“It’s Never Too Late to Start All Over Again.”
The thing that “Other Lives”, a soft reboot of sorts for the season following the explosive gunfight that capped off last week’s episode, makes painfully clear is that True Detective has most of the essential components of a great prestige drama, but has no idea how to execute them effectively. The dialogue is heavy in its use of metaphor, but when each character is throwing them into every conversation, everyone starts sounding like a fool (the first season used this device well through McConaughey’s Rust; now, every character sounds like him). There are also some well-acted scenes dealing with relationship drama, but unlike other dramas that do this sort of content well, here we have characters we still don’t really care about trying really hard to make us care about their problems. It’s unlikely that much is going to change in the season’s last three episodes, so for better or worse, “Other Lives” is the blueprint for how the last half is going to look and feel: a show that occasionally rubs up against greatness, but gets lost in its own self-importance too often to truly become something memorable.
Last week’s bloody finale left a sizable cliffhanger, with the central detectives engaged in a massacre that left dozens dead. While it probably would have been better if the show had shown the immediate aftermath of this event and its effects on the characters, the two month time jump that leads off the episode is still an interesting, if overused, plot mechanic. Borrowing a page from last season, the Caspere case is declared closed as a result and everyone is left feeling displaced. Of course, it’s obvious to everyone, especially Velcoro, Bezzerides, and Woodrugh, that the investigation’s not over and so a new, secret task force is assembled to find out what really happened (the key seems to be Caspere’s missing hard drive, which contains all sorts of incriminating evidence). While it’s disappointing that this season feels at times like a beat-for-beat remake of the first — only with a much less interesting case and location — the time jump is at least different enough to feel somewhat unique.
The two month jump is long enough for the characters to have developed new sets of problems, but brief enough for the Caspere case to still be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. It’s refreshing that, rather than be celebrated as heroes like Marty and Rust were for “solving” the Yellow King case in season one, the detectives (and Frank Semyon) are even further down in the dumps than they were before. Ray (sans mustache!) has quit being a police officer altogether, instead working for Frank and carrying out his increasingly paranoid whims. Ani is stuck on evidence room duty and attending sexual harassment seminars (her “girth” trolling antics are a brief source of humor in this incredibly dour show), while Paul has been promoted, but is dealing with some familial problems. These are all actually intriguing developments, but the problem is that they arrive at the wrong time in the season. There was really no way “Other Lives” was going to be anything other than a letdown coming on the coattails of such a thrilling action sequence, but setting everything back to square one is a pretty big anticlimax.
At least there are some interesting bits to come out of “Caspere Case 2.0”. Arguably the most gripping is the revelation that Frank lied to Ray about the identity of his ex-wife’s rapist. The scenes between Colin Farrell and Abigail Spencer haven’t exactly been knockouts so far, but the ones they share this week are some of the episode’s best moments. In particular, the scene where Ray tells Gena that he lied about finding her rapist — rather than reveal to her that he killed the wrong man — was a great moment of subtle acting for Farrell, as the anguish is evident in his facial features. Ani and Paul also don’t get shortchanged in their post-shootout drama, although Taylor Kitsch gets the flashier scenes, blowing up at his mother for taking his cash savings and generally being an awful person. While it’s still difficult to care about Kitsch’s character, there’s no doubt that he gets in his showiest scene yet here and it’s admittedly good work.
Ani continues to be the only character in the main cast worth really caring about, but Rachel McAdams probably has the least to do this week. Although she’s spearheading the renewed initiative to find out who really killed Caspere and to find that missing girl (who naturally is connected to the whole thing), it’s disappointing to not see more of the emotional fallout of the shooting, as it clearly hit Ani the hardest. All we really learn is that she has now ditched the e-cig and gone back to the real thing (the fact that none of the other characters make reference to this is a major missed opportunity) and while we see a little more interaction between her and her sister — who she needs to help with the investigation — there’s simply not enough emotional drama in Ani’s story this week. At one point, she even travels to the town in which some childhood trauma evidently took place, but other than a vague allusion to the commune she lived on, nothing more is revealed. True Detective obviously likes to leave certain details vague, but there needs to be more than teases at this point. We want to know more about these characters, but the show keeps frustratingly taking a step back every time it looks like it wants to say something interesting about its characters.
Frank, for his part, is up to his usual drab shtick of visiting, and being visited by, lowlifes and exchanging vague threats and even vaguer business deals that never seem to go anywhere. Thankfully, Frank’s side of the story is improved significantly this week by the increased presence of his wife Jordan, but even Kelly Reilley’s solid acting can’t save this plotline from continuing to feel like it’s part of a totally different and even more uninteresting show. We see Frank briefly contemplating going straight and settling down with Jordan, but this development doesn’t land with the sort of impact the show was likely going for. As far as criminal enterprises go, Frank’s have been rather tame and boring; the worst thing we’ve seen him do is beat up a guy and take his grill out with some pliers. Frankly, he’s not much of a criminal to begin with, so introducing the notion that he could leave crime behind lands with even more of a thud as a result.
While “Other Lives” ends with Caspere investigation 2.0 in full swing and Ray looking to start a personal war with Frank, it’s hard to get excited about the final stretch of this story. At this point, all that can really be hoped is that there’s a satisfying resolution to the Caspere case coming, as it’s unlikely that most of the show’s weaker elements are going to be excised with only three episodes left. We’re probably still going to see characters meet up in the same bar with the same music talent night-after-night. Velcoro’s going to continue to beat people up (hopefully Frank this time) while worrying about his kid. Rachel McAdams will continue to be the only cast member worth caring about. Taylor Kitsch will continue to alternate between being a “God warrior” and a guy who is surprised to find out that his deadbeat mother stole the money that he foolishly kept within her reach. In other words: the bones of True Detective aren’t going anywhere; all we can hope is that the show actually does something interesting with them before the end.
- “If I was a man, I’d have had the world.” – Paul’s mom is quite the charmer
- Ani and Paul discover a torture shed in the woods. If this is a precursor to some more encounters with that shotgun-wielding weirdo in the bird mask, bring it on.
- Dr. Pitlor’s futile attempts to psychoanalyze Ray before he gets beat down was a clever bit of dark humor. He’s definitely going to need some work done on his face after
- What’s up with bartender lady? The camera kept cutting back to her looking over at Ani and Ray. Seriously, find a new bar guys. That place sucks.
A soft reboot refocuses the central story, but Other Lives is a lackluster follow-up to last week's epic conclusion.