Last week, when Shane (who is on vacation but will be back to review the rest of the season starting next week) listed all the things that he doesn’t care about in this second season of True Detective, he touched on the show’s deepest flaw: the stakes in the Ben Caspere case feel too low—so low, in fact, that it’s difficult to care who murdered him and why.
The “season one was so much better than this” argument has been hammered into the ground by now, but just take a moment and recall how you (and everyone else with a taste for prestige drama and an HBOGo password) felt at this point in the first installment of True Detective. Everyone had a theory about who The Yellow King was; there were countless Reddit threads devoted to picking apart every possible clue or symbol that might reveal who our vile monster was and how exactly Rust and Marty would come to get their hands on him. His crimes were so heinous—child molestation! murder! disfigurement!—and his victims so innocent that, from the get-go, we had ourselves a truly compelling case, one that, despite Rust Cohle’s swift rise to pop cultural icon, managed to remain the driving force behind the series.
But it’s more difficult to stay invested in the murder of a city manager with an affinity for weird sex parties and shady development deals, particularly when our three leads spend so little time actually solving the case. There are only two episodes remaining at this point, and yet I know far more about the home lives and backstories of Ani Bezzerides, Paul Woodrugh and Ray Velcoro than I do about the crime they’re trying to solve. This week’s episode made a little headway in that department—after Ani infiltrates the fancy orgy (and knifes a guy while on molly), she finds her missing person, Vera, and smuggles her to safety. And before that, Woodrugh uncovers some of the mystery behind the diamonds: they were stolen in a robbery during the ‘92 riots that resulted in a double homicide and some orphaned children who will no doubt resurface in these coming episodes.
In fact, parenting—specifically fatherhood—was the recurring theme of “Church in Ruins,” as we saw Frank demonstrating he could be an okay dad one day by reassuring Stan’s grieving son that his tragedy will only make him better, that “inside of you is pure gold.” We also saw Ray on a supervised visit with his son, and then Ray on an angsty coke binge before he finally decided to walk away from Chad’s life in exchange for his ex-wife never revealing to him who his real father is. He essentially sacrifices his role as Chad’s father in order to preserve the notion of it, and it’s hard to tell whether that’s noble or dumb, but either way, Velcoro remains the show’s strongest character.
Ani’s father’s presence (or lack thereof) was also felt this week, as she flashed back to a childhood trauma—we learn she was molested by a hippie at her dad’s commune as a kid. It’s not at all surprising; in fact, it has been implied ever since Ani’s explanation for her knife obsession in the show’s second episode. But the connection to her background and her current-day case has been loose at best so far—Vera is the missing link between the two, and now that she’s been found alive, hopefully she can provide some insight.
And that, ultimately, remains True Detective’s biggest problem: too many hamfisted backstories, not enough insight as to what exactly is going on and why we’re supposed to care. With just two episodes left, it’s time for this convoluted plot to get resolved, but is a satisfying ending even a possibility at this point, if the most compelling aspect of the show is a dropped paternity suit? It’s like Frank asks Ray during their anticlimactic confrontation: “You bang down my door for a staring contest?” We’re caught in a staring contest with True Detective, and it can only go on for so long before we lose interest and leave.
— “I will have every inch of your flesh removed with a cheese grater, starting with your prick.” Oh Ray, still the best at making threats.
—Blake’s looking sketchier and sketchier, and this week Frank discovers he turned up at Stan’s after his funeral.
— “I was thinking about a woman drowning on dry land.” Melodrama runs in the Bezzerides family, I guess.
— “A Mexican standoff with actual Mexicans.” Frank. Stop.
—Irina is killed after revealing to Frank that someone paid her $500 to pawn the diamonds. In a lot of ways, we’ve got four detectives on this case, and yet I still only have a vague idea as to what exactly is going on.
— “The full moon is the best time to ratify alliances.” Oh. Okay.