A review of tonight's “True Detective” coming up just as soon as I take a micronap…
In trying to convince Ray to join the new, covert incarnation of the Caspere task force, Ani tells him that it's never too late to start over again.
It may not be too late for Ray Velcoro and doing the right thing, but I fear it may be for me and “True Detective.”
“Other Lives” is as close to a clean slate as you can get midway through an eight-episode season. The time jump isn't anywhere near as drastic as the two from Rust and Marty's case last year, but those 66 days since the shootout has upended the status quo for all four main characters – Paul now a hero and a detective, Ray now working security for Frank, Frank now living in a much smaller house in Glendale, and Ani getting the Lt. Daniels memorial assignment to the evidence cage – and forced them to reconsider what they want out of life. And some of the changes seem more promising than what the show did with these characters in the first four episodes, like Ani and Ray now trusting each other, or even Ray shaving off his mustache, which exposes both an old scar on his upper lip and a more vulnerable and interesting performance from Colin Farrell. (Ray's horrified response to learning he had murdered the wrong man was easily Farrell's best moment of the series so far.)
But the season dug itself such a deep hole over its first half that it's hard to imagine the second half making more than incremental progress in climbing out of it. There are some developments and moments in “Other Lives” that I found promising, but that I would have found a whole lot more promising if I hadn't made it through the previous four chapters without finding many characters or stories worth caring about.
So while it's interesting to a degree to see Ani humbled and forced to reach out to various people she pushed away, or to see the three members of the task force actually working like a team this time, or even to have Ray figure out that Frank set him up to murder a man who hadn't raped his wife, all of that comes wrapped in the same package with the usual awkward Frank and Jordan scenes, the ongoing fascinating with sex so kinky and horrible it can only be alluded to even on HBO, to Paul and his cartoonish mother yelling at each other, etc.
The short season is both a blessing and a curse here. Three more episodes is a small enough commitment that I'm going to stick this out for the occasional glimpses of what Pizzolatto and these actors do best, and to see whether – unlike last season – the story takes on any extra resonance once we've seen all of it. But it also doesn't feel like enough road for the season to truly straighten itself out. The advantage of doing a traditional broadcast network season, or even the semi-traditional 13-episode cable season, is that there's more time to figure things out, particularly for a new show. (Which this season is, for all intents and purposes.) With only eight, there's very little room for error, and there's been way too much error already.
Some other thoughts:
* Pizzolatto's working a lot with parenting as a theme this season, and it's particularly prevalent here, with Jordan trying to convince Frank to adopt by pointing out how he could have been saved from his drunken father, Paul pushing forward with the sham marriage to Emily for the sake of the baby, and Ray's ex finally demanding the paternity test about Chad. Unfortunately, the personal material has been one of the weaker parts of this season – particularly whenever Frank's involved – and there are too many stories happening for any one of these to really get the attention it might need to catch fire.
* Last week, many of you suggested that Mayor Chessani used Teague Dixon to set up the task force and shut down the investigation. There are a few more hints of that here, including Dixon having looked for the blue diamonds before they were even discovered in the safe deposit box.
* Unfortunate casting: hiring Matt McCoy to play a lawyer we were meant to take completely seriously only a few weeks after he had played a largely ridiculous “Silicon Valley” lawyer on this same channel.
* So, did Ray shaving his mustache also somehow make him immune from prosecution for beating up the bully's dad?
* Ani's back to smoking real cigarettes again. Probably for the best, given the number of shows that have recently done or about to do vaping references.
* As Ray beats the snot out of Dr. Pitlor this week, it's time for another Rick Springfield tune. Let's go with “Don't Talk to Strangers.”
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com