A shotgun blast. A lead character goes down. Somehow, the shocking final moments of “Night Finds You” failed to blast my skeptical perspective (of the episode), because I didn’t feel the blast; it didn’t seem real. As a creative whole, the second episode of True Detective was darker than its predecessor, and Nic Pizzolatto’s blatant dialogue ensured that casual viewers would get the hint. Upon a second viewing, my initial negativity has diminished, but I’m certainly not thrilled about being knocked over the head with constant reminders of…the darkness.
I should note that I’m currently three weeks into TCM’s “Summer of Darkness” course, so I’m probably over-sensitive to the noir aesthetics of True Detective. For example, I enjoyed the “X” imagery early on in the episode; a subtle tip-of-the-cap to the older days. With that being said, it pained me to hear Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) deliver a line such as “That boy is all I have in my entire shitty life.” Rather than utilizing noir sensibilities to affect the subconscious, Pizzolatto appears to be offering Noir 101 for easy navigation. We know Ray’s a bad, bad man, because the concept dominates every conversation. So, was it really a huge surprise when a masked character put a hole in ol’ Velcoro? Despite the heavy concept of the final scene, it wasn’t enough to save an overreaching episode that opens with Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) recalling a childhood experience involving “a rat.” Maybe Pizzolatto could have used a more cryptic recollection to make his point. Instead, director Justin Lin offers brief cuts to wide-angle shots of the character’s home, which ultimately serve as the brain candy until a slow zoom on Semyon’s face. The effort is there, but the noir concepts seem misguided, in my opinion.
After two episodes, I’m less concerned with the compromised investigation and more concerned with the character arcs of Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) and Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch). In regard to the latter, it was difficult to fully appreciate a bedroom scene that was straight out of Good Will Hunting (“Who the fuck am I supposed to be?”), but it further established that Paul is running from something. However, I was still waiting him to spout off with, “What do you wanna know? That I don’t have 12 brothers? That I’m a fuckin’ orphan?” Given his mother’s comment about a failure to pick up on women’s affections, it seems that Paul may be struggling with his sexuality or has been traumatized by an experience with the opposite sex…maybe both.
The most intriguing character of True Detective has to be Ani Bezzerides. She’s lended a remarkable sense of self-confidence through the subtle movements of Rachel McAdams, and her philosophical musings are the most believable thus far; she’s not falling into a particular character stereotype. While Vaughn has yet to show any range with his character’s plethora of FUCKs (“FUUCKKK!”), and Farrell seems to be working from the latest edition of film noir cliff notes, it could be argued that McAdams’ detective is the focal point of Season 2, and perhaps the most traumatized character of them all.
Last week, I argued that True Detective was setting us up after a slow burn of an episode, and I stand by that sentiment. In the overall scheme of the series, it’s possible that “Night Finds You” was ultimately about helping the audience “find” the characters through overt messaging. Now, it’s time to truly get dirty. To quote Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) from Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, “The readiness is all. You know the players. Call the game.”
Q.V. Hough (@qvhough) is a freelance writer and founder of Vague Visages. He lived in Hollywood, California from 2006 to 2012 and has bachelor degrees in Communication-Mass Media and History. He now resides in Fargo, North Dakota.