True Detective ‘Black Maps and Hotel Rooms’ (A Vague Visages Staff Recap)


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

QVH: Believe it or not, the opening minutes of “Black Maps and Motel Rooms” allowed me to briefly forget about the past nonsense and lock in for a gritty, satisfying episode. It was a good move by Nic Pizzolatto to focus on Rachel McAdams’ Ani Bezzerides from the start, however after just a couple minutes, the dialogue once again had me questioning why I choose to keep watching True Detective.

As convoluted as the plot seems to be, Pizzolatto’s techniques would be much more effective if the symbolism wasn’t so damn blatant. As Frank plays cards and chats with his wife Jordan about their future, the latter says, “We could just walk away from the table.” I mean, c’mon. And doesn’t it seem obvious now that Kelly Reilly’s Jordan is probably one of the masterminds? Why else would Pizzolatto keep such a talented actress in the background?

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to appreciate in “Black Maps and Motel Room.” I enjoyed the mounting tension between the characters, and the motel scenes conveyed a sense of claustrophobia, but lines such as “everything is fucking” are incredibly distracting. After searching for “everything is fucking” on Twitter, I discovered that viewers felt the same way (surprise).

I don’t buy Vince Vaughn’s Frank Semyon as a wise-ass businessman/gangster. With each ridiculous conversation, I imagine Pizzolatto cackling to himself as he writes the character. It’s like he’s working from a bulletin board of jokes and can’t seem to allow Semyon to speak like a normal human being. It’s amazing.

Woodrugh’s death: I could really care less. For an eight-episode series, Pizzolatto didn’t provide enough to make the moment truly impactful. Ok, so Woodrugh was running from his sexuality, and it killed him? Ok…what else are we supposed to take away from his character? Was it a woman that was responsible for his downfall?

Perhaps the most touching moment of the episode came between Ray and Ani, but once again, I don’t buy into dialogue such as this:

Ani: You’re not a bad man.

Ray: Yes, I am.

Of course, Ani is taken by the predictable line, and for me, their romantic escape lacked heart, even if both Colin Farrell and McAdams gave it their all. Overall, the episode strangely works in a way, but most of it was a complete mess. And I did not care for that slo-mo beating shot.

DMG: My heart broke when Paul died, but not because I actually cared about his character or his arc, but because when he died, Season 2 officially became yet another chapter in Taylor Kitsch’s autobiography of misfired potential. Season 2 has told us that we get the world we deserve, but what did we deserve to get a world where nobody in Hollywood knows what to do with a talent like Kitsch?

Meanwhile, Frank continues to be the most uninteresting gangster to watch in Pizzolatto and Vaughn’s hands. Are we supposed to be taking him seriously? I don’t know if it’s Pizzolatto’s dialogue or Vaughn’s disinterest, but I don’t buy Frank as the wise-ass businessman/gangster they’ve been selling him as.

I could care less that Ani and Ray hooked up, it’s just another thing Pizzolatto has forced on us unconvincingly. On second thought, maybe Kitsch got the best deal out of everyone, as he got to exit this season before the rest of us. Watching this season has been like watching a losing baseball team that has like 2-3 great players: we’re just watching talent go unfulfilled.

MB: It’s hard for me to disagree with you guys about Paul’s death, Ani and Ray hooking up, or the absurdity of the “everything is fucking line” (it gives the “bad pussy” line from the Game of Thrones finale some serious competition for the worst dialogue recited on an HBO show this year), but I found myself enjoying this episode more than I have the past few in spite of myself. No, I don’t think the characters have done more anything to warrant our sympathies, and I can’t make much more sense of the plot, but I at least felt like Pizzolatto was having fun here (possibly more so than he’s done in the show’s entire run). In putting Ray and Ani together, he came off as a fan fiction addict shipping her favorite characters. When Frank beat up Blake, I felt like Pizzolatto was a fanboy in awe of his alpha male’s brute strength. Although Paul died, I enjoyed his Mexican standoff, and I liked the idea of Pizzolatto seeing him as some sort of martyr (for what exactly, I’m not sure, but there’s a lot I’m not sure about in this season). This probably wasn’t exactly what Pizzolatto was going for, and I might just be doing my damnedest to take a glass half full view of this season after my barrage of cynicism, but it at least helped me have some fun with what’s been mostly joyless TV.

Question for you guys – how much do or don’t you care about the clarity of this season’s plot? I started reading Willa Paskin’s explainer over at Slate, and while it was well written and comprehensive, I couldn’t get through it because it just didn’t mean all that much to me. As all of us has been expressing to certain degrees, I wouldn’t dare claim to understand everything that’s been going on, but I also feel like my apathy has to do with far more than my lack of comprehension. Your thoughts?

DMG: I guess my answer would be that I don’t care about lack of clarity in the plot that much. If you were to ask me what the hell is happening in this season, the best I could offer is a shrug, even after reading Paskin’s greatly written and understood recap of it all. What disappoints me about this season more than a muddled plot is its unclear understanding of its characters and lack of visual hook. Season 1’s plot wasn’t always clear to me at times, but the characters always were, and nearly every image from Fukunaga and Arkapaw was intriguing. Season 1 had the performances and visual aesthetic to elevate the plot to the point where you didn’t have to understand it to engage with the show. So, I’ll be agreeing with you that my apathy has less to do with lack of comprehension and more with the lack of effort and coherency with other aspects of the show that would otherwise elevate it.

QVH: I’ve been watching HBO’s The Newsroom as of late, and just the opening credits alone pull me in. With True Detective (Season 2), there’s nothing that I’m looking forward to — I just want to know how it ends. Perhaps the season finale will inspire some water cooler buzz, but there are far too many problems to save the season at this point.

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