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True Detective, Ep. 2.03, “Maybe Tomorrow”

True Detective, Ep. 2.03, “Maybe Tomorrow”

True Detective, Season 2, Episode 3, “Maybe Tomorrow”
Written by Nic Pizzolatto
Directed by Janus Metz Pedersen
Airs Sundays at 9pm (ET) on HBO

By far the worst thing about this week’s third episode of True Detective’s second season is that it feels mostly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Not that it is entirely clear at this point what “the grand scheme of things” even is, but there is a massive difference between world-building and complete pointlessness. After Ray’s survival quickly resolves last week’s cliffhanger, the rest of the episode consists mainly of the team pursuing leads in various places around Vinci and Los Angeles. It may be representative of good police work, not to mention how readily it presents opportunities for the leads to interact with each other at length on car rides and strolls, but it doesn’t make for very compelling television. A show can be maudlin if it is also interesting, and True Detective is only successfully accomplishing one of these things right now. With the season nearly halfway through and no increase in pacing readily apparent in the near future, any expected upswing in the second half may not be coming. This sophomore effort is very much in danger of getting stuck in neutral when it has all the pieces to be much more elaborate and entertaining.

Not all pieces of “Maybe Tomorrow” are entirely without merit, fortunately. The opening sequence, before it is revealed whether Velcoro is alive or not, is the type of weird distorted reality that True Detective has accomplished so effectively in the past. Set in the dive bar where Ray has spent so much of his time thus far, a man performs Conway Twitty’s “The Rose” to a room devoid of people except for him and his father. On paper, it sounds fairly straightforward, but for the question of whether it is a dream or a vision of heaven. Yet the tight shot of the singer that slowly pans backwards as he performs, together with the surreal lighting and costume design that don’t quite fit with the rest of the show’s world, forces the audience to pay extra attention to what is happening simply because of the eye catching nature of the shot. It’s the type of tableau that Cary Fukanaga did so well in season one and it puts the viewer back on their heels from the start. All of this together with Ray’s father’s speech and a close up of a gory shotgun wound in Ray’s chest leaves the question of his mortality to the last minute possible. The conversation itself gives insight to Ray’s internal monologue: how much he has in common with his father, the fact that he might actually wish he were dead, the tangents his brain goes on when left to its own devices. It is a sharp left turn from the monotony of the rest of the season and largely welcome.

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The rest of the episode simultaneously weaves through each major player in the mystery of Ben Caspere’s death and seems to stand completely still. The most fun Ani gets to have is dressing down Ray for entering a potential crime scene without alerting her and for running through a camp of homeless people in pursuit of a masked man. Neither amounts to much on a character level, and both are overshadowed by Ray’s gloominess when all is said and done. When Ani tries to end things with her hookup from the first episode, who is also an employee of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, Rachel McAdams has legitimate trouble delivering the dialogue without bursting into laughter. After all that has been made of her adherence to authority, it doesn’t even make sense that Ani would set herself up to be embarrassed at work by sharing her bed with a loose cannon; this twist seems designed to ensure that every single character trait Ani has is somehow connected to her job. Not one person she has interacted with to this point falls outside the sphere of the case and this inhibits any real connection to the character. Not surprising, given the treatment women usually receive on True Detective, but still disappointing. Paul’s contribution to this episode is even more slight, as he wanders around haunted by his demons in the most obvious ways possible. From his conversation with his friend and fellow veteran about their time in combat to his rides with Ani, everything seems to add up to character traits that the audience has already guessed, which makes his time on screen all the more empty. Nic Pizzolatto probably leapt into the air with glee when he realized he could script a brooding Paul Woodrugh standing under a billboard advertising American Sniper, then immediately segue to a prostitute dressed as an angel giving a blowjob. This section of the episode alone practically completes a twisted game of True Detective bingo; the symbolism overwhelms whatever else Pizzolatto is trying to accomplish with the actual case.

Vince Vaughan’s material falls somewhere between the good Ray parts of the episode and the bad Ani/Paul parts. The early scenes have some of the first glimpses of Vaughan settling into the role and finding tiny ways to imbue the part with his trademark sarcasm while still seeming intimidating. The scenes between Frank and Jordan far exceed those between Frank and his minions when it comes to watchability, mostly because Vaughan can’t find a way to seem legitimately intimidating  when necessary but he is able to find a connection with Kelly Reilly. The couple’s attempts at artificial insemination come out of left field for the most part but help to color their relationship further. Any background or plot lines that don’t tie directly to the case are of the utmost importance, especially in this corner of the show. If Vaughan can’t make Caspere’s death have meaning by the sheer stature of his being then it is only fair that some parts of his character are interesting. It is far more worthwhile to watch Frank grapple with his priorities as a husband than randomly spar with a henchman for three seconds before yanking his teeth. Unfortunately the show doesn’t seem to consider these priorities in the same order and as such will lift the case above all, even if it means the titular detectives end up straw men (and women) in the service of exceedingly dull storylines.

Other Notes: 

  • Few actors on this show have as good an agent as the ever-present e-cigarette. That thing is receiving more screen time than much of the supporting cast.
  • Vince Vaughan should never be allowed to say “apoplectic” while trying to be serious.
  • One intriguing plot line that is in play is how quickly Ani and Ray are set to turn on each other. With both of their departments breathing down their necks to get the other off the force, their mostly vanilla car rides could get fun fast.
  • Breaks in the case: the stolen Cadillac is parked and set on fire for the detectives to see, Frank’s employee Stan is gruesomely murdered, Caspere liked to watch people have sex rather than finding his own prostitutes.
  • Hopefully the fact that Detective Dixon followed Paul to the motocross race means the great W. Earl Brown will get more to do than contribute quips to the investigation once an episode.