Season Two, Episode Seven — “Black Maps and Motel Rooms”
By Jarrod Jones. You don’t crash a party full of fabulously wealthy men with their pants around their ankles without suffering some rather severe consequences. (It’s simply not done, people.) After last week’s heady, bloody trip into Vinci’s rabbit hole, there’s only one thing for our True Detectives to do: Lam it. This week, everybody’s on the lam!
And I do mean everybody: Athena hits the road with Granola Dad, Emily gets put up in a motel room with Cynthia (of all people), and Ray & Ani work out their more primal urges in hiding while Paul deals with some conveniently-timed blackmail. With only two episodes left to the season, True Detective shifts into narrative overdrive, while fitting in plenty of moments to thoroughly pick its nose. Oh, and Frank takes control of his destiny.
WHAT WORKED: It happened in brief, fleeting intervals over the course of the hour, but enough dread manifested itself in a way that next week’s finale might actually be something worthwhile to watch. The circle has closed around our two remaining True Detectives, Frank has burnt every bridge that was left available to him, and all that’s left is to see the monolithic conspiracy swallow these three people whole.
“I never tried to get out,” Vera tells Ani in a one of the episode’s more sobering moments. Why would she? In a world this hateful, bleak, and unforgiving, the best avenue to take is the one of least resistance. Let the world hold you down and take everything from you, sure, but a least you’ll get your own place with nice things. Why fight against the tide? It’s ideas like that that make True Detective‘s second season such a missed opportunity. Given more time to incubate, this story of the never-ending evil that men do would have hatched into a haunting classic. Instead, all we have to show for it is runny eggs.
WHAT DIDN’T: “It was that case. I was undercover.” Paul’s incessant lies and self-loathing are what brought him to his ultimate doom, but what is Nic Pizzolatto trying to say with this turn of events? “Be true to yourself, lest dark forces attempt to manipulate you”? That might have been a progressive, if byzantine and asinine, message to convey had the show given Paul a chance to crawl his way towards spiritual freedom. Instead, all we have to show for Paul’s morality play is a carcass, more questions, and a nagging feeling that so much more could have been done with this material. “I’m just trying to be a good man,” is all Paul can say for himself, but Emily — just like everyone else — is fed up with the bullshit: “Well, you don’t try right.” You said it, lady.
Two big non-Paul-related things happened this week, but they were piled on top of each other in such a clumsy way that both subplots lost all of their impact: Frank drills hooker-corralling shit-head Blake (Christopher James Baker) about the death of Stan (who the hell is Staaaan?!), but then we cut to Ray discovering the dead body of Katherine Davis (Michael Hyatt), the one person who might have been able to save our True Detectives from the mounting doom that awaits them. Both subplots mean something crucial to the show, and had they been given the space to provide maximum impact, this episode would have packed a wallop. If I was the person editing this episode, call me crazy, but Ray’s discovery would have waited until after Blake bled out on Frank’s carpet. (I gotta do everything around here.)
“In the midst of being gangbanged by forces unseen, I figure I’d drill a new orifice… go on and fuck myself for a change.” – Frank.
“Maybe, and this is just a thought, but maybe you were put on this Earth for more than just fucking.” – Ani
“Me? My family? We are Vinci. We’re a goddamned political dynasty. Like the Kennedys. Do me a favor: hum my balls a little, huh?” – Mayor Chessani.
WORST MOMENT: With so much dread and so little payoff looming on the horizon, there simply wasn’t a “Best Moment” I could choose from that could be interpreted as anything but a sarcastic gesture. So let’s focus on the worst: Paul’s death sequence was a prolonged, arduous thing, a stealth/predator mission not too dissimilar from what you’d experience in a Sleeper Cell or an Arkham Knight: first we get the henchmen to reveal themselves for a bout of tough-guy posturing, then we pick them off, one by one. And even after Paul walks away from that gauntlet, destiny still holds that Burris will put two in his back. So why all the padded melodrama? It’s this refusal to trim the narrative fat that keeps things like inevitability from being a frightening concept in True Detective‘s second season. This sequence was the perfect example of that. (Though I bet none of us thought when we first met Chief Holloway that his perplexing hairdo would later get caved in by Paul fucking Woodrugh. No way.)
EPISODE’S MVP: Not a one. Though Blake’s compounded arrogance in the face of Frank’s wrath was amusing enough.
– It would certainly seem that Det. Burris is the shotgun-wielding Birdman from Episode Two. What other conclusion could any of us possibly reach? It’s not like there’s anywhere else to go here, people! Burris is Birdman, or I’m a tunafish sandwich.
– As murky as True Detective‘s conspiracy decidedly is, I shouldn’t be surprised that, as we tip-toe closer to the finish line, nothing gets any clearer. Seven episodes into an eight-chapter series, and I’m still struggling to put the pieces together.
- If Ben Caspere was killed by his former secretary, Laura (remember her?), then this whole season’s gigantic clusterfuck was borne out of sheer coincidence. If Caspere was killed by Laura and not Birdman, it would certainly take some steam out of this gigantic conspiracy.
- Since Chief Holloway (Afemo Omilami) and Det. Burris (James Frain) have been revealed to be a big part of the massive conspiracy, who’s left that isn’t in on it? (Aside from Mayor Chessani, that is.) Holloway’s hold over the Black Mountain boys (including Miguel, that goddamned Judas) means that in some prosaic way, Paul might have grazed the inner workings of this syndicate at one point or another when he was still in the service. And considering how clueless Paul actually was, it should surprise no one that he missed out on the bigger picture surrounding him.
- This is all starting to look like a bunch of people are breaking their backs to cover up a diamond robbery during the L.A. riots back in ’92. What’s the significance of these diamonds? Can any of you answer that? That robbery certainly fucked up Vera (Miranda Rae Mayo) and her sister (seeing as though they lost their parents that night), but in reality, the means don’t appear to have an end. When you pull back and look at the massive scale of this mystery, it begins to look less like a conspiracy and more like a case of cause and effect. Or, put in another, more cynical way, the mystery looks more like, well… life.