The true detective is dead; long live the true detective. Spoilers ahead.
Nic Pizzolato sure seems like a humorless bore. The $300 distressed denim jacket with a man stuffed inside that brought you True Detective season one has spent the entire year and change since Rust Cohle smoked his last cigarette on an apparent mission to convince viewers that their worst fears about his ponderous and hypermasculine brand of storytelling are true—and that everything good about the debut run came from McConaughey, Harrelson, and director Cary Fukunaga. The surprise ending of last night’s episode, however, was a genuinely strange and inspired moment. Plus it was funny! Albeit in a ponderous and hypermasculine sort of way.
But let’s start at the beginning.
True Detective episode two, explained:
True Detective’s season two premiere, you’ll recall, ended as all three of our true detectives—Colin Farrell’s Ray Velcoro, Rachel McAdams’ Ani Bezzerides, and Taylor Kitsch’s Paul Woodrugh—converged upon the disfigured corpse of Ben Casperre, the porny city manager of the fictional town Vinci, California. Besides being a public official, Casperre was a key player in a real estate plot that would make a lot of money for Vinci’s unsavory upper crust—meaning that all of the city’s elite, law-abiding and otherwise, want to know who killed him and why.
At the outset of episode two, we learn that all three true detectives are assigned to Casperre’s case—with a twist. Under the auspices of the murder investigation, the California attorney general’s office asks Ventura County detective Bezzerides and state highway patrolman Woodrugh to keep an eye on Vinci’s corrupt city officials, who seem more interested in personally profiting from the town’s mysteriously thriving industrial sector than they are in the public welfare. Vinci cop Velcoro, very much a part of the city’s crooked establishment, is asked by the mayor to stave off the state’s prying eyes.
Vince Vaughn’s sad-faced mobster Frank Semyon appears to be totally fucked. Before Casperre was castrated with a shotgun, Semyon liquidated all of his considerable assets to buy into the aforementioned real-estate plot, and when the city manager croaked, the cash disappeared with him. Semyon has a hunch that whoever offed Casperre knows where his money is, and although he is not a detective in the truest sense, he begins to do some investigating of his own.
Expanding on a theme from the premiere, the episode also gives us a chance to further examine each protagonist’s daddy issues. Semyon’s drunkard dad used to lock him in the basement for days on end; Woodrugh’s pa is a hound who ran off and left his ma to a life of unemployment checks; Bezzerides’ creepy cultist father may be even creepier than he initially seemed; and most importantly, years ago, Velcoro murdered the rapist who is the biological father to his ginger son. It’s because of light blackmail over the murder that Velcoro continues to the bidding of Semyon—who led him to the rapist and evidently helped dispose of the body.
There’s also the issue of the missing girl, an undocumented worker who is emblematic of the whole shady labor system that seems to keep Vinci afloat. Bezzerides learned of the girl in episode one, and she isn’t brought up again until just before the end of episode two when Bezzerides’ partner calls her with an update as she’s sitting in her hotel room watching porn—porn that may or may not depict her camgirl sister.
After that titillating but ultimately inconclusive scene, we return to Velcoro. Acting on a tip from Semyon, the mustached sonofagun heads to investigate Casperre’s Hollywood pied-à-terre, where he finds a pool of blood and a weirdo in a bird mask, who unceremoniously kills him.
(I know. I couldn’t believe it either.)
Which brings us to the most important question of all:
Who will be the true detective?
True Detective is a show about blood and guts, about piss and vinegar, about witchcraft and wizardry, about an old cowhand from the Rio Grande. But most of all it is a show about detectives, and the question of which of those detectives is the true detective.
Last week, I was certain: Ray Velcoro was the true detective. He had all the necessary tools—blood, guts, piss, vinegar, witchcraft, wizardry. And then Nic Pizzolato killed him off, which, you’ve gotta hand it to him, was pretty funny.
Velcoro was clearly set up as the wild and prophetic Rust Cohle to Bezzerides’ steely Marty Hart. Early in episode two, in the clearest callback yet the debut season, Velcoro and Bezzerides are reluctant riding partners making uncomfortable banter—just like Hart and Cohle—when Bezzerides starts puffing an e-cigarette. This sets off Velcoro on a philosophical soliloquy about vaping’s inherent inferiority compared to the authentic thing, which he concludes by musing, “Maybe it’s just a little too close to sucking a robot’s dick.” Later in the car, he says “My strong suspicion is we get the world we deserve,” apropos of nothing, and follows it still later with “Well, just so you know, I support feminism.” Rust wouldn’t dream of this stuff.
Everything you loved about season one, everything you hated about it, Pizzolato seemed to be saying, This is your guy. Velcoro was Rust Cohle turned up to 11 and dressed in a bolo tie. And then some fucking bird guy shot him in the chest—twice, at point-blank range, as if to say, This won’t be one of those dumb things where you think your favorite character is dead but in the next episode it turns out that he was wearing a bulletproof vest or something. This guy is really dead. It’s possible that Ray Velcoro was wearing a bulletproof vest or something, that he isn’t really dead, but to paraphrase one of Rust Cohle’s many past-life incarnations, it’d be a lot cooler if he was.
(Relatedly: early in the episode, the coroner says that Casperre’s nuts were removed with a 12-gauge shotgun—and it looks like a shotgun ended Velcoro’s life as well. Did bird guy kill Casperre too?)
Anyway, now that Velcoro’s gone, who will be the true detective? My money’s on the fat drunk cop. The F.D.C. hasn’t played an enormous role in the storyline so far—maybe you forgot about him altogether—but he fits the bill convincingly enough.
First and foremost, the F.D.C. is drunk all the time, which, as we’ve gone over thoroughly, is a prerequisite. And what he lacks in virility, the F.D.C. makes up in inner wisdom—an oft-overlooked indicator for truth in detectives. He had about five lines of dialogue in the entire episode, and every single thing he said was on point.
First, the F.D.C. asks of Woodrugh, “Why are you here? You’re not even an investigator, right?” It’s true: it seems insane that a scandal-plagued highway cop would be given a crucial role in a state homicide-corruption investigation just because he happened upon the body first. Doesn’t the attorney general know any real detectives? Then, after Woodrugh mentions that he almost clocked “this one fag, at the bank” who who tried hitting on him, the F.D.C. deadpans, “Why would you do that?” Yeah, asshole, why would you do that? Finally, when Bezzerides and Velcoro are trying to get to the bottom of a company called Catalyst, which may have had a hand in Casperre’s death, the F.D.C. interjects: “Maybe somebody should call them.” Come to think of it, maybe somebody should call Catalyst!
Whatever’s going on in Vinci, the fat drunk cop has the integrity and the clarity of mind to sniff it out.
Either that, or the true detective is Rick Springfield.