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True Detective Season 2 Episode 6 Review: The Dark Night

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This week, True Detective proved that there is an interesting story behind the mechanical character development and clunky dialogue we’ve seen so far; however, the actual ingredient that made the show so successful in its first season is lacking.

What makes the show stand out from the pack is that it focuses on its characters’ personal lives and personal struggles over plot. It did the same this year. Our four lead characters’ lives were revealed through small slower scenes with their families, talking about their past which is a little like info dumping but that’s forgivable when it’s the first few episodes, not when it’s still doing it three quarters of the way into the season.

That’s how I felt in the last episode – characters repeating the same beats: Semyon talking about his conception problems with Jordan, Velcoro constantly reminding everyone how much he loves his son, Woodrugh wishing he was straight, and Bezzerides having a fragile relationship with her father. All of those character struggles were interesting introductions at the start of the season as they revealed who our characters were. It also made known the central theme of family; however, as the season developed these moral struggles have become strained and less involving. The characters don’t do much about their woes; they talk at great length about them to each other, but don’t actually do anything about them. Occasionally they go into fits of rage like Woodrugh on his bike, or Semyon having fisticuffs, but it doesn’t make you care for their situation any more with their constant self pity.

I would also feel more for Velcoro if his son were a little more likeable. Or if Velcoro spent more of the episode hunting for Caspere’s killer which would benefit him more as it would lead to him keeping his son because that was the deal (which he doesn’t want to do now anyway, apparently), instead of going on a coke and booze fest (biggest cliché of the season right here!)

It was easier to feel for Velcoro in the last episode because he genuinely seemed like a changed man wanting to turn his life and family around, but now he’s back in self pity mode, basically back in the same place as the first episode. It means his problems are beginning to grate on the audience; we’re going through the same beats again, all he needs to do now is find a snotty twelve year old with a dodgy name like As-pen and go and beat them to a pulp on a neatly cut lawn. Even Velcoro’s scene with Semyon was anticlimactic, not because there wasn’t any bloodshed. It’s because of the stiff dialogue and on the nose info dump of emotions spoon fed to the viewer, which subsequently makes their relationship seem under-written and false. Also, has anyone else noticed that the angrier Velcoro gets, the more he sounds like Christian Bale’s Batman?

At least Semyon added to the investigation this week as the scenes with the Mexican gang left interesting questions as to whom the cop was that Amarillo’s girl talked about. However, these scenes still felt lacking in the tension department, and maybe that’s down to the fact Semyon has become rather a dull character. His dialogue definitely feels the most warped and clunky out of all the other characters, but then again, Vince Vaughn can’t seem to connect with the words coming out of his mouth, so that can’t help the dialogue either. It’s like he’s reading an autocue for the first time, it leaves potentially moving scenes like the one with poor ‘ol Stan’s son, falling flat, as he spouts monotone sentences like “your father was a good, good man.” It was a chance to make Semyon a likeable character too, as he realised he could be a good parent, but because of the mixture of the script and Vaughn’s acting it fell flat on its face.

Finally we’ve got some interesting backstory on Ani Bezzerides.

Moving on, Woodrugh didn’t have much to do this week apart from investigating. His investigation scenes were the most formulaic of the lot, feeling devoid of energy or intrigue, which again reinforces what I questioned last week about whether Woodrugh is actually necessary to the plot despite actually being an interesting character in his own right.

One thing this episode did do right was the party scene as it resulted in the season’s most gripping sequence so far, but for two very different reasons.

Firstly, it finally forced the plot into gear – despite a couple of false starts i.e. the Amarillo shootout and Velcoro rubber bullet shooting – with the revelation of all the contracts, the missing girl being found, and the Russian mobster, Osip Agronov, being possibly in on the Caspere murder, which was not much of a surprise I suppose; but the biggest revelation of them all was that Woodrugh found contracts that contain signatures on them! He genuinely seemed baffled by this mystery of the universe. Also, it stamps real stakes on our characters’ lives now; no doubt the people at the mansion will be desperate for our detectives to be found and most probably killed, which actually sets the final two episodes up for, potentially, a grand finale.

Secondly, the scene stood out because – and I know I said last week that I was hoping from the start of the season that Bezzerides’ weaknesses and strange relationship with her father would reveal more details as the investigation heated up, and I said that it hadn’t done it thus far, well now it has – she has become more sympathetic as a character this week. It makes you wonder who the person was who abused her, possibly from her father’s group. Nonetheless it develops her into a more three dimensional person now.

It’s a story technique that hasn’t been used much this season: using the plot to reveal character back-story and weakness instead of the characters just spouting it out in a depressing bar. It provides subtext to the investigation scenes where we can learn facts about who killed Caspere, while also learning who our characters are through them battling their demons.

The blending of character weaknesses with the investigation has only really happened so far this season when Woodrough visited the male hookers when investigating Caspere’s murder, but finally with Bezzerides at the party, it proved the show still has that subtext to it. It also revealed the potential this season had, and maybe proved this season would have been better off focusing on the show’s two most important characters, Velcoro and Bezzerides, because their personal journeys seem to tie into the plot closer than Woodrugh’s and Semyon’s do. It left a lot of potential on the side of the road – so to speak.

But the potential can be delivered in the final two episodes, and I know it seems unlikely when the season so far has been very inconsistent, but I feel that there are a lot of interesting threads ready to collide to create something memorable.

Good Things

  • Well realised final sequence
  • New Bezzerides backstory

Bad Things

  • Forced family scenes