My partner-in-crime if off to Italy with his life partner and progeny until after the Fourth of July weekend. I should be able to muddle through a little bit of HTML until then (maaaaaaybe) but the real blow is the absence of Katherine which means two weeks of True Detective recaps fall on my shoulders. You can find Katherine’s take on the first episode elsewhere on this site (although unlikely via a hyperlink in this recap since I really don’t know what I am doing) and she was cautiously optimistic about where it was going.
My takeaway was how much the first episode reminded me of a James Ellroy novel. Colin Farrell doing his best accent-suppressed take on the trainwrecked Bud White, Taylor Kitsch jamming his secrets into Danny Upshaw’s closet, and… well there is no analogy for Rachel McAdams’ character since you don’t get a POV woman in an Ellroy novel until Kay Lake’s chapters in Perfidia. That comparison might not be there but there is zero chance that W Earl Brown isn’t a Buzz Meeks stand-in and the dildo-laden crime scene that is Casper’s home is pretty much every dildo-laden crime scene in the first half of Ellroy’s career. More Ellroy tropes would follow this week.
So where does NIGHT FINDS YOU find us?
As the episode opens with Vince Vaughn’s Frank Semyon laying awake and talking about water stains with Kelly Reilly’s Jordan Semyon I visualized one of those focus groups they trot out during election season to judge how the candidates fared during a debate. Each member of the group has their hand on a perception analyzer dial and they turn the dial right when they feel favorably toward the candidate and they turn it left when they don’t.
Vince Vaughn, in the immortal words of Dr. Peter Venkman, buried the needle in the opening. I just kept wondering how this scene would have played out with any other actor — hell, any other Vince, was D’Onofrio too busy? — but especially kept thinking about how much better Pizzolato’s dialogue sounded with McConaughey delivering the lines. I also wondered if there was any way Vaughn could unjam that needle from the left-most position.
We move from the water stained ceiling to the acid stained eyes of Casper on the coroner’s table. We also get a glimpse of the wreckage of what was once his junk — taken out with a point blank shotgun blast. File away for later how devastating a point blank shotgun blast can be. While Frank Velcoro, Ani Bezzerides, and Paul Woodrugh are getting the rundown from the coroner they are also given conflicting missions from their various higher-ups at the city, state and highway patrol bureaus. Bezzerides is put in charge of watching Velcoro, Velcoro reports back to Semyon and the mayor, and Woodrugh just wants to get back on the bike.
Semyon discovers that he has been left out in the cold by Casper with an under the table deal now undocumented. Five million dollars, earmarked for twelve parcels below Monterey, is not only missing but the price for those parcels has gone up. Semyon has also liquidated assets to get in on this deal and is suddenly willing to strip away his businessman’s veneer to claw his way back into the equation.
“My business partner takes my money and gets torture-murdered and what? I’m waiting on the Velcoro burnout to make like Rockford?”
Was that the needle unwedging itself from the left-most position?
We get some more insight into the players as we meet Woodrugh’s mom, played by Lolita Davidovich, in her trailer park getting her big, strong son to peel the skin off her KFC while deriding his ex-girlfriend as fat. Bezzerides and Velcoro start investigating and begin to take measure of each other while discussing vaping and robot fellatio. Bezzerides grills Mayor Chessani about Casper’s known associates while Velcoro plays along but ultimately cuts things short when her arrows start getting closer to the mark.
The task force is headquartered in what appears to be an airplane hangar where W. Earl Brown’s Teague Dixon is trying to help Woodrugh understand why he was so really so upset while getting hit on by a guy at the bank. Velcoro shows a glimpse of some real Rockford instincts pointing out that Casper’s regular bank withdrawals coincide with blank days on his calendar but he can’t stay to follow up as he has to meet up with his son to give him a new pair of sneakers.
I am always happy to see Abigail Spencer, who has had recurring roles on Mad Men and Suits and was stunning in Rectify, and I hope she gets more screen time as Alicia Brune, Velcoro’s ex. She is not happy with the way he brass-knuckled down on the father of Chad’s classmate’s father over the stolen shoes. Sole custody is the only solution that Alicia can find to keep Chad from Velcoro’s lack of decency and he responds by threatening to burn the city to the ground but the threat of a paternity test quickly backs him down.
Semyon comes to the aid of a man on the receiving end of a bump and beatdown under the freeway and he glibly lets the man know that he must have done something to piss someone off like writing a book on Vinci sweatshops. Vaughn gets the needle past 9 o’clock in this scene.
I mentioned James Ellroy earlier and there is no moment where the the similarities to the LA Quartet ring more true than when Bezzerides and Velcoro pay a visit to Casper’s botoxed psychiatrist played by Rick Springfield. As they walk through the clinic we see patients recovering from plastic surgery and I can only imagine they are working girls being cut to look like Veronica Lake. After putting up some token resistance about doctor patient confidentiality, Springfield gives up some details of Casper’s treatment. He had a weakness for young prostitutes but was making progress at the time of his death.
“There are kinds of secrets in the world all kinds of truth,” says the doctor as he makes the connection between Bezzerides and her father’s work with the Good People. Bezzerides wants nothing to do with talking about the past. Velcoro has no such reluctance as he basically fesses up to killing the man who raped his wife and being in the back pocket of Semyon as a result along with his assorted bad habits. Bezzerides does not like to distinguish between good and bad habits which seems like a fine time for Velcoro to ask about her knives.
“Fundamental difference between the sexes is that one of them can kill the other with their bare hands. Man of any size lays hands on me he is gonna bleed out in under a minute.”
Velcoro reveals that the reason they have been thrown together to investigate this crime is to fail but he won’t explicitly tell her exactly how compromised he is. Meanwhile Woodrugh and his butterfly-loving girlfriend break-up over a TMZ piece about his alleged blowjob shakedown from the previous episode. He heads downtown to smoke cigarettes and drink straight from the bottle while watching male hustlers get in and out of cars.
Semyon finds Casper’s fuckpad (another Ellroy trope) and points Velcoro in that direction while dangling a police captaincy in front of him but it holds no interest. Semyon reminds him that there are not many options for him other than a life in prison or doing what he is told to do.
“Everybody’s got the one option, you want it bad enough.”
My life has led me in a non-traditional job direction and I rarely regret that except when there are watercooler moments on television like the closing scene from this episode. Velcoro follows Semyon’s lead which is the where the murder clearly took place, only to get shotgunned twice — the second time point blank to the torso — by a man in a bird mask.
We have already seen the evidence of what a shotgun at this range can do to a man’s pelvis and it is hard to imagine how he can survive. Farrell certainly does not appear in the trailer for next week’s episode but we do hear someone discussing the crime in the context of “one of my detectives gets shot” and not in the context of “killed” so maybe there was a rock salt load in the shotgun or Velcoro was wearing a vest. Either way, I will be back next week, hand on the Vaughn-dial, to recap.