“[Sharp exhale] Ah. No. Fuck, fuuuuuck, fuck. [Runs fingers through hair] C’mon, no. Fuck. Huh. [Runs fingers through hair] Uh-hyenh, fuck [sharp inhale] enh. Fuck. [Sharp inhale, exhale]. Fuck! Faaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!”
The above monologue, delivered by California Highway Patrolman and true-detective-in-waiting Paul Woodrugh, aptly sums up “Down Will Come,” the fourth episode of True Detective’s second season. From the long and dusty highway to the long and dusty strands of hair atop Ray Velcoro’s lip, there are no good vibes to be found anywhere for our detectives. Everywhere they turn, things are bleak, bleak, bleak; bad, bad, bad; fuck, fuuuuuck, fuck. Even an occasion that an ordinary man might celebrate—like a sexy late-night reunion with an old flame—sends Paul Woodrugh into a seething tantrum. What gives, Paul? Are you not an ordinary man? Are you, perhaps, a true detective?
True Detective episode four, explained:
Finally, We’ve got ourselves a suspect: Ledo Amarilla, a pimp with a long rap sheet whose fingerprints were found on dead city manager Ben Caspere’s watch. One of Amarilla’s prostitutes pawned the watch following Caspere’s murder, which—given Caspere’s known affinity for paid sex—is enough to implicate Amarilla in his death. The idea, as the fat drunk cop helpfully lays out, “is that chica, turning tricks with Caspere, got a look at how he lived, and Ledo and possible accomplices tortured him for his valuables.” A nice and tidy theory.
But it’s probably not what happened—or at least, it isn’t the whole story. The show has devoted way too much time to ruminating on Vinci’s seedy power elite to give its central storyline over to a simple money-hungry pimp. If Amarilla really killed Caspere, is he also the freaky bird man who unloaded a few rubber shotgun shells into Ray Velcoro’s chest? That seems unlikely. And what would Amarilla have to gain by killing Frank Semyon’s henchman “Stan”? (R.I.P. “Stan.”)
Before the Amarilla revelation, all roads seemed to lead to Austin Chessani, the blatantly corrupt and booze-swilling mayor of Vinci. Chessani is a “very bad person,” we learn from his angsty daughter, as if that weren’t already evident from the blatant corruption and the constant booze-swilling. Previously, detective Ani Bezzerides questioned Chessani’s family about the Caspere killing, a move that obviously spooked the mayor. Velcoro warns Bezzerides several times that Chessani may attempt to take revenge, and when a surprise sexual misconduct complaint from a colleague threatens Bezzerides’ role in the Caspere investigation, she suspects that the mayor may have somehow orchestrated it.
What about Irving Pitler, the creepy psychiatrist? So far, we know of two Pitler patients, and both of them are tragically dead. The first, of course, is Caspere himself; the second is Mayor Chessani’s first wife, a schizophrenic who hung herself under Pitler’s care. There’s also the fact that Pitler and Chessani go way back: both men came through the new-agey commune that Bezzerides’ new-agey father ran back in the ‘80s. “Jesus, that’s some fucking coincidence,” remarks Bezzerides upon learning of the connection. Indeed it is.
But the episode’s explosive grand finale would have you believe that none of those fucking coincidences matter at all. Acting on a tip from one of the fat drunk cop’s informants, the true detectives learn of Amarilla’s whereabouts, then strap on some bulletproof vests and head to his crew’s warehouse headquarters. The detectives have guns, but Amarilla’s boys have bigger ones, and the ensuing firefight leaves a wrecked bus plus quite a few dead police officers and civilians in its wake—including the fat drunk cop, who has his forehead removed by machine-gun fire. (R.I.P. F.D.C.)
Who are these guys? Did they know in advance that the law would be paying them a visit? Why were they so brazen as to open fire on a bunch of cops in body armor? Are they working for Chessani, like everyone else in Vinci? And what the hell does Rick Springfield have to do with all of this?
But most importantly,
Who will be the true detective?
You’re reading this, which means you watch the show, which means I shouldn’t have to explain it to you, but just in case: the true mystery at the center of each True Detective season is sitting right there in the title. There can be many detectives, but there can be only one true detective, and it’s our job as the audience to carefully watch, assemble clues, and deduce the true detective’s identity.
Paul Woodrugh is the true detective.
That news may come as a shock. At the season’s outset, Woodrugh was as a man of few mysteries. He wasn’t raised in a cult; he didn’t drink to excess; he didn’t have a ginger son. He didn’t brood and philosophize and stab at wood with a Bowie knife like the other detectives. He was good-looking. Paul Woodrugh is an all-American whitebread meathead, and as such, he is the most realistic cop who’s ever been portrayed on True Detective. But he isn’t a true detective.
Or is he? Early in “Down Will Come,” Woodrugh awakes in the bed of Miguel Gilb, his old war buddy. Though Woodrugh violently swore off his forbidden love for Miguel at their previous meeting, it seems from his hangover and lack of a shirt that they’ve recently rekindled the fire. Woodrugh, being the all-American meathead, leaves Miguel’s apartment in a huff, claiming not to remember the previous night’s encounter at all. There’s a long road in front of him if he’s ever going to come to terms with his own sexuality. In other words, Paul Woodrugh is just as complicated and volatile as everybody else.
Making things even more complicated and volatile for Woodrugh are his ex-girlfriend’s unexpected pregnancy and the looming presence of his military past. Woodrugh takes the news of the baby enthusiastically: For him, it’s a chance to forget about Miguel and everything else and live as a straight man. But when a gaggle of reporters asks him about his time with “Black Mountain,” the private security contractor that employed him overseas, he runs the other way.
Is Black Mountain as dark and mysterious as it sounds? Does it have anything to do with Blackwater, the real-life security firm whose guards killed 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2007? Will the shootout at the end of “Down Will Come” trigger a post-traumatic flashback for Woodrugh? Does perpetrating a massacre give him the extra bit of true detective cred he needs? Probably, probably, probably, and yes!
And if the true detective isn’t Woodrugh, it’s the guitar lady.