“I’M GOING TO PUT MY OTHER HAND UP NOW,” drowning crime boss Frank Semyon tells cop-turned-muscle Ray Velcoro. “Don’t you fuckin’ shoot me, Raymond.”
It’s moments like this that keep one coming back to Season 2 of “True Detective,” absurd interactions of intense awkwardness born of bad decisions and an unwillingness to address them that have the ring of truth about them. Such is life.
It was “True Detective” creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto’s knack for revealing character primarily through dialog that carried the remarkable Season 1, an eight-hour conversation occasionally interrupted by bursts of action that ostensibly moved toward the satisfying conclusion of a mystery of Lovecraftian proportions. In the end, the mystery was relevant only as it affected the characters trying to solve it — the old MacGuffin. It worked because the threads were few; what seemed byzantine was, in fact, fairly standard. And in an eight-episode schedule, it was perfect.
Season 2 finally kicked into high gear Sunday with Episode 7 of Season 2, with the season’s surfeit of plot threads coming together in a manner threatening to become dramatically satisfying. But the episode’s success as entertainment reveals, starkly for the first time, Season 2’s weaknesses: a nihilism so hard-boiled that it’s limiting; a plot exoskeleton stolen from other great L.A. films noir (notably “Chinatown” and “L.A. Confidential”), and a hard-boiled patois that bleeds into parody. The dialog is so uniquely stilted that one knows not whether to blame the actors or the writer when they land with a thud. To wit: At one point in Episode 5, Rachel McAdams’ enraged cop tells her sister that the past is “always there, staring back at you,” which is a great line but rings like the bell on the concierge desk. Better suited is a terrific Vince Vaughn as the flailing crime boss, Frank Semyon, who was THIS close to going legit before a corrupt city manager was killed before he could close a deal that cost him $5 million.
That murder sets into motion the investigation into an ostensibly complex conspiracy that unites three of the most miserable people on Earth and their similarly hopeless satellites. Unfortunately, the conspiracy, it’s becoming clear, is pretty stale: big money land grabs by polluters who convene for kinky sex parties in some of California’s ritziest compounds. When McAdams infiltrates one, Season 2 achieves the remarkable feat of simultaneously ripping off “Eyes Wide Shut” and “Charlie’s Angels.”
Which raises the question: Is this a joke? All that staring; those mean, inscrutable Mexican Bros.; and that bar where the only entertainment is Suzanne Vega’s lugubrious cousin. That’s funny, right?
One final plot thread was introduced in Episode 7, a “Twin Peaks”(almost literally) flashback that appears to finally explain the whole “Source Family” subplot. But it doesn’t bode well. The musculature is too weak to withstand the show’s morbid gravity (“there are signatures all over this,” for example).
But, man, do I hope I’m wrong.