The best thing about the second season of “True Detective,” two episodes in, is Colin Farrell. It helps that his character, the bent detective Ray Velcoro, has so far received the most screen time out of the ensemble cast, but Farrell is responsible for the logical nakedness that completes the role. When you’re a dirty cop with nothing to lose, working for a police department whose systemic corruption is widely known and the subject of a state investigation, why waste energy pretending you’re not totally exposed?
Velcoro hides nothing, admits to being suicidal, and whenever he speaks about the murdered man who raped his wife, it comes across as a confession. His on-screen sins – the brass-knuckled beating of an innocent man, a drunken outburst in broad daylight near his kid’s school – at first appear to be careless risks, but really are granted by a tacit impunity. Velcoro is expected to be a jerk, and at this point in the story, he can’t be touched by the law. That I kind of like the guy is a testament to Farrell’s craft. So if he is in fact dead, as two close-range shotgun blasts to the torso usually suggest, this season of “True Detective” is dead. To me. Until Sunday night.
But I am hopeful, because his demise would contradict the show’s tagline, voiced by Velcoro himself, accepting the “sweatshop economics” of Vinci, the polluted California city that employs him: “My strong suspicion is we get the world we deserve.” Well, we deserve more of Colin Farrell, and probably less of Vince Vaughn as the businessman Frank Semyon, who is desperate to recoup millions of dollars that he entrusted to Ben Caspere, the Vinci city manager, to invest in a massive rail project. Caspere was tortured and killed before the deal was closed, and Frank’s money is nowhere to be found.
Vaughn nearly stillbirths this episode with an unconvincing and maudlin opening monologue to Frank’s wife about a time in his childhood when his alcoholic father would lock him in the basement overnight to protect him from a potentially violent bender. Vaughn, affecting an inconsistent tough-guy cadence, stumbles over writer Nic Pizzolatto’s dialogue about the fragility of financial success and life in general. Director Justin Lin’s unflattering close-ups make the scene even less tolerable.
Episode two lacks the visual grace of the premiere, which successfully relied on close-ups to reveal character instead of lumbering expository dialogue. Lin has a knack, in some aerial night shots, for capturing the toxic glow of Vinci, but otherwise this episode is a pretty static affair, consisting mainly of conversations that disclose little we didn’t already know. “You’re a bad man,” one character tells Velcoro. “You’re not right,” another character tells the state policeman Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), who is well, kind of bizarre. He’d rather remain a motorcycle cop than be promoted to detective, and there may be something unnatural going on between him and his mom. So thank you, Pizzolatto, for clearing all that up.
There are some zingers, though, usually coming from Velcoro’s direction, as he mocks the special police detail he’s been assigned to, along with county detective Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) and Woodrugh, to solve Caspere’s murder. He knows it’s really a front for the county and the state to investigate him and Vinci, and so he doesn’t work too hard. In one scene, of Bezzerides driving him home after a day on the job, he muses about the anatomically suggestive nature of e-cigarettes, and cracks a bad joke about feminism. “Tell me, how compromised are you?” Bezzerides asks as Velcoro exits the vehicle. His response: “Anyway, good night.”
A version of this review appeared in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette on July 2, 2015.