True Detective season 2 episode 5 review: After the shoot-out, the poker face starts to slip

A time-jump shuffles the cards and sets the cops off in a new direction

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

At its halfway point, opinion on True Detective's murky second season falls into one of two camps. The first: it's a show that's flailing about without the big stars from last season, trying to make sense among a heap of convoluted plotlines, hammy dialogue and slack narrative.

The other train of thought is that keeping fans in the dark isn't entirely new, and in the same way as the show's first season dealt with plot at a snail’s pace, this high-stacked murder conspiracy is just another extreme on the other end of the scale.

Nobody’s forgiving Vince Vaughn for his terrible metaphors and community-theatre approach to playing a villain, but "Other Lives" makes it clear that True Detective hasn't played all its cards just yet.

Episode five takes place 66 days after the mass shoot-out from last week, showing us that the Mexican drug cartel involved in the shootout has been conveniently blamed for Ben Caspere's death. The authorities have closed the matter, and our protagonists have scattered in the wind.

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

Ray (Colin Farrell) has quit the force, shaved his repulsive moustache and folded right into the pocket of Frank (Vince Vaughn), collecting debts and ruffling feathers on his behalf.

Ani is working in the evidence department and attending sessions for sexual harassment, scowling so much her face looks like it might permanently collapse on itself.

Paul has doomed himself to a life in the closet with a woman he can't stand, trading his late-night motorbike rides for a sensible job in insurance fraud. Taylor Kitsch’s anguish pools behind his eyes throughout this episode, showing a man slowly drowning in his own personal trauma with each passing second.

As for Frank, he's had to embrace the murky criminal underworld he was so desperate to wade out of after losing so much money following Caspere's death. He's a full blown gangster now, which doesn't bode well for any impending dialogue, but at least there's no stain on the ceiling of his new, smaller abode.

"Other Lives" puts the first four episodes into a new context; the complex, confusing investigation that ran circles around three accomplished cops was designed to disorientate viewers as much as the characters, and the time jump has let the most important threads float to the surface.

In short: a governmental figure has benefited hugely from everything we've seen in the first four episodes. As Ray, Ani and Paul are recruited into a secret task force designed to root out the political corruptness and expose a bleak human trafficking ring, True Detective feels like it's been given a new sense of agency ahead of the final three episodes.

But is spending half of its season building to this point necessary? True Detective has done a lot of exposition work leading up to the events of "Other Lives", but it's only now that a clear narrative is starting to fall into place.

Tangents like Vera, the missing girl from episode one, the purple diamonds from Caspere's safety deposit box and the missing hard drive have all been hinted at in previous episodes, but they've only added to the dull ache permeating True Detective's second season.

There's no pay-off when you realise the diamonds figure into the story in a big way, only the admission that you'd written them off entirely because the show hasn't got a good filter on what's important and what isn't.

But True Detective thrives on the personal conflict as well as the grander political trauma, and the episode's closing moments, where Ray learns Frank duped him into revenge-killing the wrong man all those years ago, thrusts their turbulent relationship into even choppier waters.

When Frank answers the door, and the episode cuts to black, it's a reminder that the interplay between the core cast is one of True Detective's best features. Sometimes, though, it might pay to play your cards a little sooner.