[rating=9.00] “Black Maps and Motel Rooms”
I know this isn’t really a popular internet opinion, but I’ve been absolutely rapt by this season of True Detective. While reading the opinions of commentators and other critics—all of whom seem to wonder where this season is going and what everything has to do with everything else—I’ve been sitting back, enjoying the slow burn, whose heat’s been increasing exponentially this season until last night, when it erupted into a full on blaze. Disparate threads have been getting woven tighter together as the last half of the season has progressed, and now the full tapestry has been all but revealed.
This was a particularly dense episode in a particularly dense season, one that hasn’t exactly held the hands of the viewer as the increasingly labyrinthine twists and turns of the conspiracy unfolded themselves. As it turns out, everything—the murder, the land deals, Frank getting pushed out of his game—can be boiled down to two words: Osip Agranov. Everything else is just details.
Osip’s been quite the busy bee over the last year, moving his trafficking operation into California under Frank’s nose, while also moving into other areas of Frank’s interest, namely the land deals. Osip’s business was supported in part by Mayor Chessani’s kid Tony, and the two of them have been quietly purchasing as much land as they possibly can. Caspere’s death, it seemed, was a boon to their operation as it allowed them to buy his stakes for pennies on the dollar, so that they might turn around and sell it to California high rollers—the kind who attend exclusive sex parties in secluded mansions—at a much higher price. This plan meant that Frank’s aspirations needed to be reeled in by his higher ups, despite the fact that he was using the land deal as an opportunity to go straight. I can’t imagine how this would sit well with the bosses of the criminal underground; everything else about Frank aside, he’s a good earner. You can’t let a good earner just retire, can you?
Dizzy yet? Exposition ran rampant in this penultimate season two episode, creating a whirling vortex of information into which our detectives get sucked. It’s a bit hard to keep up with, but the effort seems to be paying off nicely. For all the hate True Detective has had thrown its way this season, you can’t say it hasn’t been building up to something. The information dump the audience got last night as a result of last week’s covert mission might have been heavy, but all of the pieces are falling into place. Actually, it seems less like a jigsaw puzzle than it does a magic eye painting. The picture might be hard to see until you look at it just right, but once you see it it’s impossible to unsee. Even the most WTF thread of this season’s plot—Woodrugh’s fears of his own sexuality—has come into play and, surprising at it is, is actually kind of important.
While trying to comb through the new information gleaned from last week’s covert ops, Paul receives some anonymous text messages containing pictures of his night of drunken passion with a former military bro, with a not so subtle threat that the pics will be delivered to his fiancée if he doesn’t play ball. Over the course of the episode, Paul is drawn out to the county hall of records, where he’s taken into underground tunnels by his erstwhile lover—who is all the while telling Paul that he could’ve avoided this whole thing by just being honest about who he is. His former outfit, Black Mountain Security, has rebranded as Ares Security and serves one client, a company called Catalyst, which just so happens to be involved in the Chessani/Agranov scheme. Ares is attempting to blackmail Woodrugh into giving up the information they have on their clients in exchange for the destruction of the evidence of Paul’s homosexual proclivities. Paul manages to use his training to take out the squad of men assigned to control him, running through the darkened tunnels and being an all-around badass in the process. Unfortunately, his efforts at escape are met with a quick end at the hands of Detective Burris, who’s waiting for Paul outside and unceremoniously shoots him in the back in a way that wasn’t too dissimilar from The Birdman who shot Ray back in episode two. Is Burris Birdman? Probably, but we don’t know yet.
What we do know is that Burris is corrupt (well, I mean, that should be clear considering he murdered Woodrugh) and has been for a long time. While investigating the missing blue diamonds—which, remember, were stolen from a jewelry store during the LA riots and left two people dead—a shocking connection to Caspere is made. The store was located in a precinct in which Dets. Holloway, Dixon, and Burris worked, and Caspere worked as an internal auditor for the department. Given that Ruolfo was told to pawn the diamonds by a cop, their theft is more and more linked to dirty cops. Namely Hollow, Dixon, and Burris. The three, it seems, were working under Caspere’s orders, and the money they made and stashed away from the scheme was later used to get them in on the land deals.
Now, one of the missing pieces of the puzzle was the kids orphaned by the execution of the jewelry store owners in the robbery. Where are they? Bezzerides and Velcoro notice that the girl, Laura, bears a striking resemblance to a women who worked as Caspere’s secretary when he was city manager of Vinci. It seems she was using her connection to get dirt on Caspere in an attempt at blackmail, a scheme which left Caspere—and probably herself—dead.
But what about Frank? He’s not too happy to find out the name of his nemesis, especially considering that they had, until now, a pretty sweet business deal. Osip has been moving in on his men, buying their loyalty and leaving Frank alone against the world. Most egregious was the turning of Blake, Frank’s protégé and right hand man. This sets up one of the best scenes this season as Frank confronts Blake in his office. “You fucked up letting yourself be alone in the room with me,” Frank tells him, before proceeding to beat him senseless and shooting him on the floor. It was a terrifying turn for Vaughn, who by all rights should shut up his detractors (by probably won’t, because that’s not how the internet works) with this scene alone.
We also learn that Blake was the man who gave Frank the false information about Ray’s wife’s rapist. Blake’s just pissing everybody off today, it seems, though Ray doesn’t really have to worry about this anymore since Blake bled out on Frank’s carpet.
Frank pretends to play along and accept Osip’s hostile takeover, seemingly resigning himself to his new lower position as mere manager of the casino and club as opposed to owner. Meanwhile, he lays plans for revenge and escape under their noses. He has the casino evacuated with a false gas leak, and while everyone is gone he steals every last cent from the safe before setting the casino on fire. He then moves to the club, where the scene is repeated. Frank is clearly out of shits to give and payback looms on the horizon.
Like I said: Dense. It was also the best episode in a season that’s been unfairly maligned by critics and viewers alike. There’s still a lot of narrative to cover, which should be apparent from the fact that next week’s finale is a massive 90 minutes (why they didn’t just make this a nine episode season is beyond me, but whatever). So now that the picture has been painted, what is going to come from it? It’s anyone’s game at this point, and a happy ending is in no way guaranteed. So feel free to hate it all you want, but I, for one, cannot wait.