“I Ain’t Ever Exactly Been Columbo”
It’s safe to say that no one who witnessed the shocking cliffhanger of last week’s “Night Finds You” was expecting to be serenaded by a Conway Twitty impersonator singing “The Rose” in Ray Velcoro’s favorite dreary bar (at least the featured music’s better this week!), but it’s just the kind of boldly bizarre creative choice that True Detective needed to jump start this admittedly slow-developing season. It becomes apparent pretty quickly that news of Detective Velcoro’s death had been greatly exaggerated, as Ray transitions from talking to his father (an excellently-cast Fred Ward, who significantly takes Frank Semyon’s usual spot at the table) to realizing his chest is bleeding, but this dream/purgatory sequence is easily the best thing the show has put to screen this season. Ray is given rebirth courtesy of a riot gun’s rubber shells, but his return to the land of the living also proclaims a return to more hard-edged detective storytelling from a brief sojourn into Lynchian weirdness.
Luckily, the rest of the episode is a significant improvement in pacing and character development over the previous weeks and while it doesn’t again reach the heights of that crazy opening, “Maybe Tomorrow” is easily the best episode of the season so far and ranks just below the first season’s one-two punch of ‘Who Goes There” and “The Secret Fate of All Life” in terms of the best this young series has offered. The assault on Velcoro becomes a jumping-off point for a renewed emphasis on moving the story forward and each principal character gets some much-needed attention (yes, even Paul). The theme of the week for Detective Ani Bezzerides is having her authority undermined at every turn, so it’s telling that her first words to Ray post-shotgun assault are a verbal lashing for failing to bring her along. While the continued effort to make Ani as masculine as possible in an effort to be taken seriously by her colleagues could become tedious in less capable hands, Rachel McAdams is giving such a great performance that her tough lady cop shtick feels refreshing somehow. In particular, her break-up with that “mama’s boy” cop is a standout display of female empowerment. Although, having corrupt Vinci Mayor Chessani refer to her as the C-word twice in the same scene feels like a bit much, even if it immediately denotes how vile he truly is.
Speaking of the mayor, one of the episode’s best moments comes when Ani and Paul show up at his lavish estate to question his family about Caspar’s murder, as the whole California sun-soaked, diry imagery this season keeps returning to is used effectively here. It’s already pretty clear that Chessani is involved in some shady dealings and his ridiculous home life, complete with a bleach-blond European wife and a son with a false accent (which Ani delightfully points out) only further establishes that all is not right in the City of Vinci. As if to prove this, it’s quickly made apparent that Ani’s house visit is out of line with what’s “expected” of her investigation, making it all the more likely that she’s the only cop not in someone’s pocket. The juxtaposed scenes involving Ani and her state overseers and Ray and the mayor’s office suggests that both parties are more concerned with their detectives investigating each other rather than the case at hand. While Ani doesn’t take to the prospect of seducing Ray in order to get him to reveal his secrets, Ray is reluctant to do much of anything, commenting that he should probably just be taken off the case altogether (he’s right: he ain’t no Columbo). It will be interesting to see how Ray and Ani continue to respond to their superiors and each other as more and more information secrets come to light in the coming weeks.
Taylor Kitsch’s Paul Woodrugh has easily been the weak link so far in the principal cast, but he’s actually given some purpose this week and even a fascinating subplot involving an ex-army buddy. Having Paul accompany Ani on the interview beat was a much-needed development, with the added benefit of having him incredulously question her vaping habit, which is turning into one of the show’s most delightful recurring gags. Seemingly addressing the criticisms the character has received, Paul is almost instantly made more interesting when it’s revealed that he had some sort of romantic relationship with a soldier from his military days. The show deserves credit for diverging from expectation, as it seemed much more likely that Paul didn’t want to talk about his military career because of some sort of shame over a violent act. Instead, his shame derives from a homosexual liason, helping explain why Paul is walking around with “angsty cop drama”, as one character puts it. Given True Detective‘s hyper-masculine themes, this plotline could become problematic if not handled well, but the fact that Ray’s other partner, the older detective Teague Dixon (yeah, we had to look up his name too) is taking pictures of the incident suggests that there will be a blackmail plot in the weeks ahead, possibly to sway Paul away form Ani’s side, as he is still occupying a somewhat neutral space in terms of his allegiances. Whatever happens, at least Paul is actually more fleshed-out and less useless now.
Considering the title is a direct quote from Frank Semyon that ends the episode, it’s worth examining how “Maybe Tomorrow” advances his side of the story. While Ray is given a literal and figurative resurrection, grappling repeatedly with his identity, the sins of his father , and his own mortality throughout the episode, Frank has a more subdued but equally important rebirth in terms of finding his manhood (or at least what he perceives it to be). When we first see Frank, he’s suffering from literal impotency, as he fails to rise to the occasion at a fertility clinic, even with Jordan’s assistance (Kelly Reilly is too good in this role to be reduced to a mere sex object). Frank is increasingly desperate to find Caspar’s killer — and by extension, his money — and the stress of the whole ordeal has left his ego in shambles. Sexual inadequacy isn’t really Frank’s issue though; it’s his ego and the only way he can get that back is beating the snot out of a fellow gangster and asserting his power and authority. Jordan is ready to throw herself at him when he comes home, but Frank just says “maybe tomorrow”; he’s already demonstrated his virility.
“Maybe Tomorrow” is a significant improvement in pretty much every way and is the best episode of season two so far. Its ending can’t match the shock-value of last week’s cliffhanger, but Ani and Ray’s foot chase of a masked car arsonist still goes a long way in building anticipation for further developments in their investigation and their partnership. Despite saving Ani from getting run over by a truck, Ray’s allegiances are still wide open for debate and speculation. Given that he instantly demands that Ani tell him everything that State Police have on him, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Ray will roll on her when the opportunity presents itself. True Detective season two has finally made its characters worth investing in and that’s probably the best endorsement this maligned sophomore effort could receive at this point. Now, if it can continue to sprinkle in the occasional oddity like that opening musical number, we might just have a great season of television on our hands.
- “So I’ll just go ahead and take the day, Xena.” – Detective Valcoro’s version of recognizing his commanding officer’s authority.
- “Somebody murdered him.” – The significance of Ray’s near-death experience isn’t lost on Frank, who seems in danger of losing his informant.
- “Do you even want to live?” – Ray’s doctor asks what’s on every viewer’s mind when it comes to Detective Valcoro
- Was that film set a riff on Mad Max?
- One of Frank’s men turns up dead in the same way as Caspar, burned-out eyes and all. Say what you will about his methods, but Frank is definitely justified in his paranoia.
- Nobody hates mouth grills as much as Frank Semyon
From start to finish, Maybe Tomorrow is a well-executed hour of television and could be the turning point for True Detective season 2.