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True Detective Season 2 Episode 3 ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ Review: Brokeback Vinci
What I felt could happen to True Detective season 2 is happening. Sometimes with Nic Pizzolatto’s writing it gives the impression that what you’re reading or watching is something you’ve seen or read countless times before. Usually the characters appear as one dimensional and the plot starts out predictably enough, but about halfway through this generic tale, it takes a left turn. The story becomes no longer what you thought it was going to turn into, and becomes unlike anything out there due to Pizzolatto’s focus on character development and psychology over tired plot tropes. And luckily for us, ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ does just that, along with bringing back the surreal undertones that made season one of True Detective so memorable.
It gave the show a sense of self confidence this week starting with a dream sequence which was more “Black Lodge” from Twin Peaks than “Black Rose” dive bar. For all its abstractions though, the scene did two very important things: first, it proved Velcoro’s real struggle is with his own masculinity and manhood and failure to be a man, and second, it proved True Detective’s got its confidence back. It was the kind of cocky opening that separates this show from other generic cop dramas, and it was what I felt was missing from the first two installments. Nonetheless, the power and confidence of this scene made me wonder: is this season now ready to deliver on its potential?
In last week’s review I said that I felt the episode wasted the potential to create exciting conflict between Velcoro, Bezzerides, and Woodrugh. They were all tasked with investigating each other, while also not being sure whether their bosses were just playing them like flutes to find out their own dirt. Because of this it could have provided subtext to the scenes the leads shared together; however, scenes were littered with clunky exposition and lazy attempts at building chemistry between Velcoro and Bezzerides – where I feel the greatest potential for chemistry lies – by having them keep reaffirming their beliefs. Those brief moments of philosophy didn’t feel nearly as well detailed and thought out as season one’s. However, in this episode, the quality stepped up a notch.
Unleashed from its robotic clunking, there was a real appreciative smooth ease to the partnership between Velcoro and Bezzerides this week. Because of their under-qualified resume and the general feeling they’re both a fish out of water, both characters felt natural relying on each other in their scenes; there’s a kind of a mutual respect between their fragile and haunted pasts which make them stronger together, which came at a good time when Bezzerides overheard Velcoro “reasoning” with his ex-wife (and I use ‘reasoning’ loosely here) which made Bezzerides sympathize with him. What makes their partnership so interesting is that they both are still investigating each other so there’s a bit of unease to whether they’re actually getting along, or whether Bezzerides is just playing him. Nevertheless, it made me care for them as a duo and made the foot chase near the end all the more exciting, even though I suspect it was only there so it would confirm Bezzerides fully trusts Velcoro now (or does she?). Also, what was that arson-happy guy wearing on his face? A plate? Papier-mâché? Is it someone related to the bird mask person, or a separate group?
The only chemistry not in sync with the rest of the cast, and it’s probably on purpose because he is a loner, is Paul Woodrugh. He is still in the early stages of character development as his character only fully came into the light this episode – or dark depending on how you want to put it – as to who he really is. And it wasn’t until the second half of the episode that Woodrugh’s scenes came alive, which resulted in the only weaker parts earlier on. His scenes with Bezzerides make him look like a one dimensional cop just wanting to do right by the law. Even Bezzerides probably thinks this at the moment, but luckily those scenes were counteracted with questions of whether Tony Chessani is involved with the parties Caspere used to go to, and if he is the one who runs everything under the surface. That intrigue shied away from the lack of chemistry between Woodrugh and Bezzerides, but making Woodrugh look one dimensional, I feel, is actually great writing and acting. We all know now that Woodrugh isn’t allowed to be who he truly is because of the job and world he occupies, so he’s going to feel wooden and stilted when on the job. He’s basically trying to be someone he’s not.
Because of this constant battle with his sexuality and trying to appear something else on the surface and taking into account his still mysterious “Black Mountain” days, he remains the most interesting character, and probably the best written. Pizzolatto has cleverly made his sexuality come to the forefront in the investigation by making him deal with male hookers who are involved in the Caspere disappearance, its smart writing to have his motivation to solve the case tie into his psychological weakness which formed the foundations for one of the strongest scenes this week.
I could feel the awkwardness Woodrugh was feeling in that scene, because he knew he had to be there for the good of the case, but it was torturing him to face his fears. It combined that tension with the looming black cloud of the bird mask, Hotline Miami lookalike’s who are stalking Semyon, who you just felt are always watching, into a suffocating air slowly building. Anyway, enough with the purple prose, with all this tension building now, I can safely say that is a sign that I’m beginning to care about these characters, and even be perhaps thankful we got so much back-story in the past episodes, even though it was slightly laborious.
All the characters have been set up so their weaknesses, hell, their soul is on the line. Woodrugh is battling his sexuality, Semyon can’t pass on his legacy, Velcoro is fighting for his manhood, and Bezzerides doesn’t know who to trust. It makes you care for what happens to them because there are real stakes on the line, not just a ticking bomb for artificial thrills, and it means season two is giving itself the best chance for something crazy to unfold. The fact that I now care for these characters is not the only thing that made this episode feel like True Detective is getting back on track.
A lot of the success of this week’s installment has to go to first time TV director, Janus Matz Pederson who’d previously worked on short films and the war documentary, Armadillo. It was so impressive to see such assured, confident filmmaking for a first attempt at high prestige TV drama. Pederson has a more arthouse, experimental touch than Justin Lin’s Hollywood grand spectacle. He brought out the surreal, dark undertones of Vinci better than Lin, and felt his vision fits the themes of this show to a tee. He also got better performances out of the actors. They all seem more comfortable with the dialogue, give or take the odd clunky line. I just wish Pederson could direct all eight, but hey, it’s not the last time him and Pizzolatto are working together, Pederson is directing Pizzolatto’s debut novel, Galveston sometime next year.
I must save the biggest praise for last though, and that goes to Vince Vaughn, because for all his critics and even his struggling of finding the right way to play Semyon in the first two episodes, he has come into his own this episode. In fact he came alive more in the tense scenes when he was extorting money from the land site developer and during the brawl with his pudgy Mexican. There’s a rage in his eyes now, not overacting, but like he’s in tune with Semyon’s situation as the walls are closing in on him. There’s still a way to go for him to fully feel like he’s inhabited Semyon, but this episode’s a start.
Credit must go to Kelly Reilly also, who has been gracing English TV screens and Hollywood movies for years now. She’s always been a versatile actress and proves it here with the charming, loving wife who is just bordering on being suspicious; she adds just the right amount of distrust, which the filmmakers probably wanted: someone who was going to underplay the role, but who was talented enough to break out in the big scenes. However, the big scenes haven’t come yet, but I feel her role in the plot is a lot bigger than it is at the moment. Even Semyon looked suspiciously at her in the final scene, hinting maybe she has ties to the “half anaconda, half great white,” Russian tycoon, Osip. I know it’s not much – a kiss on the hand, but the filmmakers showed that for a reason, but for now it’s just a hunch she’s more than meets the eye. The same could be said for this season as a whole.
This season is doing the reverse of what season one did. Season one started out as a slick, weird, mysterious, almost fantastical thriller that became quite standard, apart from the characters, in the finale last year. So potentially, with Pizzolatto aware of last season finale’s criticism of a lack of payoff to all the supernatural elements earlier in the season, maybe this time Pizzolatto has decided to start with a standard plot, and then finish with a huge payoff. This episode definitely showed signs of this potential, now it needs to build on that and become stronger, or risk season one being dubbed a flash in the pan.
On a side note, one person who won’t be hoping it ends well is last season’s director Cary Fukunaga, whose uncanny resemblance to the slimy movie director of the “two tons of shit” post apocalyptic movie, in the scene with Velcoro and Bezzerides, seemed to be a cheap jab of last season’s helm, but who knows, maybe it’s a Pizzolatto/Fukunga in-joke.
- Tense atmosphere
- Beginning to care for the characters
- Still the occasional wooden scene