‘True Detective’ Season 2 Premiere: Highways Are Flat Circles, Too

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Officer Terrible Father, reporting for duty. (Photo: Lacey Terrell)

Drew: Before we even get started, can we clarify one thing? What genre is True Detective in? Like, is it even a mystery story anymore? I found the whole thing to be a rather straightforward-ish narrative.

Vinnie: I don’t think this one even counts as a story.

Drew: WHAMMO! Vinnie, I feel like we’re we’re way out of our pseudo-intellectual depths with this one. Or wait, maybe this is just the wading pool for babies and I can’t tell because I’m too distracted by that chick floating in a bowl of milk. As Colin Farrell’s character, Officer Best Dad, so succinctly put it after they raid someone (the city manager’s?) LA mansion: “Looks like we got… something something.” Well said, Detective Bolo tie. Well said.

Vinnie: Is this season just a parody of last season, which already was kind of a parody of itself? Did I just write a line of Pizzolato-logue?

Drew: It’s like Nic Pizzolatto knows his faux-deepness can’t even compete with this show’s masterful direction and cinematography, so he just phoned it in (or more likely, texted it to his writer’s assistant) from his longstanding reservation at “Soho Bar.” (The fact that this was Pizzolatto’s attempt at a subtle wink/nod basically tells you all you need to know about him, doesn’t it?)

Vinnie: That final shot that pulled away to highlight the California coastline right as the sun came up was so gorgeous my immediate natural reaction was “Bravo! A fine hour of television!” Then I thought about it for, say, 10 seconds and realized this show just used a speech by James from Twin Peaks, who is the dumbest, about riding a motorcycle in the dark and used it as the basis for a *super serious* scene starring Taylor Kitsch, who honestly LOOKS a little like James from Twin Peaks, who I must repeat is the dumbest.

Drew: Nic P. told Vanity Fair that the only thing that will stay constant in the series is himself. Does he not understand that the show is being watched in spite, not because, of him? Like I know showrunners are the new gods, but honestly TV directors are coming into their own and showrunners probably find that hella threatening. Like they created this whole universe, but then the thing critics love about it is someone else’s visual interpretation of an idea in your head. Not YOUR idea: the way someone else perceived it.

I mean, try to hold this thought in your head: True Detective is both good and very, very terrible. Like Taylor Kitsch and the movie The Cell starring J-Lo, it’s visually stunning but doesn’t have a lot going on upstairs. At least it didn’t last season, and therefore it won’t immediately win over my trust. It will need to prove that it’s not all meaningless beyond the vast sky of Carcosa/slightly better cult going on this season. Last season’s Yellow King turned out to be a bust, and more disturbingly, we were supposed to realize Rust Cohle was totally right about everything, not just a spaced-out sculpture artist going through his Donnie Darko phase.

At least this season takes place in Los Angeles—“OMG, that’s SO West Coast!” is the new “As someone who has read the books,” FYI—where everyone spouts off spiritual-sounding nonsense all the time. It’s much more believable than having the show take place in a shitty town that is technically near (but financially remote) from Malibu, rather than the swamps of True Blood, where no one like Rust Cohle would talk like that. EVERYONE in Los Angeles is kind of that David Morse cult leader character. But with more weed vape pens and crystals (and spec scripts that FXX has shown “real interest in.”)

Vinnie: Um, apparently at least one vampire from True Blood would talk like this.

Also, recapping this season is going to be more complicated for me than you, because I’ve never been to California. Mostly because I don’t like sunshine nor do I enjoy happiness. Which, I think, is why I enjoyed True Detective season one so much. But in a weird way, this season seems to have dropped us in a sunnier locale, but decided to make up for it by having everyone turn the gloom up to 11. Alcohol and boner pills and staring off into the distance for everyone!

Drew: 1) I recognized James Frain too, but I think that was to make clear that this season will be more like The Wire: West Coast than True Blood: Better Accents. 2) This is my fan theory: Nic Pizzolatto is really self-loathing, and has decided to prove that he doesn’t like, even care anymore. Thus we get gems dropped from Vince Vaughn’s honeyed tongue like “Good job with the thing,” or “Behold, where once was man,” or “Never do anything out of hunger. Not even eating.” #SoMoneyItDoesntEvenKnowIt #GusVanSantsPsycho #NeverForget

Vinnie: Sitting down at a desk and taking the time out of your day to type out the line “buttfuck your father with your mom’s headless corpse” is the same thing as handing in a script that is just the phrase “IDGAF” over and over again. Not even eating? NOT EVEN EATING? I hope we eventually find out that Vince Vaughn’s criminal enterprise is in turmoil because his character has to eat at weird times of the day when he’s not hungry.

Drew: THAT WOULD ACTUALLY BE RELATABLE. Pizzolatto’s inadequacy issues are by far the most predominant subtext here, as the opening clearly suggests the superiority of imagery over a Leonard Cohen spoken word poetry slam. Bold choice to go with the opposite of a theme song. Like, when people say rap is just people talking over a beat, I want them to listen to this. Then again, you can’t beat that Nick Cave/Warren Ellis one-two punch at the end with the cover of “All the Gold in California.

Vinnie: Wait, that opening credits theme wasn’t Vincent Price’s intro from Thriller?

Drew: Truly, the Koyaanisqatsi for our generation. Like, get stoned and look at the pretty, pretty pictures. Then go talk to your friends about it way harder than you actually care.

Vinnie: So let’s step away from the faux-mysticism and awks dialogue (NOT EVEN EATING?) for a second and just get the story straight. Um…okay what even is the story so far? Ray Velcoro is forever-angry because his wife was raped and then nine months later she popped out the Angry Ginger Kid, and there’s a good chance the kid is not his. He sometimes beats the shit out of reporters for Frank Semyon, a criminal trying to go straight by building a highway (?) and meeting mayors, but doing none of this while hungry. Anni Bezzerides is a name I will spell wrong constantly for the next eight weeks, and also a tough cop with a pornstar sister and a hippie/Love Guru for a father. She may or may not be into anal. And Paul Woodrugh, well, I’m pretty sure he has Greyscale.

greyscale

Drew: Dude, it was definitely anal. It’s kind of ridiculous that HBO won’t “go there,” I imagine because they think their viewers are too modest and faint of heart for a frank discussion about sexuality. Let’s see dem boobies though! (The boobs are the metaphoric flat circles here, if you catch my drift.)

Vinnie: Together, these four are going to drink a ton, look at each other distrustfully a lot and eventually get around to figuring out who turned Caspere into a Friendly Ghost.

Drew: This show is already 1,000 times better because it’s based in a sketchy outskirt of LA like Vernon–uh, I mean Vinci. I hope this conspiracy theory involves crystals and chem-trails. I hope David Miscavige turns out to be the Yellow King. I hope Ser Barristan Selmy swings by!

Vinnie: Again, never been to California, not even the non-sketchy parts. Does beating a man with brass knuckles in front of his son go unpunished throughout the entire state, or just certain parts?

Drew: The whole thing. One time he came by and asked me and my friend if we wanted the blue cheese in his pockets. That’s what’s weird about Cali, man. You can’t tell the crazies just by looking at them. They are just walking around, high on their own frequency (and legalized marijuana). But no, I guess I don’t imagine the place being filled with dudes dying to relive that homework scene from The Big Lebowski.

Already, this season is trying to distance itself from its predecessor in that the David Morse’s cult-y “Institute” seems like the least sketchy organization in the area. A little off-topic but it’s so great to see David Morse again. That man can sell those lines, even the bullshit meta-commentary about the universe not having any meaning except the meaning we give it. OR THAT NIC P STEALS FROM US IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR FAN-ZANIA! That’s why I actually don’t like True Detective. It got all the fandom of a show with a mythology, without ACTUALLY doing the work of a mythology.

Also why is David Morse ashamed to put this on his IMDB page?? That’s the REAL mystery.

I liked it when the cult leader asked his police daughter if she even believed in her job, or if it was “just a reflexive urge toward authority out of defiance?” Oh man, I have those parents. I mean, they aren’t cult parents–although they separately, they were at different times almost lured into joining several different cults–but that circular logic kills me. “You are being defiant by conforming to social norms! We are hippies! You are definitely not one of the Manson babies!” God, if I had a dollar…

Still, I buy buy Eliot Bezzerides as a pretty okay guy–relatively-and his shots fired, all gentlemanly and softening the blow with his beatific delivery: that Ali should “spend less time in a state of resistance making up problems for herself,” and that her “entire personality is an extended criticism of (his) values?”

But I wouldn’t write him off as a good guy just yet: obviously, he raised two highly damaged daughters. His speech about life’s meaninglessness had a touch of Rust in it. I’m not against artists trying to make the case that the “life” they refer to is winkingly the ur-text of a script. Think Rubber, or Schizopolis, or Funny Games. But the point is, we know that someone IS in charge of their universe. It isn’t random. It IS someone’s design, whether the characters like it or not, or are aware of it or not. It just seems like this weird, ironicly nonsensical thing to have the theme of True Detective be “This is pointless.”

Vinnie: See, this kind of worries me. I remember last season Pizzolatto did this interview directed right at the Reddit communities of the world that basically said there was NOT going to be a huge twist at the end of the season. I think it really angered him that people were coming up these insane, spiraling theories about spirals while he knew full well the whole thing was going to end wrapped in a Rust-As-Jesus bow. My worry is that Pizzolatto isn’t going to do interviews, he’s just going to use the show itself to point out, often and always, that there will be no crazy twists I’m just telling a story why won’t you let me tell my story? 

Drew: Eliot’s speech was not a tongue-in-cheek statement about the lack of meaning in all the symbology of last season’s Carcosa. Like Hannibal, True Detective still thinks of itself as having totally “real” things to say about the human condition. in the diagetic narrative of the series. He’s not stating that the show he’s on is–as J’amai might say–”totally random,” he’s doing the Hannibal thing where you are on one hand recognize that something was working on two levels, but only allowed to appreciate it on the first.

(Same with the newspaper running an “8 Day special Vice Series” of the paper, which Frank Semyon rightly points out as bullshit. Like we’re living in the golden age of journalism?! LOL.) Eliot, like all characters on True Detective, takes his life very, very, very seriously.

Vinnie: He also, unlike all characters on True Detective, takes hair and beard grooming and maintenance very, very, very seriously

Drew:The names were SOOOO perfect this season. Like Caspere, a former partner of Semyon, who we see being Weekended at Bernie’d with the head of an—is that an american eagle?—in the seat next to him. Then, there’s Aspen, a bully of Detective Ray Velcoro’s son, who gets his dad beat up for him, which I imagine would be most 12-year-olds dream scenario. “This is what happens when you fight a stranger in the alps!” COINCIDENCE? ASPEN = THE YELLOW KING OF FRESHMAN YEAR??

Vinnie: Drew, I am about 99 percent sure Aspen will never be seen or heard from again this season. I think you’re looking for clues where there aren’t any and making up theories that Pizzolatto never even thought of at his highest and oh my god you’re right Aspen is the Yellow King.

Drew: We also find out in this episode that Velcoro is the worst dad, even worse than McNulty, who I am sure James Frain will quickly start to resemble. There’s a MIA City Manager, who has been gone for awhile now because who knows/cares about a mid-level bureaucratic position.. (Quick, name your city manager! Mine is Ben Wyatt!)

Vinnie: That scene where Semyon says when Caspere shows up he’s going to stick his “size thirteens up his ass so far…” and that other guy finishes “he’ll be spitting laces?” And Semyon looks at him like “that’s fucking genius.” I’m pretty sure that was taken verbatim from an actual writing meeting for True Detective.

Drew: Wait… shit. This show has caused me to forget what we were talking about. It’s such a pettyfogger. But back to the names: there’s Ani and Athena from the hippie cult, there’s a dude named Elvis at one point, and someone called Teague?

And just as a side note: Taylor Kitsch should not be allowed a whole scene where he pretends to take a shower while he really just eats some Viagra and stares at the wall in the most non-ironic way possible when your last name is IRL Kitsch. So what if he did or did not get a blowjob from Malibu Barbie?

Vinnie: I LOVE how seriously the question of did he BJ or not BJ was presented. Like, fuck the central mystery let’s start our Carcosa level theories of whether or not that woman blew him to get out of a parking ticket. (My theory: the actress that blew him is ALSO from True Blood, all HBO shows are in a shared universe, which explains the Greyscale OH MY GOD.)

Drew: Clear eyes, full hearts, paid vacation for alleged sexual misconduct? Oh wow, this IS like that Amy Schumer rape sketch.

Speaking on Eliot; here  is my second True Detective theory: David Morse will finally be revealed as the Sliding Doors version of actor Tim Robbins. I mean, look at the hair. And they are both in Stephen King prison movies, but one got to be domestic partners with Susan Sarandon until that ping pong mogul showed up and the other one is best known for being the bad guy in The Rock. Maybe it’s Morses’ turn to get a terrible pixie cut and start his own PR firm??

(Just to let you in on how my brain works, I also believe Mark Moses—Duck Phillips on Mad Men—is a Sliding Doors’ doppleganger of Charles Grodin. And the catalyst that split their realities was Phillips’ decision to let Chauncey go roam the streets, instead of taking care of the irascible but well-intentioned Beethoven.)

Vinnie: You know, somewhere in all of that I realized that I’ve lived my entire life thinking David Morse and Tim Robbins actually were the same person. That’s one mystery solved, True Detective!

Drew: Anywhoozle: While I don’t trust any long-haired hippie running an “Institute” in California, I do appreciate how on fleek he was by naming his daughters who also is the dad of “Anni” and “Athena” and then complains about their entitlement issues. What is this, Transparent? A terrible, terrible Transparent where no one trans-anythings? This show does have a way of making me really hate men, like in a way that I don’t actually do in real life. Because in real life, I don’t watch guys stake out 12-year-olds and also I hate all these actors’ faces. I hate that Colin Farrell is famous and I refuse to learn how to spell his stupid, stupid name. We already have a Colin Firth, why do we need the In Bruges guy again? Dominick West is already the British version of Dominick West, James Frain. Just because I know what you are thinking!

Vinnie: How about how she set up that entire bust because she “heard a rumor?” That is, at the very least, a gross misallocation of department funds.

Drew: I’ve got some jokes I’ve pre-recorded about this show before it starts, so just bear with me. Is True Detective just the boys version of GIRLS? I’m totally seeing Rachel Adam’s character as the grown-up Regina George.

Vinnie: That’s funny, because I see Velcoro’s son as a Mean Girls-era Lindsay Lohan.

Drew: Oh god, we are back to the “giving your statement?” framing device? Is that what ties together this show as an anthology? Doesn’t The Affair count in this canon then? Oh wait, she’s his lawyer. I guess that means The Newsroom season 2 also counts in the extended True Detective universe.

Vinnie: My favorite part about this device is that the only way True Detective knows how to illustrate a jump in time is the growing of mustaches.

Drew: I love that I could immediately tell that Rachel McAdams and that porn performer were sisters because I saw my sister this weekend, and we also argued about who needs to take more and/or less drugs.

Vinnie: I love that I could immediately tell that Vecloro’s son was not actually Velcoro’s son because… come on.

Drew: WHAT IS THAT WOMAN FLOATING IN MILK??

Vinnie: Remember in season one when Marty’s daughter had a spiral crayon drawing on her mirror and everyone was quick to yell “MARTY’S DAUGHTER IS THE YELLOW KING! OR SOMETHING!” and the set designer was like “Well, actually, that meant literally nothing?” That milk woman is season two’s that.

Drew: OR, we are living in a Twilight Zone episode where we think it’s Earth but it’s not Earth, it’s a planet full of GIANTS and some of us are kept as milk-bathing slaves. And THAT’S the mystery…how humans got to this planet of giant gaping assholes.

So, if you were a betting man–as I assume Vince Vaughn is, because he is in charge of casino and not deep undercover, though that would be dope and I’m calling it, now–who do you think is going to get the best redemption arc on True Detective season two?

My money is on Aspen making a big comeback when Colin Ferrel (note: perfect. That’s how it’s spelled now) gets shivved by a kid during his own bar-mitzvah in the finale.

Vinnie: Mine is on that random junkie that Velcoro gives the shush finger to before he beats that reporter. Because in the end that random junkie will turn out to be Marty Hart’s daughter because everything is connected. Everything is a clue! Nothing is a clue! True Detective is back! 

‘True Detective’ Season 2 Premiere: Highways Are Flat Circles, Too