Happy Father’s Day. Collin Farrell is the true detective.
After a weeks-long slow trickle of teasers for True Detective Season Two, the follow-up to history’s most acclaimed television series about the moral implications of facial hair growth, we finally sunk our teeth into premiere episode “The Western Book of the Dead” last night.
True Detective episode one, explained:
Let’s set the scene: the industrial L.A. suburb of Vinci, Calif.; a prominent figure found dead; three cops all hot on the case; large-scale public works project that’s attracted the financial interests of some shady characters.
Collin Farrell plays Ray Velcoro, a loose-cannon Vinci Police Department detective with a troubled past. Rachel McAdams plays Ani Bezzerides, a loose-cannon Ventura County criminal investigator with a troubled past. Taylor Kitsch plays Paul Woodrugh, a loose-cannon California Highway Patrolman with a troubled past. And Cigar Aficionado cover model Vince Vaughn—not a detective at all, it turns out—plays Frank Semyon, a loose-cannon business operator with a troubled past who happens to share a name with a 20th-century Russian philosopher.
To quote Bezzerides’ partner in the episode’s final scene: “The fuck is Vinci?” True Detective Season Two is set in a small and deeply corrupt industrial city in Los Angeles county. (Vinci is based on the real-world Vernon, Calif.)
As we enter Vinci, its small community of tight-knit power brokers is buzzing with anxiety over an investigative report in the local newspaper that threatens to expose that corruption at its core. That would be bad news for Frank Semyon, a Jay Gatsby-style paragon of American reinvention whose drive to conceal the underworld ties in his past is conveyed through repeated musings about whether he should have “sprung for the country club” when he made himself over as a legit businessman.
Semyon is the Vinci business community’s chief booster for a forthcoming high-speed railway through central California whose completion would make Semyon and his unscrupulous friends very, very rich. And he would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for Vinci city manager Ben Caspere going missing. Caspere, who recently disappeared without a trace, put a friendly public face on the whole shady railway project, and without him, the European mogul whose involvement is crucial to Semyon’s get-rich scheme is getting cold feet.
Meanwhile, Velcoro is being a horrible father to his ginger son, who is probably biologically the son of the man who raped Velcoro’s ex-wife years ago (Semyon, we see in a flashback, tipped Velcoro off to the rapist’s identity), Bezzerides is confronting her own horrible father about his reluctance to intervene in the life of her formerly drug-addicted camgirl sister, and Woodrugh is getting a blowjob from a beautiful woman but isn’t enjoying it because of his issues, which may or may not be daddy-related. When Woodrugh stumbles upon Caspere’s dead and mutilated body on the side of the highway, both Bezzerides and Velcoro are called to the scene, prompting the historic first meeting of the true detectives and setting off the show’s plot in earnest. Then the episode ends.
The question “The Western Book of the Dead” seems to pose is: Will the race to solve the mystery of the dead guy provide enough psychic and spiritual momentum for these detectives to escape their own personal darknesses and achieve true salvation along the way? If this dynamic isn’t clear to you, rewatch the scene where Woodrugh considers his past—made visible in the ugly and unexplained scar tissue on his shoulder—then takes a really fast and really reckless ride on his motorcycle in a literal bid to outrun his demons—a ride that happens to lead him directly to Caspere’s body.
But the real question is, of course,
Who will be the true detective?
Fans will never forget how True Detective season one slowly teased the true detective’s identity episode-by-episode before the big reveal at the end, like a drop of Louisiana bayou sweat falling from the nose of a tent revival preacher just as he hits the fire-and-brimstone portion of his sermon. This time around, it’s not so subtle: Colin Farrell is obviously the true detective.
A mustached drunkard whose theoretical determination to do things right is only outpaced by his fanatical devotion to doing things wrong, Farrell’s Ray Velcoro embodies the True Spirit of Detective.
In what is by far the first episode’s most memorable scene, he dons brass knuckles and brutalizes the father of a boy who bullied his son. He also brutalizes the investigative journalist who wrote the Vinci expose. Velcoro is so used to chugging Jim Beam straight from the pint that when the comparably effete Semyon offers him a neat glass of Johnny Walker Blue, he downs it quickly just like he would the cheap stuff. “You’re supposed to savor that,” Semyon remarks, and Velcoro responds by defiantly chugging another one. This bastard’s heart might be warm, like a good bottle of bourbon, but his bitter soul burns, like a good bottle of rye, and his hot blood is intense, primal, and earthy, like a good bottle of scotch. There’s just no reigning him in.
Ray Velcoro is so obviously the true detective that at this early stage it’s hardly even worth considering the competition.
Bezzerides’ biggest issues are simple enough to be spelled out by her weirdo hippie dad in a two-and-a-half minute expository speech; Semyon isn’t even a detective; Woodrugh looks like he’s hardly capable of growing facial hair.
But speaking of weirdo dads, there is one other viable option. Velcoro’s violent relationship with his son—and the open question of the pair’s biological relationship—-are clearly set up as the engines of the detective’s inevitable redemption. The purest expression of Velcoro’s character is the beatdown he hands another dad—one who presumably shares a solid, traditional bond with his own progeny. If Ani Bezzerides’ father is to be believed, her greatest motivator as a cop is a repudiation of her pop’s nihilistic, free-lovin’ attitude. And her full name is Antigone, the daughter of famous dad-killer Oedipus and central character in a play about a father who accidentally causes his own son’s suicide.
So it’s worth considering, at least for a moment: Is dad the true detective?
Happy father’s day.