While the first season of True Detective wallowed in the depths of existential despair, it wasn’t afraid to let its characters crack a smile, be it the good or bad guys. They were few and far apart, yes, but there were moments where True Detective‘s time in the bayou led to pockets here and there where it didn’t feel like the entire crappy world was coming to a crappy end; Season 2 of True Detective has forgotten this balance, delving so far into the deep side of dourness that it has, in the span of two short hours, turned into a parody of itself – and one that isn’t necessarily awful, but awfully hilarious.
What sticks out about “Night Finds You” is how damn hard it’s trying to be a literary work; from the water damaged ceilings leaking into an image of Caspere’s removed eyes, to the closing shots of the man in the bird mask (more on that in a minute), “Night Finds You” isn’t really true to its title. By the time this season has started, night has already befallen all of our characters, leaving no sense of mystery as to how they fell so far, the depressing details pouring out of every crevice; Velcoro’s ex-wife (Abigail Spencer from Rectify) threatening a paternity test, Frank mortgaging his “empire,” and Paul and Antigone’s “struggles” with their sexuality (not to mention Antigone’s two siblings who killed themselves) are brought to the light with all the subtlety of the torture Caspere himself endured. There’s no end to the darkness of this season’s set of characters, which makes these first two episodes a slog of moving from stone-cold face to stone-cold face, each one less convincing than the last.
Season 1’s most interesting question was “What happened to Rust Cohle?”, after all – this season doesn’t offer us any of these questions, instead finding its characters in their darkest places, rather than on their way, or trying to recover from it (there was that one flashback with Velcoro… though that was in the first five minutes, and appears to have been forgotten). There doesn’t seem to be any redemption for these characters to search for, and that robs the proceedings of any kind of dramatic tambor; instead, “Night Finds You” is an episode of following bread crumbs, crumbs that lead to the most laughably overwrought places imaginable.
With one character stating that “innuendo is nobody’s friend,” it’s not really all that surprising the lack of subtlety this season has employed to this point. The close-up shot of Caspere’s shot-off genitals reminds us that this is a show about men struggling with their masculinity, with a hard-headed, e-cig puffing woman around for the guys to bring down and remind them of their own gender, and how much stronger they really are. Poor Antigone isn’t even being represented as a human character; there hasn’t been a scene with her in these first two episodes (no, NOT ONE) that isn’t directly focused on her sexual behavior or refers to her as a sexual object (Velcoro tells her smoking e-cigs is like “sucking a robot’s d**k,” just to nail the point home that SHE IS NOT A MAN). She watches porn, drinks scotch, and takes it too far in the bedroom… but she smokes fake cigarettes and has daddy issues, lest you forget that she’s not a weak-willed woman who should listen to the alcoholic in the car seat next to her.
And if that’s not enough, there’s an entire conversation about how every man in the world could completely overpower her, so she can only feel safe by carrying multiple knives on her body AT ALL TIMES. Seriously, True Detective?
Throw in some more annoying shots of the California highways intersecting with each other (are you surprised the director of multiple Fast and the Furious films lacks in complex visual language? No way!), and you’ve got “Night Finds You,” an hour that wildly advances the main plot – in short, Caspere was a sexaholic who stole Frank’s $5 million before he died, and probably was involved in some other heinous activities – and doesn’t offer much else but the laughable characterizations and occasional moment of weirdness (Frank’s “papier-mache” comment, the city hall employee proudly posing in a picture with George W. Bush) before it’s trying to “shock” us with a cliffhanger ending that isn’t really a cliffhanger, given that there have been dozens of promotional photos spoiling the outcome of this particular plot development for months.
It’s all so single minded and short-sighted, it begs the question whether Nic Pizzolatto should be scripting these episodes alone, or employing a more diverse team of writers to guide his existential ideas, which can contain weight when employed properly (as Frank’s speech in the opening scene approaches, though the writing nor Vaughn’s performance is up to snuff). Unfortunately, “Night Finds You” is not that kind of True Detective; this is a show where a closeted gay man sits sheepishly on his child bed while his mom makes lightly sexual advances at him; where a gangster talks about someone being “torture-murdered” (a real phrase, apparently), while his girlfriend tells him “not being poor is better than the opposite”; and this is show where a pimp has a set of gold teeth that read “F*** YOU.”
In other words, this is my least favorite life.
– Velcoro supports feminism, but mostly because he has “body image” issues. It’s like Nic Pizzolatto is firing a middle finger at anyone who criticized his writing of female characters in Season 1.
– Some other audio gems from the episode: “All the girls are nice to you, Pauly”; “You were good at being decent”; and the topper, “You don’t have flies, you can’t fly fish.”
– W. Earl Brown’s character may not have a name, but he has a personality trait: he drinks. How layered.
– Paul talks about “clocking” some “fag at the bank” who was hitting on him.
– Why does Frank have his guys beat up a sweatshop bookie (whatever that is), then talk to him like a stranger?
– Antigone doesn’t distinguish between good and evil; there’s either “sexual” or “not sexual” in her world.
– The pimp could barely talk around his fake teeth, and it was really obvious. Get better prosthetics, True Detective!
– TD missed an obvious opportunity for a jump scare when Velcoro opens the door, and we get a straight shot of a mirror reflection, which shows nothing. Rather than a mislead here, an expected scare would’ve been so much more effective.
– Caspere was “more… passive” sexually, which feeds into the season’s emasculation theme. Yay!
[Photo via HBO]