The board is set, and the pieces are moving.
After an hour-long prologue in the season premiere, True Detective seems to be picking up a touch of speed. “Night Finds You” is where our four lead characters start to realize the mess they’re in and (for one detective in particular) how hopeless the situation may be.
Each of the three cops, Velcoro (Colin Farrell), Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), and Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), have been assigned to investigate the murder of Ben Caspere. Caspere was a city manager of Vinci, who also happened to have significant money belonging to casino owner/land investor/former gangster Semyon (Vince Vaughn). Each of the cops’ respective department wants to lead the investigation, eventually leading to Bezzerides in charge with Velcoro second in command and Woodrugh helping out. Woodrugh, working for the state and originally suspended from getting *ahem* “roadside assistance” from a hot blonde, is tasked with keeping his bosses informed. Bezzerides is meant to keep an eye on the “unstable” Velcoro, while Velcoro is unsure of whether or not he’s even supposed to solve this case AND has to keep Semyon in the loop…and that’s just in the first ten minutes of the episode.
From there, Velcoro and Bezzerides go around looking for clues as to who Caspere knew and how much information they had on him. It’s clear Bezzerides is in charge and starting to suspect a lack of effort on the part of Velcoro, who tells her before she hears it from someone else that he killed someone for hurting his wife. In his defense, he’s dealing with his ex-wife threatening sole custody (and a paternity test) of their son. Meanwhile, Woodrugh visits his mother in her trailer-park home and gets in a fight with his girlfriend when she finds out why he got suspended.
Semyon starts to sweat from all the lost money and the possibility of losing his land. He finds Velcoro, in the same bar they usually meet up in, in a depressed state, and reminds him of the debt the two share (Semyon saw Velcoro dump the dead body and covered his tracks). Just as Velcoro accepts his eternal slavery to dirty deeds behind a badge, he tracks down an address Semyon gave him of a house where Caspere used to take hookers. Velcoro sneaks in during the night and scopes the place out. He finds some blood, animal masks, and a motion-sensing camera..along with another intruder wearing one of the masks and a shotgun. Unfortunately, the masked assailant is quite effective as he shoots Velcoro in the stomach, presumably killing him.
Despite my complaints about the last episode, Vince Vaughn is really trying here. He even gets a very well-written monologue about how Semyon’s drunk dad left him locked up in a basement for five days when he was a kid and how it scared him into thinking that life is never stable. It’s an enticing narrative, but Vaughn just cannot drive it home. He mistakes monotone for menace and it ends up being flat. Vaughn needs to up his tone or add some dark humor here to make himself more memorable. Much like last episode, Taylor Kitsch remains a waste of space. It makes sense he’s given the least screen time, because he has nothing to offer. Even with the (trailer) trashy mom describing his horndog personality and the allusion to his dark past with the mention of “Black Mountain Security,” he’s flatter than day-old beer. Something alludes to his lack of detail as being the “big surprise” for the show and, unless it’s revealed he’s an alien looking to observe this human thing called feelings, he’s going to torpedo the show.
Regardless, “Night Finds You” is an improvement over the season premiere for at least getting invested in the plot of the show. It brings back a bit of the mystique of season one with the animal masks and a visit to Caspere’s cosmetic surgeon, whose office looks like a cult hideout. Again directed by Justin Lin (Fast Five), the mood is more noir than anything, with faded color cinematography and smooth jazz backing the scenes. The story threads come by and will be missed if eyes are diverted, but everything seems to be knitted together so that everyone can collide in later episodes.
It’s a shame that we might be losing Velcoro, because Farrell’s succeeded in making him sympathetic. He gives Velcoro legitimate emotions and fear when he realizes he could lose the only thing in his life that gives him any purpose or meaning. Velcoro is terrified of a paternity test because the only thing he truly believes in is that the boy is his son. If Velcoro is going away, that means more room for Rachel McAdams, who was effective but underused here. The two share some solid banter in a car scene, leading to hopes of a spin-off with the two. Her unfazed sternness matches perfectly with the ticking time bomb Farrell plays.
What works this time around is actually getting to the story and having the characters crash into it. Episode one was just opening the curtain and reading personality traits, and now we’re at the first act. It’s not as engrossing as we remember it, but it’s a solid start.