Review: True Detective Season Two, “Black Maps and Motel Rooms”


“I’m just trying to be a good man.”

True Detective Season Two continues to up the ante with another remarkably tense episode that finally lays all of Pizzolatto’s dramatic chips on the table. The new season has definitively established its own identity, and the slow smolder of the past six episodes has finally erupted into tense, dark drama that delivers some of the same gripping action and character work that made the first season so special.

And that, really, more than anything else, defines the nature of this week’s episode. Even the expository scenes at the beginning are fraught with a kind of simmering tension which boils over further and further as the episode goes along. The case itself is brought, finally, into what appears to be a clear, singular focus. It is somewhat of a relief to finally have the mystery, which has thus far been incredibly murky and dense, put mostly above-board.

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It seems appropriate to begin this review by discussing Paul. Detective Woodrugh, who, out of all of our leads has perhaps been the one that has had the hardest time reaching any sort of reconciliation with his own identity, really got to take point in this week’s episode. Perhaps fittingly, his scenes in this episode were some of the most compelling he’s had all season.

The blackmail confrontation set up by his former partner and lover was perhaps one of the most effectively directed and edited set pieces of the entire season thus far. From the moment he calls Velcoro until the moment where he exits the tunnels, the viewer is left to waver between hope and dread. Kitsch, as he has throughout the season, really shines when he’s given these kinds of action sequences, imbuing Paul with a kind of utter determination.

Season Two makes its boldest statement of identity in the murder of Woodrugh.

Paul’s inability to cope with his own identity is what ultimately leads to his tragic end. His lover tells him as much: “If you were true to who you are, no one would be able to run you.” It is ironic then, that Season Two makes its boldest statement of identity in the murder of Woodrugh. It is definitely a shame to lose Paul, as Kitsch has (for this reviewer at least) been doing some really great work anytime he was given the spotlight. However, Paul’s death marks a high water point for this season in terms of dramatic intensity.

Ray and Ani’s relationship can be considered another high point of this episode. The two have worked extremely well together on-screen throughout this season. Any time the two of them were together, the show seemed to jolt awake from a certain drowsiness that pervades some of the time our detectives have spent alone.

An early episode tease finally plays out, giving fans a refreshing moment of honest intimacy that feels a lot more earned than the dynamic between Frank and his wife. To have Ray and Ani’s scenes cut against Paul’s shootout was a clever piece of editing, elevating the dramatic tension of their developing relationship. Given that their only state contacts are now dead, and both characters are wanted for murders that are essentially frame jobs, it will be interesting to see how their relationship evolves in the finale.

Not to mention there’s a chemistry in the performances given by Farrell and McAdams that really sells onscreen.

McAdams is particularly good in this episode. The events of last week have profoundly impacted Ani, and McAdams plays that change incredibly well. Far from the self-contained, radically isolated Ani we’ve seen so far, here McAdams delivers a character whose walls have finally broken down. There’s a vulnerability here now that is shockingly bare and real.

Frank is finally given the information he needs to understand what’s happening to him. Vaughn has another good showing this week, though still perhaps a little underplayed at times. His scenes this episode are somewhat more brutal than anything we’ve seen from Frank thus far, but they make sense dramatically. He knows who and what he’s up against, and, perhaps more importantly, he can now clearly see the pathway out of this life.

The pieces are set up for Frank to tunnel his way out of gangster-hood in the finale, but if this week’s darkness is any indication, it may be naive to assume that Frank can escape all of this as cleanly as he believes. Whatever happens, it is nice to see Vaughn given a chance to play Frank with a greater sense of edge and purpose. This episode made Frank feel dangerous in a way that he rarely has so far, and it works to make the character more believable as a criminal boss. Certainly his empathy and heart have made him unique, but we also have to believe in the other side of Frank. This episode works to make that more feasible.

The score, more than anything else, really provides a sense of thematic and tonal continuity with last season.

The directing was again quite effective this episode, if not quite as atmospherically moody as last week’s. It was edited expertly, fraught with tension from start to finish. This might also be an appropriate place to discuss the effectiveness of T. Bone Burnett’s score. The score, more than anything else, really provides a sense of thematic and tonal continuity with last season. It has managed to incorporate enough of the industrial, noir weirdness of Vinci and play it alongside the haunting ethereal unreality that gave last season its spook.

It seems that, beginning with last week, Pizzolatto has finally laid his foot on the accelerator. If the past two episodes can be taken to give any indication of what’s to come (and based on comments like these, we can suspect they do), then next week’s hour and a half finale will be nothing if not surprising, gripping, and moodily intense. Will it be nightfall or dawn when the curtain is finally drawn?

Next: This Week in True Detective: Two Episodes Left Edition