True Detective season 2 episode 4 - review: Can the slow-moving series now become scintillating?

True Detective remains one of the most distinctive dramas on TV

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The Independent Culture

The premiere of True Detective’s new season ended with three moody cops exchanging meaningful glances over a dead body. As this fourth episode came to a close, the same three moody cops were again sharing meaningful glances, but this time their eyes met over a massacre. They were strangers in the first instance, but now Ray, Paul and Ani now share the bond of a bloody mutual experience.

Sent to arrest a suspect for the murder of Ben Caspere – the body that first brought them together – the trio strolled instead into a shootout with a Latino gang, by the end of which the gang, several cops and a sprinkling of innocent civilians lay dead in an LA backstreet. Just like the first series of this hit crime drama, the case appears to have been closed by a hail of bullets at the halfway point.

If this makes our heroes’ other problems look inconsequential, that might not be altogether a bad thing. Three hours in, I’m sure I wasn’t the only audience member getting just a tad exasperated by Paul’s struggles with his repressed sexuality, or by Frank’s backslide into vice and racketeering. The gloomy tone and funereal pace of the first few episodes turned a lot of people off.

Read more: Can True Detective live up to its predecessor?

With the midpoint of this eight-part tale approaching, it seemed unlikely True Detective could gather sufficient steam to get us gripped in time for its conclusion a month from now – but the last 15 minutes of last night’s episode certainly shook this droopy-eyed viewer from his stupor. Whether it can propel the slow-moving series into a more scintillating second half remains to be seen.

 

Was it just an excuse for some flashy violence in an otherwise interminably talky show? Maybe. The excitement of the scene had less to do with creator Nic Pizzolatto’s script than with the tense, skilful action direction of Jeremy Podeswa, a Game of Thrones regular. Notable, too, that Ray and Paul did most of the shooting of bad guys, while Ani’s fighting knives must wait to draw blood at a later date.

This, after all, is in large part a series about male impotence, both literally and figuratively. Paul, who can only get it up for his girlfriend with chemical assistance, has now managed to make a baby where Frank can’t and Ray probably didn’t. Although, if it’s any consolation, Ani’s hippie guru father thinks Ray has “the largest aura I’ve ever seen.”

In spite of the criticism levelled at this series, much of it justified, True Detective remains one of the most distinctive dramas on television, even when its distinction is dialogue composed of impenetrable riddles and faux-profound non sequiturs.

And besides, Pizzolatto cares little for the opinions of journalists, as one growly Ray monologue made perfectly clear. “[Reporters] lie without blinking,” he said. “You know what one of those dog-fuckers said to me once? ‘I’d rather be wrong and first than right and second.’ That tells you all you need to know.” In fact, that’s one of the few world-weary asides in the script that made total sense.

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