Dylan Moses Griffin

A Vague Visages Colloquy: True Detective ‘Down Will Come’

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Below is a conversation between Vague Visages staff writers Q.V. Hough (@QVHough), Dylan Moses Griffin (@DMosesGriffin) and Max Bledstein (@mbled) after watching True Detective ‘Down Will Come.’

QVH: How about that shootout? I was nearly asleep after the latest bar meeting between Velcoro and Semyon, but the final minutes managed to bring back some of that Season 1 magic.

DMG: This was honestly the first episode of the season to really underwhelm. Four episodes in, and we’re still spending a bulk of it watching these characters look sad and hungover. Where’s Conway Twitty serenading you in limbo? Where’s Ray beating the shit out of the father of his son’s bully on his front lawn? Where’s Frank ripping some teeth out? I’m talking about ‘moments” here, and that’s what this episode was lacking. It never left a moment that stuck with you. Just like Ray giving his father’s badge to his son, I just wanted something to remember it by, and I’m not sure the shootout did it for me. Of course, it was a step up from the rest of the episode; I could only watch Frank go to each partner and recite the same business pitch for so long. The shootout was for all purposes a rush of adrenaline, but what did it even mean in the scope of the show? I know we still have four episodes left, but at least in in Season 1’s shootout climax (“Who Goes There”) there was the feeling after that it was progressing somewhere aside from being an exciting scene. ‘Down Will Come’ felt closer to regression, even with the exciting bullets flying around.

MB: The fourth episode in Season 1 was where we got the tracking shot heard ‘round the world, so it seemed like the pressure was on this year to deliver a similar moment, particularly given the glacial pace preceding it. The shootout was the obvious analogue, but I agree with Dylan in feeling that it fell short. If anything, I think it was more a relief to have something other than establishing shots of L.A. traffic and surly characters airing their discontent with one another than a matter of anything about the scene being particularly impressive.

Personally, I wasn’t as taken as others by Matthew McConaughey’s “redneck Sherlock Holmes” shtick last year, but I did feel that his character was more clearly laid out than anyone so far in Season 2. By the time Cary Fukunaga brought us up close and personal with Rust in the six-minute oner, his motivations were well established; we knew about his sordid past (which directly led to the events depicted in “The Shot”), and Pizzolatto had made him into a person we understood (even if he was one who hewed too closely to traditional detective tropes for my tastes).

Contrastingly, I haven’t felt the same about anyone this season, which is the main reason why I think I found the shootout disappointing. We’ve gotten a few entertaining details about the characters, and they seem like they have the potential to become more three-dimensional, but there’s no one who has felt fully fleshed out enough for me to care all that much about their fate. Regardless of the technical audacity of last year’s shootout, it was built up to in a way which this year’s wasn’t, and the result was a scene which felt uninspired.

QVH: What are your thoughts on Vince Vaughn’s Frank Semyon at this point? I find myself snickering every time he’s on screen, and not in a good way. It seems like Pizzolatto is more interested in showcasing Vaughn’s clever ways of delivering lines rather than creating a truly memorable character (which Season 2 desperately needs). I keep searching for an “Oh, I get it” moment, but it never comes, and Pizzolatto continues to surround the character with overt metaphors (just in case the audience fails to connect the dots on their own). And those bar meet-ups with Velcoro are almost unwatchable given Semyon’s predictable routine. I have a feeling that the big Vince Vaughn moment of Season 2 — whenever it comes — will be severely anticlimactic.

DMG: The problem with Frank is that there are many interesting things going on with his character, but none of them are interesting on Vince Vaughn. A criminal trying to go legit is forced to go back to his old ways to survive? That’s interesting. Having flashbacks to parental abuse and killing rats whenever you see a stain? That’s interesting. Yet, somehow Frank is just not interesting. Maybe it’s because Vaughn hasn’t found a way to settle into Frank yet, as his dialogue scenes (especially with Kelly Reilly’s Jordan) are stilted. Frank is supposed to be intimidating, and as much as I like watching a guy’s teeth get pulled out by Vaughn, I don’t quite buy him as intimidating yet. There was one moment, however, in episode two (“Night Finds You”) when he makes a veiled threat to a guy on the street and then holds his gaze to communicate that he isn’t messing around. In that moment, Vaughn achieved something that he never had before, which was to not be Vince Vaughn. He was Frank in that moment but hasn’t quite found that magic again since. We still have four more episodes, and that’s hopefully enough time for Vaughn to rediscover that ferocity, but the clock is ticking. Vince Vaughn used to be so money, baby, I hope he can be so money again.

MB: I haven’t checked out any of Pizzolatto’s work outside of True Detective, but everything I’ve seen on the show suggests to me that he’s much better at rehashing established tropes (i.e. Rust and Marty’s buddy-cop dynamic in Season 1) than writing believable human beings, and I feel like Frank is Exhibit A. Nothing we’ve learned about him (which hasn’t been germane to the plot) has done much towards developing his character either. I found his monologue at the beginning of “Night Finds You” to be laughable, which is fairly representative of how I feel about the character as a whole. As rough as his life seems to be, I just don’t care. His impotency came across as a weak and obvious metaphor for the lack of control he has over his life, and the adoption conversation in “Down Will Come” was a redundant way to repeat the same point. In this sense, I find the lack of genuine menace to be purposeful, but I still don’t see it adding up to an interesting character.

QVH: Let me ask you this: who do you find to be the most intriguing character of Season 2 thus far? I’m disappointed that Kelly Reilly hasn’t received more screen time, but I feel like she may have some big moments during the last few episodes (and let’s hope so given the Vaughn problem). As of now, Bezzerides remains at the top of my list, however Woodrugh isn’t far behind. I’m curious to see how they react after the ambush.

MB: I agree with you on Bezzerides being the most intriguing character, and not just because she breaks up the testosterone fest which True Detective has otherwise been from the get-go. Although all of the characters this season are troubled souls, she’s the only one who appears to have a personality beyond her anguish. As I already said, I wasn’t crazy about the shootout, but the shots of her reaching for her knife made for some of the most intriguing moments of a scene which was technically proficient but otherwise lacked gravitas. I also like how the sexual misconduct plot in the most recent episode ties in with the conspiracy theme which seems to be defining Season 2 (i.e. The Man screwing over the Average Jane on a micro level).

I like how Woodrugh’s veteran past is continuing to haunt him (particularly when we saw his comfort with combat in the shootout, which was my other favorite part of it), but I’m much less taken by the homosexuality stuff. Mainly, I feel that Pizzolatto is making gayness his character rather than treating it as a detail which doesn’t tell us all we need to know about him.

I find the Kelly Reilly situation analogous to Pizzolatto’s treatment of women in Season 1 — they only matter to him inasmuch as they matter to the men who are his real focus. He’s done a better job with female characters by the mere virtue of having a character like Bezzerides in the story, but I think that the lack of attention paid to Jordan thus far has been a missed opportunity.

DMG: I totally agree about Kelly Reilly, she deserves more. Right now, it’s somewhat of a tie between Bezzerides and Velcoro. Both characters seem to be evolving the most; a sort of trust developing between the two even though Ani knows Velcoro is corrupt. They both seem to know the most out of the bunch that they are being set up. It’s been interesting to see the ways that Velcoro has mellowed these past two episodes — getting shot seems to have “provoked personal growth” as he would put it, and he’s gone from beating up guys on the lawn to becoming a sort of mentor to Paul, and a confidant to Ani.

QVH: Has the technical direction of Season 2 impressed you at all? During the last episode, I came to the realization that nothing has stunned me through four episodes, although I can appreciate the noir references. The use of dissolves can be effective, but I now roll my eyes when a close-up transitions into an overhead shot of LA, because I’m already expecting it. The closing sequence of “Down Will Come” provided some action, but I’ve yet to be floored by “the shot.” Then again, my increasing frustration may be blinding me…

MB: Season 2 hasn’t been ugly, but it’s far from last year when Cary Fukunaga was repeatedly dunking on every other TV director breathing. It was the look of the first season which impressed me more than anything else, and it keeps seeming like that’s what this season is lacking the most. I’ve found Season 2 to be quite visually repetitive, particularly in the overheads (as you mentioned), and the non-stop close-ups on faces shrouded in darkness. While this achieves a certain effect, it also makes for uglier and less compelling viewing. Granted, the “True Detective Season 1 did this, but Season 2 did this” game can only go so far, as it’s become clear that this is an entirely different season of TV, but I can’t shake the feeling that what’s happening this season just isn’t working as well.

The shootout in “Down Will Come” was a competent action sequence, but there was nothing about it I found particularly stunning.

DMG: This season lacks the guiding hand that having director allows, resulting in tonal shifts that were especially evident in “Down Will Come.” The biggest difference between Season 1 and Season 2 is that it has gone from Pizzolatto and Fukunaga’s show to just Pizzolatto’s show. Justin Lin’s noir hand was steady in the first two episodes, but it wasn’t until episode three that we finally had some direction to truly elevate Pizzolatto’s writing, courtesy of Janus Metz, who stormed the show with his heightened sensibilities, most significantly in the Conway Twitty sequence. Each scene was shot purposefully in a manner that was lacking in Jeremy Podeswa’s flat direction of “Down Will Come.” Aside from the shootout, his direction felt repetitive.

True Detective airs Sunday nights at 9/8c on HBO.

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