Review: True Detective Season Two, “The Western Book of the Dead”


“How compromised are you?”

There was nothing about the first episode of True Detective season two that signaled that things were “off to a bang.” If anything it was just the opposite, in fact. This episode could only be described as a “slow burner,” and seemed to be more concerned with introductions than anything else. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.

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And with a cast that includes four leads, that’s going to take up a chunk of time.

We got some nicely divided time between all four of our leads this week, acquainting us with their own problems. This season, much more than season one, seems to be piling on the personal problems. The murder that brings everyone together, that of an associate of Frank Semyon — deliciously played by Vince Vaughn — plays second fiddle.

Let’s talk about Semyon for a minute. Semyon has been characterized as the villain of True Detective season two, but that wasn’t made abundantly clear in this episode. Obviously Semyon has a huge amount of influence and isn’t shy about it, but Colin Farrell as Ray Velcoro does far more damage.

We see Velcoro act as Semyon’s lap-dog, quieting people when necessary and not thinking twice. He also has a horrible relationship with his son — possibly biological, but probably not — and threatens to beat him in front of the cheerleaders for not disclosing which kid stole his shoes. Queue Velcoro punching the kid’s dad in the face and threatening them with further violence.

Yeah, he’s a good guy.

Rachel McAdams as Ani Bezzerides and Taylor Kitsch as Paul Woodrugh seem more of the implosive type. Both characters carry around some serious rage, and Woodrugh flirts with dead when he almost crashes his bike into the side of a mountain. Basically, everyone has problems and looks pained almost constantly.

This may be some of the extra gloom that early reviews were talking about.

New director Justin Lin did a fine job with this one, though perhaps relies a little too heavily on aerial shots of California desert highway. Almost in defiance of the new, depressing setting, is the opener; it’s brilliantly vibrant and colorful. True Detective season two may be going for its own voice, but its opener is perfectly in line with season one. And it works really well, including the new song by Leonard Cohen.

The obvious point of this episode was to introduce a cast of characters who seem to be on the edge of their own destruction. Surprisingly, Semyon has it together the most so far, but even he is slowly unraveling. The bar scene that we’ve seen in the trailer was the sweet spot of the episode with excellent shots of both Semyon and Velcoro.

No words are needed in a sequence like that when done that well. Also, did anyone else catch the Lera Lynn cameo?

Semyon even comments on Velcoro’s drinking, which really speaks to how messed up Colin Farrell’s character truly is. If you weren’t convinced already by that point, that is. Semyon and Velcoro are running the show at this point, the tension between the two of them and their complicated relationship is currently more interesting than whatever Bezzerides and Woodrugh have going on.

Bezzerides spends most of the episode on un-related cases that don’t feel as if they add much. It hit home a little more when she confronts her sister for being a “cam girl,” and then gets a completely unsatisfactory response from her hippy father. Bezzerides is a walking bomb, but this episode didn’t give her much to do besides look unhappy.

Woodrugh is obviously messed up, but his issues got the least amount of screen-time compared to everyone else. It was enough for us to get the picture, but not enough for him to add anything meaningful. Hopefully he’ll get something more to do as True Detective moves forward.

Kelly Reilly as Semyon’s wife, Jordan, summed it all up quite nicely when she said “everybody gets touched.” That’s exactly what we’re seeing here. This may have been a slow start to True Detective season two, but with so much tension in the air that’s bound to change.

The episode ended with Woodrugh, Velcoro, and Bezzerides together. The start of a mystery that will run through the rest of True Detective season two. We’ll get to see how these three characters work together, but our bets are on not very well.

At all.

Next: This Week in True Detective: Week of 6/15/15

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