True Detective — Night Finds You
It’s going to be hard to talk about anything else in this episode of True Detective other than that thing that happened. But let’s try.
I had to watch this one twice to start to grasp things. My first mission was to try and assemble a map of what exactly is going on. The city of Vinci is at the heart of it all, a place so devoted to being a haven of industry it only has a population of 95. It isn’t really a city at all. It’s a shell, a hollow place. Its government exists solely for the purpose of enriching the capitalists who choose to build and do business there. One suspects the police department exists for the same reason. Notice how the image of the toxic waste outflow mirrors the image of the city seal on the front of the municipal building? “Toward Tomorrow” is the city motto. Is that a hint that there’s some time travel involve this season? Nah, I’m just joking about that. Or am I?
So, Vinci is a non-place. One of the companies there is Catalyst. Frank is trying to buy into a major land deal with Catalyst (whose logo is a circle with a crossroads in the center of it, and whose plant was full machinery blindly cranking and pumping, but not apparently doing anything of any real value or function). The dead guy, Ben Casper, was some kind of arranger, brokering deals between Vinci and various industries and criminals, including the one between Frank and Catalyst. Frank also works directly with Vinci, acting as a fixer, dealing with problems with his hired thugs and sending kickbacks from his crooked businesses so the city will look the other way. Meanwhile, Frank has Vinci cop Ray on the hook because he knows Ray murdered the guy who raped his wife some years ago. It’s a tangled web.
Austin, the Vinci official (is he the mayor? Chief of Police? I’m not sure) drinks steadily all day, getting drunker and drunker, weirder and weirder. It’s a common trope in crime fiction that a drinking problem signifies a person who can’t handle reality, who has a dark secret they can’t deal with. At first, Austin just seems like a tortured guy frazzled by a lifetime of graft and paranoia. But then he talks about his son and wife a little bit. “I think my son is losing his fucking mind, just like his departed mother.” He says something about “the Deep Trip” being a consciousness destroyer. Is that a reference to Antigone’s dad’s hippie death cult?
There were a few odd little signifiers that I can’t quite work out yet. That ominous shot of the stars through Paul’s bedroom window. Ray talking about Antigone’s ecig. The skeleton peering over Ray’s shoulder when they visit Ben’s house.
The visual theme of deformity shows up a lot. Many characters have cold sores or scars or bruises. The Mexican waitress with the badly scarred face is rejected by Ray (what does she see in him anyway?). I think that could be a sign of imperfect creation — like Ray’s comment, “We get the world we deserve.” And we deserve one that’s rotting and scarred and diseased. Or maybe it’s tied to Frank’s story about his childhood, and his fear that he isn’t real, that he died in the basement when he was six and his whole life is an incident at Owl Creek Bridge. Everything is paper mache. That’s another echo of last season’s “reality is a tv show” theme. It’s not paper mache, Frank. It’s a set.
Let’s talk about our characters and what we learned about them. Antigone has some kind of sex thing going on. We’ve seen two different extremes. We saw that she likes some kind of sexual act with her not-really-boyfriend that was rather startling to him (I think I know what it was, but I’ll you puzzle it out for yourself). Yet we saw her chewing out her sister for being involved in porn. And now we see her being really, really interested in watching porn, and possibly ordering up an escort. I won’t guess where that’s going, but she’ll have some knives with her when we get there.
Paul is gay, right? Can’t connect emotionally with his girlfriend, needs Viagra to have sex with her, randomly blurts out that he wanted to beat up a “fag,” deeply interested in watching the gay nightlife from his balcony. Pretty obvious. Also, if we’re staying in the land of pulp fiction tropes, “gay biker” is something you can probably find on any number of lurid 60s paperbacks. His weirdly sexual relationship with his mother has nothing to do with him being gay, everything to do with him repressing it so thoroughly and destructively.
And then there’s Ray. For most of the episode, I just felt like I was watching Colin Farrel struggle to hide his Irish accent. Then he did the scene with his ex-wife, standing there with a gift for his son who he knows is not his son, and he nailed it. The anguish, the battle to keep his natural anger in check, his awareness that he loves his son imperfectly but loves him anyway. I mean, the guy is still a bad person, as his wife so succinctly put it, but now there’s a complexity there, and some sympathy, sure. It would be easy to chalk this up to “fridging” his wife, making her rape the defining characteristic of Ray’s character and motivation. But the story we’re watching isn’t about his vengeance trip. It’s about him living under the weight of that vengeance trip and its consequences. About the price he keeps paying for that vengeance trip (fridging, by the way, is an expression for inflicting harm on a female character solely to provide motivation for a male character).
It’s going to feel weird all season, I suspect — Ray is a main character, his ex-wife is a supporting role. So we’re going to always see her rape filtered through his reaction to it. And that tilts things, makes it feel diminished, as if she has no agency, as if her own reaction to it is somehow less important. She even refers to this: “Don’t you dare say you did it for me.” She has her own reaction, her own way of dealing with it. But for now, it happened off camera. The story is about Ray, and how maybe his life would be a whole lot better if he’d been able to deal with things differently.
After this meeting, Ray is sort of confronted by Antigone, who directly asks him, “How compromised are you?” Well, Ray is corrupt as fuck, but he just says, “G’night.” But later, when he meets Frank, he hints at committing suicide, at all his motivations being gone. He even refuses to take Frank’s money, indicating he’s not going to be Frank’s tool any more, after all these years. So now Ray becomes another classic pulp trope: The Man With Nothing Left To Lose.
Except, well, even the Man With Nothing Left To Lose doesn’t really want to be gutshot with a shotgun. Ray visits Ben Casper’s Hollywood hookup apartment and finds some things. An overflowing sink. Eternally playing soul music. A pool of blood. A bunch of animal masks on the wall — except one that’s missing. A semi-secret room with a camera filming everything that happens. And possibly a router, broadcasting the scene to somewhere. Everywhere. An echo of Athena’s camgirl gig.
Then Mr. Crow shows up (genuinely scary moment there) and plonks Ray with a shotgun, then stands over him to finish the job. Really? Are they really doing the “kill one of the main actors in the second episode” thing? Honestly, no. As cool and gutsy as that would be, I’m sure it isn’t. Ray is fine, injured, but fine.
So all that’s left is to talk about animal heads. The bizarre crow we saw in the passenger seat of the car driving Casper to the overlook was a mask, removed so the wearer could drive. That particular type of mask (a bird head that sits above the wearer’s face) and the other animal masks we saw on the wall are typically African. Now, it’s dangerous to generalize here — Africa encompasses a wide range of religions and cultures. But across most of them, animal masks usually signify that the wearer is taking on some aspect of the spirit world. And, perhaps more importantly, acting as a guide between the human world and the spirit world.
If I had to make a proposition bet right now on the murderer’s identity, it would be Antigone’s dad.