Here’s a semi-complete list of things I don’t care about after completing “Other Lives,” the fifth episode of True Detective’s second season:
—Frank Semyon’s obsession with the symbolism of ceiling stains.
—Frank Semyon’s philosophizing, delivered in increasingly painstaking monologues by Vince Vaughn.
—Frank Semyon’s fluctuating opinions on adoption, which range from “I don’t want somebody else’s problem” to “I’m saving a child version of myself.” All of which seem vaguely offensive.
—Frank Semyon’s fight to regain his lost influence, or his involvement with poker, or prostitution, or railroads, or land, or TCM.
—Santos, the dead guy. Was that the guy with the teeth? No?
—The ominous duo who visit Semyon, one of whom he calls “the Cisco Kid.”
—Semyon’s oily second-in-command who seems desperate to broadcast his treacherous nature to Semyon via smug looks, and is apparently running girls with Russians and a shrink.
—Any and all California politicians or railroad barons who seem to spend the majority of their lives engaged in weird and/or violent sex acts at big parties, because apparently nobody just has ordinary sex anymore.
—Mayor Chessani, and his comical, mumbly villain act.
—Mayor Chessani’s son.
—All the weird sexual stuff Mayor Chessani and his son get up to, which drove their mother crazy and which I hope never gets elaborated upon.
—Any deal involving Vinci paying off a guy who wants to run for governor.
—Vinci, California in general.
—Governors in general.
—California in general.
—Frank Semyon in general.
—The cult that Ani Bezzerides grew up in, which now seems involved with big sex parties.
—Ani Bezzerides’ father and his guru talk about “energies,” which is probably a cover for his involvement in the big sex parties.
—Big sex parties.
—Sex, anymore. The show ruined sex for me. I collect stamps now instead.
—Ani Bezzerides’ preferences in relation to the male genitalia, vis-a-vis length and girth.
—Half-hearted attempts at humor.
—Half-hearted attempts at social commentary (“If I were a man, I’d own the world”) that are so clearly written as a reaction to the fact that Nic Pizzolatto faced (stupid) criticism last year for people for crimes of omission against women. (PS—those same critics should be justifiably angry at him now for insulting their intelligence and pandering, but substance matters less than a social agenda, doesn’t it?)
—Lester Freamon—I mean Ani Bezzerides—working in the cage as a punishment.
—Ani Bezzerides’ sister, who is definitely going to die just when she got her life together, all because Bezzerides JUST CAN’T STOP WORKING.
—The wooden craft things her sister is making.
—Paul Woodrugh’s tortured sexuality.
—Paul Woodrugh’s mother, who I believe is dressed inappropriately around her son.
—Paul Woodrugh’s mother-in-law, who I believe is not respecting boundaries.
—Paul Woodrugh’s wife, who I believe should have raised the issue of her mother’s co-habitation in private, rather than ambushing him at the dinner table, because trust in a marriage is critically important, and if they’re planning to raise a child, they should have a clear and open line of communication that prioritizes the family’s interests and takes the concerns of both parties into account before any important decisions are made.
—Holy shit, why is any of this in the show?
—The girl Woodrugh didn’t proposition for a blow job.
—Her lawyer, Matt McCoy, who I’m pretty sure is playing the same character he just played in Silicon Valley, except less funny.
—Teague Dixon, who wasn’t even good at being a corrupt cop.
—The “breaks” in the case, which come in the most dubious ways imaginable. Hey, some woman I barely remember just got a bunch of photos for reasons I don’t really understand, and she showed them to Ani! Hey, Ani sees a bunch of carrion birds that are going to lead her to a bloody shack!
—People who don’t clean up bloody shacks afterward.
—The fact that, when I think back to season one, I’m starting to believe that Rust Cohle wasn’t having visions, and that Nic Pizzolatto actually thinks birds are constantly attempting to communicate with people, like Lassie.
—Birds. They’re ruined too. Kill them all.
—The way we apparently need at least six episodes to establish why Ben Caspere was killed.
—Dead people in general. Let’s move on.
—Melancholy lounge singers.
—A dark atmosphere.
—The earth’s atmosphere.
—The Ozone layer.
—Did I say California yet?
Now that we’ve established that, here’s a fully complete list of things I do care about:
—Ray fucking Velcoro.
Look, I’m sorry to be glib here. I feel a little guilty already, because I started watching “Other Lives” with the full intention of writing a serious review. Coming in, I felt as though episode five could tip the balance on season two one way or another, and it did—this is still a sprawling, ambitious, and occasionally very intelligent show, but there are too many moments when the punch doesn’t land. The application of philosophy is aimless at best and excruciatingly awkward at worst, the character development seems more, not less, hackneyed as the season goes along, and the mystery is a dud—it reminds me of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, in the sense that literally 100 percent of rich males with power are also deranged sex criminals. Corruption is interesting in art when it’s insidious, exerting a soft control, as in The Wire. That’s realistic. This is just blatant, all-consuming spiritual death, and it’s boring.
There’s one reason to keep watching this show, and that reason is Colin Farrell. Let’s take a moment and really consider the magnitude of what he’s doing, because it’s mind-blowing. HBO called on Farrell to follow Matthew McConaughey, who turned in what I consider to be one of the greatest television acting performances of all time, and to match his intensity and charisma while carrying the second season of a show that was bound to be bombarded with endless scrutiny.
Here’s the thing: He’s fucking doing it. He’s living up to that challenge, and he’s doing it with a script that is far, far worse than season one, and with supporting actors that can’t hold a candle to Woody Harrelson. The character of Ray Velcoro is a goddamn miracle, and I’m sorry to keep swearing, but I feel passionately about this. He can’t rely on chemistry with his fellow actors, or an especially good story, or anything near the humor McConaughey employed to leaven his character, and yet there he is, week to week, coming on like a one-man army and keeping the whole thing relevant.
It’s amazing. Velcoro is magnetic, and dynamic, and totally compelling, and I don’t think there are three other actors on the planet who could pull off what Farrell is doing right now. Every second the guy is on screen is riveting, and you can’t help but lose yourself in the story until the scene ends and suddenly Vince Vaughn is raving about Michelangelo and telling some Chinese-American dude to stand in front of a tank.
And you just sit back, and you wait for him to return—for the pain, the flickers of hope, the rage, the despair. It’s all that matters. True Detective has become a one-trick pony, and that’s too bad, but man…what a trick.