Review: ‘True Detective’ – ‘Church in Ruins’

Senior Television Writer
07.26.15 186 Comments

HBO

A review of tonight's “True Detective” coming up just as soon as I find “Friends”…

This week, on “Looking For Silver Linings From 'True Detective' Season 2”:

* The very busy Miguel Sapochnik (who also directed tonight's “Masters of Sex”) did a fine job of making Ani's ordeal at the orgy seem every bit as nightmarish and suspenseful as intended, even if the idea of her going in there with only Paul and Ray as backup felt incredibly contrived and there only to set up that scenario where we had to fear so much for our heroine.

* The score throughout that sequence was lush and melodramatic in a way that very much evoked the kinds of '40s and '50s LA noir films where parties like this might take place (albeit ones presented in less explicit fashion than this).

* This was a non-terrible episode for Vince Vaughn, and at times a very good one. The look of absolute weariness on Frank's face after he and Ray put their hands on the table was far more effective than any of his monologues to date. And even some of the scenes where he had to talk his way out of trouble (specifically upon finding his would-be Mexican partners at the hideout) were fairly effective. In the end, this is likely to go down as a very bad match of actor and dialogue style, but Vaughn's got the physical presence the role demands, and he can at times make the verbal stuff mostly work.

* Only the briefest of allusions to Paul's personal life, and while Frank's visit to the home of The Mysterious Stan's widow and son (more on them in a bit) was largely there to give him an opportunity to play father figure (in sharp contrast to how badly Ray was doing at the moment with Chad), Frank and Jordan didn't actually spend any time discussing their family. Fatherhood is a huge piece of the season (see also the implication that Ani was molested as a girl by one of her father's friends at his retreat), but those scenes have largely landed with a thud; any episode that minimizes them even a bit in favor of the policework is a step in the right direction.

* Ray's ex-wife Gena insisting that she wanted to know the paternity test results for reasons that had nothing to do with him was a good reminder that the supporting characters should exist as human beings outside of their impact on the leads. That was a weakness of the first season, even if it was mostly by design, and it's been an even bigger issue this year with twice as many leads. But that was a good moment, even if the scene was ultimately 90 percent about what Ray wanted.

* Ani finding Vera at the orgy, Irina telling Frank that her contact was probably a cop (a callback to Ray's belief that Bird Mask must be a cop, since he used riot shells on him), and so many characters of significance (including the attorney general and the Vinci PD chief) being at the orgy, all suggest a story finally starting to contract. That's necessary for any eight-part mystery once you get done with part six, but especially for one like this where the show has done such a weak job of clarifying why any of this matters (other than to the newly-destitute Frank) or why we should care. 

Now on the flip side, “More of the Same From 'True Detective' Season 2”:

* Ray's cocaine binge, even scored to New York Dolls' propulsive “Human Being,” was much too over-the-top to do Colin Farrell any favors. He's had some very strong moments the past two weeks (the discovery that Ray killed the wrong man, or Ray's ambivalence about the outcome of the showdown with Frank), but this just played as goofy.

* Also, while Ray's cheese grater threat to Gena's actual rapist felt in character for a guy who, lest we forget, threatened to sodomize a bully's father with the bully's mother's headless corpse, it also seems like the threat to the man who destroyed his life should be vastly worse than the one he gave to a kid who stole his son's shoes, and this wasn't that. (Though perhaps I should be grateful the imagery wasn't even more horrific.)

* The business with the widow and son of The Mysterious Stan again reminds me that I have no idea who Stan is, and finally had to Google it to discover a Pajiba post explaining that Stan was one of Frank's many henchmen in the first episode. If his name was ever said on camera, I missed it; either way, the show did a poor job of establishing who this guy was so we would know both why his death so upset Frank and then why Frank and Jordan would be paying yet another condolence visit at such a fraught time.

* Again, Ani going undercover in this situation, with such a high probability for something even worse to happen to her than actually did, doesn't make a lot of sense, even in the context of a story where she's desperate to get any answers on this very nebulous conspiracy.

When you balance the two sides out, there were more individual elements to feel positive about, but the completely inert nature of the mystery remains an enormous problem, even when the performances or direction have moments to shine. Better, but still “True Detective” season 2.

What did everybody else think?

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