickly shaping up to be a rather queer bit of male representation. A scarred soldier with a guilty conscience, he’s a shattered gung-ho action hero. An impotent lover, he’s a buggy sex machine. The vibe I get from Paul is that he’s used and abused husk of a man whose want for simplicity is his way of avoiding (or voiding) the rage and shame and conflict and hopelessly knotty whatever within him. Can I just go back to being on the bike? To borrow a phrase from Salon’s Sonia Saraiya, Paul is a “broken myth of masculinity.” In a recent essay about the subject—part of a larger look at the depiction of rape on TV—Saraiya writes that True Detective “is a show with many faults, but it does attempt rather dramatically to tell a big story about masculinity in this world. And what it seems to tell is that the myth of masculinity we currently are all invested in is purely unsustainable. … If the mythos of masculinity is a beautiful, irresistible supernova, True Detective offers a vision of the collapsed, soul-sucking black hole it really is.” Damn. I wish I could think and write like that.

“I need a direction to turn, or I just might start pulling down walls.” While badly broken Paul tried not to question his failing manhood, Frank broke bad to recover his own. In wake of his paper mache apocalypse, Frank was ripped with a revelation that turned him apoplectic. The criminal entrepreneur had liquidated most of his assets and double-mortgaged the glass manse and Vinci’s prime-time den of iniquity, The Poker Room, in order to gamble on a scheme driven by a company called Catalyst to snatch up undeveloped land surrounding a proposed high speed rail line that would run through California. This was going to be the thing that made him legit, that (white)washed his stained life clean, that gave him legacy (children pending). But Frank’s secret partner and acting bank, the shady and now dead Ben Caspere, had failed to complete the transaction with Catalyst to purchase Frank’s parcels. Worse, Frank’s $5 million? Missing.

Frank thought Catalyst should honor his agreement with Caspere, anyway. After all, he had taken on some serious risk on behalf of Catalyst—his disposal company took responsibility for their chemical run-off; he had eaten their sh-t, so to speak—to earn the privilege to buy into the deal. Catalyst said no, but they did offer him the opportunity to buy the same tracts again—and at a lower price than Caspere was charging (or rather, overcharging) him. Caspere, it seems, was screwing Frank from the start. (But why?)

Such was the catalyst for Frank’s reckless bid to rectify his “diminished” fortune, his impotent agency, his faltering immortality project—you know, the usual first world Walter Whitey anti-hero problems. Way to be audacious! Dare to hope! Reclaim your (warped) American Dream! He needed big breaks ASAP—hustling new revenue; retrieving “every dime” Caspere swindled—and he couldn’t trust his Velcoro “to make like Rockford” and make them for him, so he rounded up his old goon squad and got dirty again. He scored some success—muscling a sweatshop bookie put some strut in his step— but every turn brought disconcerting confrontations with his suddenly precarious place in the Vinci power structure. He went to Mayor Moloch and tried to bully him for grace on his weekly tithe. “I need a direction to turn, or I just might start pulling down walls,” he said, a veiled threat. Chessani wouldn’t be cowed. He made it clear that he owed Frank no favors, not even for helping his drug-addled “Destroyer” son out of a coke-nosed jam, and he also made it clear that he’s ready to let a mysterious new player in Vinci move on Frank’s action if Frank can’t continue to produce.

Working intel provided by Velcoro that Caspere was into kinky sex and hookers, Frank visited The Poker Room to quiz the prostitutes there. Throughout these scenes, we learned through throwaway lines that Frank worked his way up the underworld ladder, doing time as The Poker Room’s manager before assuming ownership of it six years ago from one Gene Slattery. (With Mayor Chessani’s permission, of course.) “I don’t miss this place,” Frank says to Danny Santos, The Poker Room’s new manager. Santos technically works for Frank, but even this up-and-coming thug—this next gen Frank—has no fear of Frank. “I hope this goodwill doesn’t go unnoticed,” said Santos after one of his girls provides promising intel about Caspere. “Everyone needs friends. See?” He smiles, flashing Frank the gold grill on his front teeth. Printed on them: “F— YOU.” Ballsy. Frank could only manage a weak smile in response. Diminished indeed.

Tear it down, Frank. Tear down the whole damn thing that is Vinci. I think that’s exactly what The Caspere Conspiracy wants you to do. They wound you up by destroying you, so that you would be catalyzed to destroy everything else. Become The Destroyer, Frank! Tear it down!

NEXT: A trip to the “good” doctor.

The “Good” People. The official detective work in the episode was driven largely by our so-called heroes, Ani and Velcoro. First stop for the shotgun-wedded partners: Caspere’s ransacked, erotica cluttered Vinci home. Quipped Ani: “The guy really thought about f–king a lot.” And maybe… so does she? For later in the episode, we would see her scrolling through a website for escorts, pushing an array of “naughty girls”—all research for the investigation, I thought—until she came upon some porn. She didn’t need to watch it, but she did. When her sheriff’s department partner Elvis called to say he had a lead on the missing maid they were looking for last episode—there might be something to check out in the town of Guerneville (flag that location; we’re coming back to it)—it was all she could do to rush him off the phone so she could get back to watching.

Next, Ani and Velcoro visited Caspere’s psychiatrist, or at least the curious man who played the part. Dr. Pitlor ran a hillside mind-body makeover mill catering to the wealthy somewhere North of Los Angeles. Available to customers: psychiatry, plastic surgery, and “a small group of professionals that provide a variety of services.” (Whatever that meant. Most likely: Prescription drugs.) I’m not sure exactly where Dr. Pitlor was based, but I’d guess Ojai, the spiritual inverse (or analog, depending of your POV) of Vinci, an idyllic haven of days spas, conventional and unconventional religion, and certain establishments owned by Social Betterment Properties International, a.k.a., Scientology. Note the Mission style architecture, dig the correlation: Pitlor “serves” and “saves” Californians the way the Catholic Mission System—the mechanism by which the Spanish claimed and settled California—served and saved the indigenous population via their collection of… well, social betterment properties. (The more things change…) Visible on Dr. Pitlor’s bookshelf: The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts On Reclaiming The American Dream by one Barack Obama. Are we to trust or doubt Dr. Pitlor’s claims of being an earnest, noble servant of individual improvement and social redemption? TBD. (Was True Detective casting shade on President Obama as an agent of change? If so, maybe not best week to argue the point. #LoveWins)

For now, Dr. Pitlor follows Ani’s existiential-zen New Age guru father as a Rorschach test for our attitudes about modern remedies for brokenness—despair, anxiety, painful past, guilt—and the notion of brokenness itself. If we choose to not assume the worst about Dr. Pitlor (my inner cynic is trying to convince me of a psychic predator who profits on people’s vanity and neuroses by enabling and stoking them), then maybe he’s actually telling the truth when he said that for three years, he had been trying to help Caspere manage and modulate his voracious sexual appetites and peculiar proclivities. Taken together with other testimony about Caspere—and assuming that it’s all true—we got a picture of perv addicted to hookers, masochism and voyeurism. “He was sexually obsessed,” said Dr. Pitlor, describing Caspere’s demons and history, his pit lore (get it?), “but he was never aggressive. More… passive.” He seemed to emphasize that, even take knowing pleasure in the word. Passive. Dr. Pitlor said Caspere was partial to “young women”—for now, I’m going to assume that he meant “much younger than Caspere,” not that Caspere was into pedophilia—and that he used escorts to satisfy that hunger, and that the practice of consuming prostitutes in this way “ignited him shame and tremendous self-loathing, which resulted in further damaging tendencies.” Sing it with me! Caspere, the horny old goat, the horniest old goat you know!

Last week, Ani kept on bumping into people she knew in the course of her job. Her sex worker sister. Her hippie father. Wouldn’t you know it, Dr. Pitlor knew her, too. It was in the late 70s/early 80s, when Dr. Pitlor was “doing some social theory” with “The Good People,” a commune run by Elliot Bezzerides, Ani’s dad. Ani was one of five kids raised among The Good People, although according to Ani, none of them turned out so good—including herself. A most conspicuous detail about The Good People: The commune was based in Guerneville, California—the same NoCal city that may hold an important clue to the whereabouts of the missing maid Ani’s partner is looking for, a maid that once worked Elliot’s Panticapaeum Institute. Ani’s world is small indeed, and maybe intentionally so. Do the myriad roads in this mystery lead back to a Bezzerides family secret, to some sinister creation myth Ani must confront?

With her knives and her rings, her stone cold attitude and her cigarette smoking, Ani is tough—almost ostentatiously so. Maybe it’s the performance and the writing, but her hardness feels more synthetic than is sincere. And that might be part of the point with her. (That cigarette is an E-cig, after all.) Also: Hypocrite? “I don’t distinguish between good habits and bad habits,” she told Ray, never mind that last episode, she totally got in the faces of her sister and father for their degrading patterns and morally ambivalent postures. The blades she keeps hidden on her person? Equalizers. “The fundamental difference between the sexes is that one can kill the other their bare hands,” she said. “A man of any size lays hands on me they’re going to bleed out in under a minute.” (And with that, the clock on Chekov’s Knife began ticking…) She scored a good point here, though, one that I’m ashamed to say I never thought about before in my male privileged life: “Could you do this job if everyone can physically overpower you? No man could go around like that without going nuts.” (I immediately thought of Frank, going mad from being “diminished” in his world, threatening “to tear down walls” if he can’t be right-sized.)

Velcoro’s response to Ani’s knife philosophy? “Well, just so you know, I’m a feminist. Mostly by having body image issues.” Which just might have been the funniest (and most meta?) line ever in this show. I’m trying to decide if Ani is True Detective’s idea of a “strong woman” or if the show is commenting on/critiquing a certain representation of female strength—the hard-core, kick-ass warrior woman, common to our pulp/superhero genres—the way it wants to comment on/critique male representation. We’ll see.

NEXT: Enter The Birdman

Fear The Birdman. “Night Finds You” was another terrible, no good, very bad stretch of days for Ray Velcoro, and yet, when this all over, he just might remember them as the best thing that ever happened to him… provided he’s still alive.

The turning point came when Ray showed up for a model-making play date with this son, Chad. Instead, Velcoro was met by his ex and Chad’s birth mother, Alicia, looking totally put together for a woman Velcoro painted in the pilot as a total wreck. (Perhaps that was just a bad patch, a long time ago, if any of what Ray said was true at all.) Horrified by Velcoro’s actions last week, when he thrashed Bully Aspen’s dad and threatened him with worse if Chad was harmed again, Alicia told Ray that he would never again be allowed to see Chad unsupervised, and that she and her new husband were suing for sole custody.

Ray tried to fight back. He cited the vengeance he executed on her behalf, the time long ago when he dealt severely with the speed freak that raped her (and got her pregnant with Chad?). “You didn’t do that for me,” she snapped back. Velcoro thunder-blubbered about his right to action by natural law, and it may indeed be the view of True Detective that brute justice is our default factory setting, but it also seems to believe we should aspire to something better, even if it doesn’t come naturally. Note how in Alicia’s response, decency is a choice, and something that must worked at, like a discipline, like a good habit. “You were good at being decent, you were fine, until something happened,” she said. “You weren’t strong enough to stay stay decent.” Alicia said she’d petition for a paternity test if Velcoro didn’t submit. Velcoro, defeated, tried one last lame plea. “I’m a piece of shit, but that boy is all I have in my shitty life.” Her response: “He deserves better.”

Alicia’s scolding dispelled what few illusions Velcoro may have had about being a good man and good father, or any kind of man or father at all. Goodbye model-making playdates; poof! goes Ray’s modal reality. But what happened next interesting. With Chad taken from his life, with his identity in flux, Velcoro started to act in a way that you could call decent. Driving back from their interview with Dr. Pitlor, Velcoro uttered the line that serves as the season’s thematic tagline: “My strong suspicion is, get the world we deserve.” Hopeless resignation? Sure. But it also felt to me like a man coming to grips with the consequences of his bad choices. In the same car ride, Velcoro came thisclose to confessing to Ani that he was exactly as corrupt as advertised, and you could argue that he effectively did. He admitted to being a creature of too many uncorrected bad habits. “Never lost one yet,” he said. In an effort to “effect transparency,” he even told Ani that their task force was a sham. “How compromised are you?” she asked. Velcoro didn’t answer, but his long stare and silence told Ani the truth she needed to know.

Ray also evidenced signs of renewed decency during a sit-down with the devil who owned his soul. Frank wanted to pass along the intel he gained from The Poker Room prostitute who once partied with Caspere: The kinky Vinci city manager kept a secret sex pad in Hollywood. Frank wanted Velcoro to canvass the joint, see if he could find clues to the whereabouts of the missing money. He pumped up his bag man by teasing him with a promotion: Velcoro could be chief of police if everything goes according to Frank’s master plan.

Ray balked. Why the hell would he want that job? Frank—exasperated by the increasing amount of “F— you” defiance coming his way—snapped right back: “Did I asked you if you wanted that?” Besides, he said, chief of police was $300K a year gig. That kind of coin, Velcoro could afford a good family lawyer. But Velcoro couldn’t be moved by the appeal. His son was gone; fatherhood for him was in the past. “I got no reason to keep doing this.” Velcoro’s musings continue to rattle Frank. “Everyone’s got the one option if you want it bad enough,” he said, suggesting… suicide? Running away? Doing the right thing? “You used to be a hard man,” Frank said, throwing money at him. “I don’t want to hear you talk like that again.”

After Frank left, the scarred bar maid who’s always been sweet on Ray propositioned him. “It’s too late for that, darling, and about a million other things.” Velcoro walked away, leaving Frank’s dirty money behind.

Ray went to Caspere’s Hollywood house, anyway. For Frank? For truth, justice and Ani? Debate. Tracking Velcoro’s approach to the home, the camera catches a car parked across the street. It’s the veritable death cab that ferried Caspere’s dressed and spectacled corpse from Los Angeles to Ventura County. (Not to sound like “The Californians” on SNL, but the shot of the sedan getting on the 405 north from Mulholland Drive? Well, that’s nowhere near Hollywood, but it is damn close to Bel Air, where Mayor Chessani lives. Just sayin’.)

Ray broke into the home through the kitchen door. First conspicuous detail: The kitchen sink. It was full of water due to the dripping faucet. Suggesting no one had been there in awhile. (But why the full sink? Maybe someone should check the pipe. Maybe something’s stuck in the pipe.) Second conspicuous detail: Music. Coming from a room around the corner. Velcoro drew his gun and followed the melody of into…

A room cluttered with conspicuous details. An old time radio. A leather swing-like thing—most likely, a harness for kinky horseplay—hanging from the ceiling. A collection of animal masks hanging from hooks on the wall, with one clearly missing. A table with a small collection of books, including one with the word ARAKI in red letters on the binding. Most likely: A survey of the work of Nobuyashi Araki, a Japanese fine art photographer known for (among other things) his erotic images of bound women.

Oh, and there’s big freakin’ pool of blood on the floor, too.

Ray—feeling safe for some reason—holstered his gun to investigate the room more thoroughly. He opened a mirrored door. Inside: a digital video camera on tripod linked by cable to (I think) a modem. The camera swiveled, perhaps heeding instruction inputted from afar. Someone likes to watch. Someone might be watching right now.

Enter The Birdman.

A figure clad in black. Face hidden behind an elaborate, feathery mask. Crow? Raven? And while I’m calling him The Birdman, I’m not assuming gender. Like Velcoro, I’m a feminist, too.

Ray heard The Birdman sneaking up on him. He pulled his gun and turned, but The Birdman—armed with a shotgun—got the drop on him. The blast put Velcoro on the ground. Then Birdman walked over, stood over him, and fired again, square in the chest.

“Nevermore,” said The Birdman. “Nevermore…”

Okay, the Poe quoting didn’t happen. But a long pull-back from the house and a fade to black did, and it was there that “Night Finds You” came to an end. Gasp. I gotta say, nothing like a cliffhanger and a Birdman to get me invested: I liked the episode a lot more than the pilot. So: Is Ray Velcoro goners? Who’s The Birdman? Has the Louisiana-based animal-masked pedophile murder cult from season 1 found its way to California? (Westward, Ho!) I can tell you—I’ve seen the first twenty minutes of the next episode—but that would be spoiling. Until next week, True Detectives. The board is yours.

Addendum! About the opening credit sequence, set to Leonard Cohen’s sinister tome poem tune “Nevermind.” It was slightly different this week—or at least was in the screener provided by HBO. In episode one, the sequence ended with these stanzas:

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

Well disguised.

In episode two, the verses were replaced with these:

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

Nevermind, nevermind

I live the life I left behind

There’s truth that lives

And truth that dies

I don’t know which

So Nevermind.

Why the switch? Man, I wish I could tell you: It’s probably the only thing in this episode I did not overanalyze into smithereens! Any thoughts?

Episode Recaps

True Detective
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