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True Detective, Ep. 2.02, “Night Finds You”

True Detective, Ep. 2.02, “Night Finds You”

True Detective, Season 2, Episode 2, “Night Finds You”
Written by Nic Pizzolatto
Directed by Justin Lin
Airs Sundays at 9pm (ET) on HBO

Unlike True Detective‘s premiere, the second episode of the season, while still overbearingly morose, at least manages to make some headway, with both more realistic character development and interesting details in the investigation of Ben Caspere’s murder. Much of the hour still comes off as a parody of classic noir, especially the sections involving Vince Vaughan, but as more time is spent with these characters there is at the very least a feeling that the show has a purposeful direction for the season, rather than just being content to wallow in sadness and despair. This sense is helped significantly by the episode’s final scene, which is an effective cliffhanger whether the character of Ray Velcoro elicits strong personal feelings positively, negatively, or not at all. It comes about pretty suddenly when considering how early in the investigation the team is at this stage, but it packs a punch regardless of whether or not it’s come at the best possible moment. But more on that later.

The most interesting part of the team’s efforts currently are the ways municipal politics, government involvement, and personal backgrounds are being woven together to paint a picture of not just flawed cops but a flawed system. Caspere’s death has far bigger ripples than the just way it impacts Frank’s dealings, and a conveniently-timed investigation by the States Attorney’s Office into Vinci means there might be people in higher positions with something to hide, people that are about to come out of the woodwork. True Detective won’t ever be as good at representing the political nonsense that goes on behind the scenes as, say, The Wire (although what show could be?), but the presence of Wire vet Michael Hyatt and a commitment to explaining minor details that probably won’t matter down the road allows the show to seem more legitimate in its exploration of corruption in local government.

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Instead of simply using this corruption as the background for sad cops dealing with their problems, this episode proves that all of these aspects can be incorporated in a way that seems real and worthwhile. One of the best sequences is that which splices together the autopsy results with the team assignments and their meetings with their superiors. Breaking up the explanation of gory murder details with interstitials of each officer receiving their case dossiers and requests from the government not only gives the audience a break from hearing graphic descriptions, but it allows the trio of cops to react to the dead body while they surreptitiously assess their new partners. Each of Paul, Ani, and Ray know a few facts about the others’ dirty laundry and have to now figure out how to use that to their best advantage. Ani is too smart to be blindsided by Ray’s connection with Frank, so it makes sense that she knows and confronts him about it early.

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Frank’s side of the show, still connected to the team mostly via Ray, is less encouraging. It is admirable that Vince Vaughan wants to take on more dramatic and menacing roles like this, but he can’t keep up with what is being asked of him and it is a detriment to the show. He moves as if his major organs are made of concrete and speaks like he’s smothering an accent thicker than Farrell’s real-life brogue, which is of course not the case. It takes the audience out of his scenes, which is unfortunate because they are some of the more charged moments of the episode. Frank has the most to lose from this situation and he needs pick up the pieces of this broken deal sooner rather than later, lest he risk his entire life’s work being taken away from him, yet it seems as if Vaughan is acting through gelatin at all times. Kelly Reilly is even more perioheral here than she was in the premiere, which is a disappointment as she is the better performer of the two. Hopefully in the coming episodes she will get to do more than lay in bed as the supportive wife. Similarly, it is a tragedy that Abigail Spencer, one of the best actresses currently working, shows up to be only a shrill and angry ex-wife. She’s obviously in the right when it comes to Ray’s treatment of his son; it is unfortunate that the show feels the need to have her stand around and yell when the point has already been made pretty concretely in other ways. If the cliffhanger pans out in the deadliest way possible, then there probably won’t be much more for Spencer to contribute, which is a shame.

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The end of the episode, when Ray is shot by a man in one of the mysterious crow masks last seen in the car of the person who dumped Caspere’s body, is a shock almost completely because of when in the season it occurs. Last year the deadly attack on a main character didn’t happen until the end of the season’s run, which is the more narratively expected time at which to deploy something of this magnitude. There is assuredly a way that Ray could live through two gunshot wounds to the stomach, but he will not be as much of a part of the investigation for a few episodes if he is sidelined with this type of wound. After the weird and pained conversations between Velcoro and Bezzerides while driving around, maybe this is a good thing. It makes sense that he is meant to live through this, as the crow purposely aims for his torso with both shots. It would stand to reason that this organization needs something from Ray or wants to use this attack as a warning for the others who are investigating, which could have interesting narrative implications. It doesn’t land with as much of a wallop as it could only because the audience most likely isn’t attached to Ray as someone to even remotely root for at this point. The importance of whether he lives or dies matters more to the overall story than because the character is nice to have around. Most interestingly, it confirms that the crow(s) are not going away silently and have enough to protect that shooting a cop is a readily accepted option.

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Other Notes: 

  • Rick Springfield is here! The singer guest starring as Caspere’s shrink is a nice surprise, and not just because it allows people to change lyrics to his songs to True Detective related things.
  • Paul’s dialogue continues to include the weirdest, blandest, moodiest lines and he fails to contribute much to the episode.
  • Are the crow masks available via retail locations, or does this organization get them custom made by a personal mask guy?