Previously on “True Detective,” not only was corrupt Vinci city detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) left for dead, supine after taking two shotgun blasts to the torso, but so were the acting chops of Vince Vaughn, who, also on his back, delivered a mawkish opening monologue from which the rest of episode two barely recovered. So it is my pleasure to report — and in keeping with this season’s focus on fathers, sons, legacies, gifts from one generation to the next, all the odds and ends of immortality — both Velcoro and Vaughn are risen, given new life in the third episode, which so far is this season’s most tightly plotted entry, and its most aesthetically evocative. Go out and share the good news.
To be fair, no one actually died last week. Considering the choice of ammunition, whoever it was disguised in that crow’s mask never intended to kill Velcoro, favoring instead a few broken ribs and a pair of soiled dungarees. That’d cause me to throw in the towel (after first using it to wipe myself off), ending the investigation into the death of Vinci city manager Ben Caspere. But I am not as suicidal as Velcoro, who, before waking from his shotgun-induced slumber, dreams he is sitting across from his father at a dive bar in the episode’s first scene.
The sequence is pure David Lynch, meaning it’s my new favorite thing about this season, and because it opens with a surreal lip-synced musical number, contains obscure, ominous dialogue, and feels like it takes place on another plane of existence, some realm between, or entirely separate from, the living and the dead. Think of Lynch’s “Blue Velvet,” which used each of those elements to make the underbelly of a North Carolina city seem like a sideshow attraction in hell, if hell had such things. Even Fred Ward, who plays Velcoro’s father, bears an uncanny resemblance to Lynch in certain shots, sharing the filmmaker’s wrinkled mug, his cavernous eyes and his slick, pasty pompadour.
We should have seen this coming, especially in light of this show’s recent obsession with bad dialogue, and Los Angeles topography as it relates to the movie industry. Both are preoccupations of Lynch’s film career. His stylistic influence over “True Detective” even fits this season’s attention to issues of parentage. This show, we now know for certain, is very much a child of an aesthetic Lynch created, one that no other filmmaker has ever really mastered.
In that sense, episode three is about the unbridgeable gap between a father and a son — how they are at once eerily similar to each other and unaccountably different — and the futile urge for one to please the other. Velcoro and his father get along well enough, and have plenty in common, but a sit down in front of the TV is cut short when the senior man makes a racist comment, serving as an uncomfortable remnant from a different generation. On the other hand, Frank (Vaughn) and his wife are struggling to get pregnant. Even if his lucrative land deal comes together, he may have no one to leave the property to when he’s gone. The assumption that his child would even want that reflects the hubris of any parent who’d rather birth a carbon copy of themselves than a human being with its own unique personality.
Frank never needed to be a likable character, but up until this episode Vaughn failed even to make him compelling. Frank’s impotence, his wife’s, and the fact that another of Frank’s associates has turned up dead, cause him to act out violently in a scene that fleshes out his characterization. Before, it was paper-thin. He would call it papier mâché. His past as a crime boss was only alluded to in earlier episodes, mostly unconvincingly through his tough talk. But here we see him physically command the respect of his former criminal contacts when one of them challenges him. Frank swiftly and viciously beats the man to the ground before ripping out some of his teeth, a gold grill that spells out an obscenity when the man smiles. Frank, during the act, asks a fair question: “What kind of way is that to greet the world?” Just when Frank thought he was out, they pulled him back in. Now, they may be having second thoughts.
A version of this review appeared in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette on July 9, 2015.