Ray Velcoro is alive. God damnit.
Also “Stan” is dead. Paul Woodrugh is alive, and probably gay. Frank Semyon is alive, too, but increasingly convinced that the killer is coming for him. And Ani Bezzerides is doing pretty all right, all things considered. Let’s get into it, fellow detectives.
True Detective episode three, explained:
In hindsight, it was a fantasy that True Detective would kill off the poached-egg detective at the center of its most compelling storyline just two episodes in. Episode three opens on a brief dream sequence featuring Ray’s drunk dad and a maudlin, pompadoured crooner whose dinner jacket might not be velvet, but it is definitely blue. In the dream, Ray Velcoro faces off with pops over the same barroom table where he usually meets with Frank Semyon, and pops basically tells him that he isn’t a man, which is very sad for Ray. Maybe if Ray wasn’t eternally in the pocket of a mobster who knows his deepest, darkest secret, he would be more up to the task of adult masculinity. Maybe not.
In defiance of all good sense, Ray soon wakes up. It turns out that the freaky bird guy who got him twice in the chest with a shotgun last night was actually firing rubber bullets—what else would you expect the R&B-listening guardian of a gruesome murder scene to be packing? When Velcoro debriefs a pissed-off Ani Bezzerides about the shooting, he mentions that he was hit with “riot shells—you know, like cops use.” Interesting.
Meanwhile, Frank is busy becoming the season’s second brooding man in three episodes to be too obsessed with his own perceived failures to enjoy a blow job. And in episode three, Frank is only failing harder: cash is so short that he’s resorted to shaking down a friendly-seeming business associate; he picks a possibly ill-advised fight with the guy who has FUCK YOU written on his teeth; the rich Russian Osip is exiting the railway real estate deal entirely; Frank’s good buddy “Stan” is dead. Poor, sweet “Stan.”
Quien? What, you don’t remember motherfucking “Stan”? The guy who stood silently in the background when Frank told Ray where to find his wife’s rapist in episode one? The guy who silently pepper-sprayed some other guy in episode two? The guy who Frank helpfully reminded you was worth caring about when he asked “‘Stan’—why isn’t he here?” just before learning of his death? It’s “Stan,” man. “Stan”! Anyway, he’s dead, and it looks like the same acid-wielding freak who killed Ben Caspere did him in.
State trooper Paul Woodrugh is not the one-dimensional ladykiller he initially seemed. After a few unsubtle teases in the first two episodes—remember when he surreptitiously mentioned his urge to punch a “fag” who hit on him?—we learn once and for all that Woodrugh is gay, or maybe bi, and that he’s deeply uncomfortable with it. When an old war buddy with whom Woodrugh once spent a few steamy nights overseas asks him if he’d ever be interested in rekindling that passion, Woodrugh answers, “Dude—chill,” then throws him to the ground. Just as he’s wiping his hands of his-ex-lover and leaving the scene, we see that the fat drunk cop is there and has presumably been recording it all.
Finally, Velcoro and Bezzerides visit the home of a young man who quit his film production job just before one of the crew’s cars was stolen and used to transport Caspere’s body. Might this guy have some connection to the killing? It doesn’t seem like it, but fortunately, a man in a mask happens to set fire to the very same car, just outside the kid’s house, just as the detectives are standing at the door. They take off on a sprint, and Bezzerides almost catches the masked man—before Velcoro, still limping from the rubber bullets, tackles her out of the way of an oncoming truck. Bezzerides thanks Velcoro for saving her, and he says that if she wants to really thank him, she should tell him what state officials have on him in their corruption investigation. Perhaps a genuine kinship is beginning to form? “I don’t know,” she says, shaking her head. Perhaps not.
But of course, vastly more important than the complex web of evolving relationships between our protagonists is a simple, five-word question:
Who will be the true detective?
If you’re watching True Detective with anything in your mind beyond the above query, allow me to inform you in the parlance of our times that you’re doing it wrong. True Detective is about who will be the true detective—no more; no less. Who’s the birdman? Will officer Steve Mercer ever taste true love’s first kiss? Do Ben Caspere’s sexual proclivities have anything to do with the circumstances of his death or are they only brought up in the interest of titillating the viewer? If these questions don’t lead you closer to the true detective’s true identity, it’s best to try to put them out of your mind.
This week, my money’s on Cary Fukunaga. Why else would True Detective creator Nic Pizzolato include an obvious caricature of the show’s first-season director in episode three, if not to send a message about Fukunaga’s cosmic importance? The filmmaker character seen in the episode’s final third is an Asian-American director, just like Fukunaga, and as Vulture points out, he wears his hair in a goofy extended man-bun, just like Fukunaga. He doesn’t get much screen time, but he’s portrayed as a slimy hack who likes to drink and may or may not also like hookers. His own set photographer calls the post-apocalyptic action flick he’s shooting “about two tons of shit.”
If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that Pizzolato is acting a little petty about the guy who departed his show after one season and somehow managed to take most of the audience’s goodwill with him. The guy with whom Pizzolato insisted he didn’t have a speck of beef in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter last year. But I do know better—I know that the Pizz wouldn’t stoop that low—so I can only assume that the Fukunaga character is a sign that the sorely missed director’s presence is hovering over season two in ways we can’t even begin to comprehend. I can only assume that Cary Fukunaga is the true detective.
Or else the true detective is “Stan.” RIP, buddy.