‘True Detective’ 2×05: ‘Other Lives’

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It’s 66 days after the massacre at city manager Ben Caspere’s alleged killers’ warehouse, and we still don’t have a clear plotline or strong character development.

Yes, we may be following the investigation of Caspere’s murder, but the vast number of subplots, character background and twists and turns make this season of “True Detective” harder and harder to follow. And unlike last season — with its esoteric, smart and intriguing vibes — this season falls flat, leaving us confused and frustrated.

Here’s what we do know: Corrupt Caspere was heavily involved in an underground political-party scene, and we don’t mean with Republicans and Democrats. Think prostitutes, booze, drugs and lots of money. He was not only partaking in these indulgences but also taking photos to use as blackmail against other high-profile figures, such as the president of the railway company that is, presumably, in charge of the project in California. He and Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) were working together on a deal in which they contaminated land and bought it cheaply, cleaning the land with government subsidies so that they would have developed all along the budding railway line.

After Caspere’s death, however, Frank lost his spot in the circle, along with $5 million. Now, Frank has been offered big money in exchange for a hard drive containing all the blackmail images — a mission that is now a key component of his plan to rectify his life.

As Frank pieces this together, so do Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) and Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) — all of whom, for different reasons, are no longer on the case, as it’s closed; the Mexican drug gang has been blamed for Caspere’s death. State Attorney Katherine Davis (Michael Hyatt), the same one who pursued Ray for murdering his ex-wife’s attacker years prior, bands the trio together to continue the investigation.

After persuading Ray to join her team, Katherine reveals that the man who raped his ex-wife has been put in custody and that a DNA test matched the man to her rape kit. To the state attorney, this means Ray must be innocent, but Ray’s guilt has only just begun, as he realizes that he killed an innocent man. Frank set him up and has been abusing their relationship ever since, even persuading Ray to leave his policing career behind to join Frank’s circle. The episode ends with their confrontation.

So, yes, the plot — as intentionally confusing and convoluted as it may be — is sort of coming together, but characters who should be further developed by this point (we’re more than halfway through the season now) still feel unexplored and almost foreign. The jump from from two well-developed, multi-layered, gritty main characters to four one-dimensional, lackluster stereotypes was an overambitious disappointment.

Ani was a chance for the show to start a real dialogue on the hardships of women in male-dominated industries or, at the very least, to show a woman’s perspective. We’ve seen brief moments of both of these things, but they often feel forced, as if the scenes exist only to check off a “feminist issues” box. Sadly, more often than not, Ani’s character is completely defined by her brokenness, and her reluctance to acknowledge her problems suggests that she won’t be fixed anytime soon.

Paul’s story is one we’ve heard too many times to count: Manly man is gay but too ashamed to admit it. Yes, this is a real and true feeling that thousands of people have experienced. But it’s 2015, not 1982. He’s in California, not Kansas. This plotline doesn’t feel only repetitive but also frustrating. We want Paul out of the closet instead of trying to raise a baby he had to use Viagra to make. And his cliche negligent, drunk mother doesn’t help make his character any more dynamic.

Early in the episode, Frank and his wife, Jordan (Kelly Reilly), argue about building a family and about the rebuilding of Frank’s club empire. Jordan doesn’t want to be married to a bad man, and although Frank’s land deal may not be “gangster” behavior, it’s not particularly good behavior, either. After Jordan says she’s behind him and loves him, their relationship does a miraculous 180. As the episode nears a close, in a moment of laughably obvious symbolism, their rediscovered happiness culminates in a cheesy line about their downsized house not having any water stains.

To be honest, a lot of the writing in this episode was laughable, so instead of “honorable mentions,” we will be listing some of the most ridiculous lines:

  • “What can I say … I just really like big dicks. … I want to have trouble handcuffing the thing.” — Ani, in a sexual harassment workshop.
  • “Pain is inexhaustible. It’s only people who get exhausted.” — Ray. What does that even mean?
  • “You don’t direct me, Khe Sanh motherfucker.” —Frank to an assistant, who attempts to lead him out of a meeting
  • “I’m Chinese.” —Assistant
  • “Then go stand in front of a fuckin’ tank.” —Frank
  • “Help me out with this and I promise to do a fearless and searching moral inventory.” —Ani. We have no idea if she was being facetious and are therefore not sure if it’s bad writing or bad acting, or a little bit of both.


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