Blue Balls in Your Heart: True Detective ‘Church in Ruins’ (A Vague Visages Staff Precap)


Below is a conversation between Vague Visages staff writers Q.V. Hough (@QVHough), Dylan Moses Griffin (@DMosesGriffin) and Max Bledstein (@mbled210).

QVH: Five words: “blue balls in your heart.” After the fiasco that was “Other Lives,” is True Detective still an essential Sunday night?

DMG: It’s not anymore, and that’s the biggest problem with this season. It’s running in a flat circle, but rather than that being a theme as it was in Season 1, it’s how Season 2 is made; Frank is still telling anyone who will listen that Caspere died with his savings in his pocket. The direction and cinematography have been lifeless these past two episodes — we cut to shots of the freeway to fill time, we still spend time in that bar with the sad singer. It’s not that Season 2 is terrible, it’s just that it’s not captivating like Season 1. That’s a shame, because Farrell, McAdams and Kitsch are doing great work here and deserve a better show to perform on. “Other Lives” attempted an interesting detour in looking at how these characters live without their jobs in an effort to highlight how much of their life is determined by their work. It fails in the amount of time it spends making characters repeat their motivations to the camera.

There was, however, a small but significant storytelling improvement in this episode. I had grown sick of Caspere, and at this point I honestly don’t care who killed him. The focus shifted to the missing girl from the first episode, and that to me is far more interesting, and a mystery I can get invested in. Hopefully Nic Pizzolatto commits to this storyline.

MB: Lost in the hullabaloo over Season One was the lack of interest in the mystery at its heart. I don’t necessarily mean this as a knock on the season; the performances and cinematography were compelling enough that the nitty gritty about the Yellow King wasn’t all that important. I found the gripes about the end of the season to be quite petty, since they focused on the weak points (the details of the plot and its conclusion) of a show which had so many strong ones.

I say all of this to introduce my main issue with Season 2, and why it no longer feels like must see TV: Nic Pizzolatto simply hasn’t proved himself to be all that good at telling stories on this scale, and the current season is missing the camouflage that Season 1 had to hide that fact. I’ve grown sick of Caspere as well, and the complex web he’s connected with isn’t any more intriguing.

I didn’t care much for the jump in time, and I think it only brought the weaknesses of the characters to the forefront. Although the shooting left me cold, I thought it provided some potential momentum for the season to finally feel like it was building somewhere. But by throwing that momentum away with the ellipses, Pizzolatto forces us to come to terms with just how boring these characters are.

QVH: I agree about Caspere. Nobody cares anymore — it’s just a name. In all honesty, I watched the first 45 minutes of “Other Lives” on Sunday night and decided to do something else (although I can’t remember what it was). It wasn’t until Wednesday morning that I actually re-watched the entire episode (including the final act), and while it wasn’t necessarily horrible, it wasn’t memorable — aside from the cheap dialogue, of course (“pain is inexhaustible”).

In regard to Colin Farrell, I’m now more interested in what he can do with Velcoro over the remaining episodes than anything else. The same goes for Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch. The collective meeting towards the end of “Other Lives” put a  little “oompf” on the episode, despite the “are you in?” cliches. As far as Frank Semyon, he was somewhat watchable (light-hearted Vince Vaughn), however Pizzolatto gave us that dreadful scene with Jordan before the couple suddenly rediscovered their love for each other. I need more Jordan! More Kelly Reilly! And what the hell is up with these 60-second vignettes in bed? I’m done…I AM DONE (Frank Semyon voice).

MB: Not to get all Emily Nussbaum here, but I can’t shake the feeling that Pizzolatto just isn’t all that interested in the women of his stories (except for how they effect the men). Bezzerides is an obvious improvement, and McAdams is doing her part, but I feel like Pizzolatto fetishizes her in a “bad bitch” sort of way, and it’s keeping him from giving her more interesting things to do. In the sexual harassment scene, I couldn’t help but feel that Pizzolatto was just another one of the dudes turned on by hearing her talk about how much she loves dicks. Although I liked how the sexual harassment plot tied in with the motif of administrations screwing over the little guy (or girl), it confirmed for me that Pizzolatto sees Bezzerides as a woman first and a character second.

As for Jordan, I don’t think she’s gotten any more of a fair shake than Michelle Monaghan’s character did last season, who I think fulfilled a similar role. I would like to know more about her, but Pizzolatto’s main concern with her seems to be whether or not she’s going to bang Frank and give him an heir. It’s hard for me to have much interest in them as a couple, because the show only seems to care about Frank’s desires.

Even with the addition of Bezzerides, True Detective continues to be a show about MEN, and not even in the probing manner of, say, early Mamet.

DMG: I can’t help but agree, Pizzolatto has failed his female characters. Kelly Reilly is a fantastic actress and its just a waste of her talent to be spending her screen time in total service to Frank’s gratification in bed. And while McAdams is doing fantastic work as Ani, I agree with Max that Pizzolatto is one of the dudes that was turned on by her talking about loving dick. He is only interested in how his female characters service his male characters, and I was hoping to see some improvement this season from the last in that department. He’s still got three episodes, and a significant amount of atoning to do in that time. Pain is inexhaustible, and Pizzolatto has proved that by making us sit through these last two lifeless episodes.

QVH: I’m with both of you on the Bezzerides provocative, dick-talkin’ scene, which was both lame and lazy. It’s these type of moments that continuously bring down Season 2, whether it’s Velcoro spouting off about “this world of ours,” Woodrugh’s laughable conversations with Mom or any scene involving Frank Semyon. They reek of a writer fulfilling his fantasies rather than laying out a plausible storyline with dialogue that progresses the story forward.

With that being said, I’m not quite sure what to expect this Sunday. Sadly, I’m merely hoping for a string of three mildly-pleasing scenes in a row. Predictions for “Church in Ruins?”

DMG: As cool of a title as “Church in Ruins” is, I’m in the same boat of underwhelmed expectations. At this point, three mildly-pleasing scenes in a row would be a step up. I honestly can’t tell you what happened these past two episodes, because I don’t even remember. It was all instantly forgettable. The only thing to look forward to is the hope that we get lawn-beater Velcoro back, as we left off with him confronting Frank about giving him the wrong rapist several years ago. Did Frank give him the wrong guy on purpose to get a lawman in his pocket, or did he honestly think he gave Velcoro the right guy? Honestly, I don’t care about Frank’s intentions, but what this does to Velcoro is interesting. He’s told himself for years that what he did was right, but he had the wrong guy the whole time? That’s going to put his self-beliefs — his church — in ruins. If Pizzolatto can’t do something with that, then I’m not confident that True Detective can turn it around.

MB: I wouldn’t be surprised if Pizzolatto attempts to give the season one more “shot in the arm” in a manner similar to the shootout, and “Church in Ruins” seems like as good a time as any. The inertia of last week was almost unbearable, and the story feels in need of a change of pace. Perhaps Velcoro’s revenge plot, which Dylan mentioned, would be an effective vehicle for such a scene.

Regardless of what we get, I’m going to surprise exactly nobody and join the pessimism fest. There’s no excuse for the “You wouldn’t judge a novel halfway through” defense anymore, as it’s damn near impossible for me to imagine Pizzolatto pulling anything out to justify what we’ve sat through. In the same way that I felt last year’s ending in no way invalidated the experience I had prior to it, there’s no excuse for making your audience endure tedious exposition in the interest of wowing them with a shocker of an ending. Then again, maybe we’re the ones with no excuse for willingly subjecting ourselves to the tedium.

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