True Detective ‘Black Maps and Motel Rooms’ (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: Ok, two episode left. For me, it’s now about WHO will melt down the most, and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what happened on Sunday during “Church in Ruins” (beyond the final orgy scene). All season, I’ve watched each episode twice, however my notes for last episode were much smaller and consisted of phrases like “Bezzerides knife scene,” “I don’t really get art” and “Velcoro growl.” Can you guys tell me what happened last episode and what we can expect this Sunday with “Black Maps and Hotel Rooms?” I’m guessing that Pizzolatto will give us ominous shots of black maps and hotel rooms?

MB: I got the big set piece I was predicting/hoping for, but it still wasn’t nearly enough to drag the season out of the muck. One problem was the approach: the orgy was depicted in an ambiguous, faux-artsy style when it should’ve been tackled head on. Director Miguel Sapochnik directed one of the most visceral scenes in TV history in the Game of Thrones episode “Hardhome,” and I think the orgy would’ve been better served by being shown more in that vein instead of feeling like a misguided attempt to cop Hannibal’s impressionism. I appreciated being brought inside Bezzerides’ head, but what the scene could’ve used more of was a stark confrontation of reality.

Not helping the situation was what we learned of Bezzerides’ thoughts. I found the memory of her sexual assault to be a lazy and unnecessary addition, and it undermined the seriousness of what was going on. It seemed as if Pizzolatto was saying that the imminent threat of rape alone wasn’t enough to make us care, and he needed to add her sad history to ratchet up the stakes. I think the decision to make the orgy scene hazy and from Bezzerides’ perspective was a way to pre-empt potential feminist critiques (to be expected given the show’s deserved reputation for misogyny, and given that it was an ORGY SCENE), but the excessive flashback undermined whatever goodwill Pizzolatto could’ve earned.

I also think it makes for a nice comparison with the knife scene, in that they were both poor, misguided attempts at creating character. The knife scene appears to be in dialogue with the shot of Bezzerides pulling out the knife in the shootout, and both scenes appear to be attempts at giving her some defining characteristics (like the rape flashback). That being said, both details were unnecessary and didn’t contribute to us understanding her as a human being (unless you define people by being raped or by carrying a knife, and, well, don’t do that).

That makes for a nice segue into what was going on in the episode prior to the orgy, which was, I think, mostly character exposition. The scenes of Frank and Ray doing their best “daddy” impressions weren’t horrible (the scene of Ray watching Friends was my favorite moment of the season to date), but they came too late in the show to have much meaning. Ray’s relationship with his son is a thread Pizzolatto has only addressed sporadically throughout the season, and the scattered narrative kept it from developing any momentum.

As for this Sunday, um, overhead shots and angst?

DMG: That sounds about right, and you hit the highlights and quotables for “Church in Ruins. In that regard, I suppose it’s a step up that there were actual highlights and quotables this episode, something to remember amongst the long stretches of a muddled plot. As you touched on, I have no clue what’s going on in this show anymore, the difference in this episode being that I was a little more okay with being stuck in a plot that Pizzolatto doesn’t even seem to know his way through due to stronger character moments for Ray and Ani (Ray giving up custody after doing all the drugs, Ani delivering on her knife skills) than we’ve been sitting through these past few episodes. Anyways, I’m looking forward to those shots of black maps and hotel rooms.

QVH: I agree about the orgy seen and the potential backlash, as Pizzolatto still hasn’t delivered that “moment.” Velcoro getting shot? Did anybody seriously believe that Colin Farrell would be killed off early on? It speaks volumes that viewers seem to happy with somewhat clever dialogue (when it comes), but it’s all empty to me. The Bezzerides knife scene came across like Pizzolatto thought it would look cool.

With two episodes left, what are we supposed to think of Woodrugh by now and the backstory that Pizzolatto has laid out?

DMG: Taylor Kitsch is perhaps one of the unluckiest actors I’ve ever seen. After charming us for five seasons as Tim Riggins on Friday Night Lights, he was set to be the next big thing in Hollywood, except that never happened. Both John Carter and Battleship — star vehicles for him — tanked, and he was suddenly deemed toxic. It’s unfair, because I will always believe that Kitsch has so much more to offer us that we just haven’t seen yet. I was hoping his role in True Detective would be that special role, the one that would make everyone believe in Kitsch again. It hasn’t been though. Through the muddled plot that Pizzolatto has laid out, and a backstory that isn’t as compelling as he believes it is, Kitsch hasn’t received a chance to truly shine. The biggest problem, and this extends to Velcoro and Bezzerides as well, is that these actors have a firm grip on who these characters are and what makes them tick, but Pizzolatto doesn’t seem to. It makes for frustratingly discordant television.

MB: I like Kitsch a lot as well, and I don’t think the role of Woodrugh does him justice. In the same way that I’ve never shaken the feeling of Pizzolatto seeing Bezzerides as a woman first and a human being second, I think he defines Woodrugh by his homosexual tendencies, and that plays a large role in his overall weak characterization. While I’m sure his sexuality plays an important role in who he is, it’s far from the only thing, but it seems like Pizzolatto doesn’t see it that way. As much as I appreciate him trying to tell the stories of people who aren’t straight white dudes, there’s not much point if the only thing he finds interesting about them is that they aren’t straight white dudes.

DMG: I guess my main question going into these final two episodes is this: how much does it concern each of us that this plot shows no signs of coming together with just two hours left?

MB: Sorry to be blunt, but it’s hard for me to be all that concerned about the resolution when I never cared much in the first place.

There’s a grand tradition in film noir of convoluted narratives which don’t make much sense (Raymond Chandler, an authority on the subject if there ever was one, was infamous for saying he didn’t understand the ending to his novel The Big Sleep), and I think Pizzolatto is attempting to work within it. Paul Thomas Anderson did a brilliant job of riffing on this trope in his adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, and his film does more than enough to grab your attention even if you can’t follow how everything ties together: it’s hilarious and gorgeous, has unforgettable characters and evokes a mood better than almost any film I’ve ever seen. Likewise, in the novels and films which Pynchon works from (including The Big Sleep), the characters and places are strong and memorable enough to leave you unconcerned if you can’t keep track of the plot’s minutiae.

Needless to say, the same can’t be said of #TrueDetectiveSeason2 (I use the hashtag to evoke the Twitter joke which was more fun than the TV it anticipated). If Pizzolatto thinks he’s being Chandler-esque in his convolution, he’s sorely misguided. Working from tropes isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and he pulled it off in the first season, but he simply hasn’t given us much reason to care about these people. Likewise, we’ve been banged over the head with the setting through the pervasive overhead shots of the busy LA traffic, but these don’t do much to evoke the feeling of actually living there. Again, even with its winking comedy and absurdly grandiose plot, Inherent Vice felt more like an authentically LA story.

So, to answer your question in a sentence, it doesn’t concern me much.

QVH: For me, True Detective Season 2 doesn’t have much style or heart, but I’ll still be watching Sunday night out of curiosity.

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