The closest thing to CHINATOWN on television is TRUE DETECTIVE. Last night, it raised the stakes dramatically with a gut-punching twist conclusion. HBO is known for its bold and ruthless storytelling. DETECTIVE bravely follows that mold.
* SPOILERS regarding the twist ending will be clearly marked later in this review *
I scribbled down notes as I watched. This review will not only include analysis, but also theories about the story and character motives. So, (in effect) you’ll get a glimpse into the mind of a super movie nerd, trying to put together the intricate puzzle of TRUE DETECTIVE – as the rug suddenly gets pulled out from under me.
The episode kicks off with a glimpse into the mind of someone else… Vince Vaughn’s rail developing character. He has a late night talk with his girlfriend (played by Kelly Reilly), revealing his backstory. This revelation was surprisingly emotional.
It begins with melancholic reflections on mortality. Vaughn is concerned with what we leave behind when we die, like money or land (and his proposed rail system). He ponders that upon death, “The only thing you keep is yourself.”
The conversation is mainly told in close-up as Vaughn recollects his haunting childhood. As a child, he was locked in the basement for days. The light burned out engulfing him in total darkness (metaphor anyone?). Rats come out and start biting him.
He recollects how he killed the rat, smashing him into goo with his bare hands. Knowing this makes me wonder: What is Vaughn’s character capable of?
There’s another unsettling layer to Vaughn’s story. His bleak memories were triggered by staring at a water stain on the ceiling. He waxes philosophically, saying the stain reminds him that life is an illusion. It’s “all paper-mâché.”
I’m sure there’s a metaphor or something here. I’m wondering if it has to do with assembling an illusion. It gets even creepier, as Vaughn pontificates, “It’s like something is telling me to wake up.”
Transitional Fade To… Casper’s eyeless corpse staring at us from the coroner slab. This individual is the missing person COLIN FARRELL was investigating last episode. TAYLOR KITSCH discovered the body. And RACHEL McADAMS was assigned to the case.
This law enforcement trio stand over Casper’s body once again, this time at the coroner’s. TRUE DETECTIVE is about to get complicated. Like was said in this episode, “Casper’s death is a window into everything.”
Kitsch’s Highway Patrol character found Casper while he was enjoying some assigned time off. With this new case, he has a chance to move up in the ranks. Masuka from DEXTER informs him that he could be in line for a “State detective badge.”
Kitsch isn’t seduced by power like that. He just wants to know, “When it’s over, can I just get back on my bike?”
For some reason, Kitsch has a death wish. Something tragic happened to him when he was younger, physically scarring his back and emotionally scarring his psyche. Looks like Vaughn isn’t the only one with a troubled past weighing on the present.
Vaughn learns of Casper’s cause of death: acid burned out his eyes and he has a massive gunshot to the groin. Since I think Vaughn is the man responsible, I’m saying he’s playing dumb. He continues his charade, demanding someone better gets assigned to the case.
The writers are playing with the audience here. Vaughn is either the Red Herring or a really honest man. Perhaps, the Red Herring technique is meant to draw our suspicion when the real killer is still out there?
Next up, we transition with film noir trumpets playing over a shot of the twisted and tangled highway system. And it’s back to Kitsch’s character. He visits an aging prostitute(?). She refers to his “old room.”
If Kitsch ran away from home due to abuse or something, he must have stayed with this woman. He visits his old room and reflects. We don’t know what he’s thinking but we get a good idea – with the brooding presence of Kitsch’s performance.
When he stars up at the stars it makes me wonder if he lost his mother due to violence. Maybe his dad was abusive? Maybe that’s how he got the burn scar on his back – by defending his mother?
Meanwhile… Farell and McAdams search Casper’s apartment for clues. They find an appointment book with dates circled in red, but without anything written describing the day’s events and its significance.
Farrell and McAdams discuss the case during a car ride. McAdams takes a deep and heavy haul off of an E-cigarette. Farrell makes a good joke, “That’s a little too close to sucking a robot’s dick.”
Kidding aside, I wonder if McAdams is trying to kick something more serious than an addiction to tobacco? I wonder if hints at a troubled past could mean she used to be a crack addict or something?
Later on, these two will learn that Casper had a thing for young women escorts. These dates match bank withdrawals. Perhaps, indicating his date nights? Farrell and McAdams assume a pimp killed him.
While looking at their dilapidated surroundings they talk of manufacturing plants leaving the area and real estate scooping up the properties at discount prices. Farrell declares, “We get the world we deserve.”
This is a brilliant line which thematically reflects the entire series. Each of the main characters in TRUE DETECTIVE have a complex past filled with tragedy. These fractured characters feel they “deserve” it.
Back to Vaughn… He’s getting the word out. He wants everyone to know he’s shocked and horrified at Casper’s demise. He is horrified by the violent coroner’s report. He lets it be known that he wants personal revenge when the killer is found.
While spreading the word he’s told, “We aren’t gangsters.” Vaughn nods affirmatively, but I’m guessing he’s thinking, “Well, I’m a gangster.” Is he really covering his tracks? Am I onto something? Or are these suspicious moments meant to be obvious misdirection, while the real killer is someone we haven’t been introduced to yet?
On the car ride to his next destination, Vaughn is silent and emotionless… until he crumples his glasses into bits. He questions himself aloud, “Am I diminished?“
If Casper was thinking of going back on their deal to develop the rail system, did Vaughn kill him thinking money would still follow through? Or was he just so angered that he killed Casper, then goes about securing more funds (like he would have to do if Casper lived and left)?
I’m guessing Vaughn tried to blackmail this escort loving business man, but it didn’t work out as planned.
Vaughn vents his frustrations in a later scene, while also making another step towards funding his dream of a rail system. Hired thugs stop a business man on the street. Vaughn approaches the man, toying with his prey, “Who’d you piss off?” He acts like he’s coming to the rescue, when really he’s making a subtle threat.
Meanwhile… Farrell tries to resolve his child custody issues. He brings a new pair of LeBron’s to his son, but is stopped by his ex-wife. She threatens a paternity test. This is Farrell’s worst nightmare. He loves the boy, but has a good idea that he isn’t the father.
While Farrell has made some questionable moves thus far, I still feel like he’s a good person at the root of it. He loves his son, that’s why he was so aggressive with the bully’s father. He’s also a dirty cop, from what we’ve been presented. However, I think there’s a lot more to this character.
Farrell returns to the case, working alongside McAdams. We get some more character development with some really great dialogue. She talks of the difference between the sexes, “One can kill the other with their bare hands… If a man touches me, he’ll bleed out in a manner of seconds.” Farrell hilariously replies, “Just so you know, I’m a feminist.”
Seriously though, it seems like McAdams’ troubled past could involve even more than drug addiction. Was she subjected to violence? Was her sister?
Farrell is a very street-wise detective. He’s aware of the multi-layered corruption in the City of Vinci. He shares his theory with McAdams, telling her that he believes they were tapped for the case for a reason. They were assigned to bury the case.
Farrell is considered an inept and controllable detective. If Vaughn killed Casper, he’s probably counting on his connection with Farrell to keep this mystery unsolved.
Let’s finish off these storylines…
Kitsch returns to his girlfriend’s. He packs up, set to leave for LA, assigned to Casper’s case. His girlfriend isn’t buying it. She’s already suspicious of his activity. She doesn’t know why he won’t move in. She must also wonder why he never jumps her bones as soon as he walks in the door. She doesn’t know about the Viagra and she doesn’t know about his past.
She tries to get some answers, but Kitsch won’t budge, “I’ve told you, I don’t talk about the desert.” She isn’t referring to his mercenary work with Black Mountain. She’s upset they never talk about anything – hinting at his scarred childhood. She asks what’s wrong with him. He denies it.
She declares, “You’re not right.” She threatens that if he leaves for LA without talking, they’re through.
Kitsch is bound by honour to his duty, and running scared from his past. Before he exits, he says, “Fuck it… It’s on you… This isn’t me doing this.” He takes a moment, then Kitsch hauntingly affirms again, “This isn’t me.”
I detailed this scene with quotes because the quality dialogue and its suggestive elements. What does his affirmation really mean?
Later on, Kitsch smokes on his hotel balcony in LA. He spots a colourful costumed gay couple in the streets below. Then he witnesses a male prostitute exit a car driven by a man. Kitsch continues to watch, thinking, contemplating.
Is he thinking of the law here? Did he pop Viagra with his girlfriend because he’s gay? Is he hiding his sexuality along with his scarred past?
Or was Kitsch sexually abused and attacked by a man when he was younger? Is that where the burns on his back come from? There is so much mystery brewing under the surface. Since Kitsch is so magnetic while silent, we are drawn into his mind.
Hopefully, we’ll get more insight next episode.
Meanwhile… McAdams is tortured by her past as well. She drowns her worries in whisky as she scans online pornography sites. Is she looking for her sister? Is she turned on? Is she sexually desensitized like Kitsch’s character?
Technically, this was a bold scene bound for controversy. HBO showed porn. It’s blurred, stylistically matching McAdams’ drunken state – but it’s still non-simulated sex on screen.
This episode also had McAdams and Farrell question the owner of an escort service / cosmetic surgery establishment. This man knows of McAdam’s father, the spiritual guru.
During this earlier scene, we learn that he wasn’t the best father. His daughters have either ended up in jail or died from suicide. Even though McAdams ended up in the Sheriff Department, it doesn’t mean she never broke the law when she was younger.
We’ll have to wait and see how this intriguing storyline continues to develop.
Finally, let’s close this out on Vaughn and Farrell’s storyline. Once again they meet up at the bar and exchange money. Vaughn thinks he’s in control of Farrell. He can blackmail him into doing anything. However, Farrell just learned he’ll never end up with his kid. Now he’s got nothing to lose. He’s already suspicious of the Casper case getting buried.
Farrell wants to break his involvement with Vaughn. He wants out. But Vaughn wants Ferrell for Sheriff. He wants to control the highest position of authority. He already has dirt on Ferrell, so now he’ll have a Sheriff in his pocket.
However, Ferrell says, “No.” Vaughn threatens jail. Farrell says there’s “another way out.” Is Ferrell going to arrest Vaughn despite the threat of blackmail. Is he going to solve the case no matter what? Or will he get dirty and kill Vaughn should he think he’s guilty? Or does Farrell feel so hopeless he’s suicidal?
—now entering big-time SPOILER territory—
Farrell returns to investigate Casper’s apartment by himself. He enters a room with soundproof walls. Music still plays from the night of the murder(?). Water drips in a sink. It’s been dripping a while. The sink is overflowing. There’s a sexual harness device hanging from the ceiling. This must be where he spends time with the young escorts.
The combined effect is creepy as hell. Why does Casper need soundproofing? Does he hurt these women?
Next, Farrell discovers the scene of the crime: blood pooled on the carpet. There’s animal heads lined on the walls. Trophies. There’s an empty spot on the mantel. One of the heads is missing. What the hell is going on?
Farrell turns around. There’s tall man wearing a giant crow’s head and armed with a shotgun. He fires. Them fires again at close range, killing Farrell.
Wow! What an amazing twist. HBO has balls. They just pulled a Janet Leigh from PSYCHO. Farrell is a big name actor. His character seemed like the main lead. I never even entertained the idea he would die. Maybe in the finale – but this is unprecedented. And so entirely effective. Now anything can happen. (Even a bulletproof vest excuse. But come on. If they do that, they’ll have some explaining to do. Flashbacks would be better.)
I’m sticking to my guns and saying the killer was Vaughn. That crow was tall, right. I pointed out some scenes earlier that made me suspicious. Now, factor in the disagreement parallel: two men who broke their deals with Vaughn are now dead. I’m not saying this is evidence of certain guilt. I’m saying I’ve got my main suspect.
Will McAdams remember what Ferrell said about burying the case? Will she somehow connect the dots with Vaughn after she looks into Farrell’s life? How will Kitsch factor in?
We’re only at episode two and we’ve already had our world shook. TRUE DETECTIVE is a most intriguing mystery which continues to build each week.
The writing and directing are well above television standards. These characters are internally complex. They don’t just serve the plot.
Once again, I think TRUE DETECTIVE is a contender for the best dramatic series on TV. Season two continues to deliver adult entertainment worthy of our participation.
The more you wonder about character motives, the more you should enjoy this incredible series.
What do you think?
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