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TV Review: True Detective "Black Maps and Motel Rooms"

Some decent character work finally happens at the 11th hour.

Review by Brandon Wolfe

As True Detective’s second season nears its ending, it is building to a crescendo that at once highlights just what’s wrong with the structure of this season while simultaneously cranking up the excitement levels, if just from anemic to watchable. While the dream that the show was waiting until its second half to spring to life is now dead, it has, to its minimal credit, managed to manufacture some adequate late-stage stakes for its central characters. I can’t imagine how fantastic that finale would need to be in order to redeem this whole misbegotten season, but at least the show is finally giving us something to keep our eyelids propped open.

"Black Maps and Motel Rooms" finds our core characters at their lowest points, which is fairly remarkable for this collection of wretches. The massive conspiracy has sharpened its defense mechanisms against the task force, making Bezzerides a murder suspect after her self-defense slaying of the orgy security guard. Meanwhile, Velcoro has been framed for the shooting death of Davis, the task force’s handler. These turns of events have led both cops into seclusion at a safe house, while Woodrugh finds himself blackmailed with cell-phone pics of his romantic encounter with Gilb, his old war buddy. Woodrugh, the only member of the team still free to operate in the world, conducts some research and finds that Caspere was likely murdered in connection to a years-old plot by several high-ranking members of the Vinci police force to steal diamonds under the cover of the 1992 riots in order to buy their way into the Vinci elite, the most likely culprit behind the murder being Laura, a woman who was orphaned during that robbery and posed as Caspere’s assistant for vengeance. Meanwhile, Frank beats a confession out of his crooked subordinate Blake, who spills that the Russian gangster Osip, also connected to the Vinci conspiracy, has orchestrated Frank’s financial downfall from the start to keep him from rising up in the world. Frank responds by torching several of Osip’s business and making off with all the cash on-hand.

Watching True Detective’s plot simmer to a boil underscores how absurdly convoluted this entire labyrinthine conspiracy has been, and how little interest any of it has managed to generate. Listening to the show rattle off all the conspiracy’s movers and shakers, and delineating all of their motives, it is made plain what an abysmal job the series has done making the audience care about any of this white noise. We are given a litany of players, like Holloway, Burris, Dixon, Osip and McCandless, characters whose names have been bandied about, but who have never been allowed to make enough of an impression to keep them present in mind as active participants in the greater story. And now that the backbone of the conspiracy is beginning to form, it confirms what has seemed to be the case all along--that this entire quagmire of uninvolving nonsense really doesn’t add up to anything more than a bunch of crooked cops and city officials doing rotten things to accumulate wealth and power. Last year, the Internet was melting down trying to wrap its head around the Yellow King and Carcosa, that creepy killer and cult that may or may not have supernatural underpinnings. Season 2 is about shady land deals and below-board political favors, its dry mundanity not abated by its cumbersome unwieldiness.

What this penultimate episode does succeed with, to some extent, is with what it does with its principals. The show finally realizes that Velcoro and Bezzerides, those two hopelessly broken, endlessly tortured souls, are perfect for each other, culminating in a passionate end-of-our-rope tryst at the safe house. None of these characters have popped in any significant way, but this union makes so much sense as to be peculiarly satisfying. These two feel like they complete each other in an odd sense, each wounded in ways that complements the other. Similarly, Frank instantly becomes a more interesting character when he’s not waxing poetic about how the world has it out for him and takes to striking back at the system that has machinated to keep him down. I don’t know that any of these developments fully redeems the overall deficiencies of these characters, but they do make watching these people finally feel like a bit less of a chore.

That just leaves poor Woodrugh as the odd man out. This character has always felt like one too many, his postwar stresses and aggressively closeted identity crisis essentially defining what has otherwise been a brooding blank space. When the character meets his demise in the episode’s closing moments, it’s virtually impossible to feel anything about it because of the character’s irksome thinness. If anything, Woodrugh probably should have given up the ghost much earlier on in the season to raise the stakes and trim the fat. At least as True Detective heads into its final chapter, the load will be lighter, with the focus kept tightly on the trio who are finally, mercifully, showing some belated signs of life.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Brandon Wolfe at @BrandonTheWolfe.


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