If you thought the body count last week was a cruel way to raise the stakes, consider the more recent casualty: Ray’s mustache. Man, that thing was impressive. I’m glad we were spared the sight of its demise. Cut offscreen — somewhere during the 66 days that have passed since the mid-season massacre, dubbed here in episode five as the Vinci massacre (real creative guys) — Ray’s facial companion, in true “True Detective” fashion, likely met its end quite painfully. Though I doubt it took a bullet to the head like Ray’s former partner, Teague Dixon, about whom we’re learning much more, even in death, similar to Ben Caspere and his uncovered secrets. It looks like the former Vinci city manager had footage of high-up affluent men, and possibly a state senator, doing bad things: “Hooker parties,” Ray intones in his best Batman voice. What started out as a negotiating tactic (blackmail) probably got Caspere killed. I wonder what Ray’s mustache will tell us from beyond the grave.
No seriously, its absence is more than just fodder for jokes. Let’s consider it a sacrifice, the first mustache to be a martyr. This way of thinking mitigates the grief. The stache died for Ray’s kid, Chad, of course. If Ray can play nice, and look nice, he might have some luck with the judge overseeing the child custody dispute between Ray and his ex-wife, played by Abigail Spencer, who is really, really good. But maybe the mustache died in vain. After all, Ray has quit his gig as a detective and is now one of Frank’s goons. That doesn’t quite jibe with the responsible-parent image he’s going for, but it’s not like he’s enjoying the work. He’s too sympathetic to intimidate the rent out of a tenant from Frank’s apartment complex housing illegal immigrants. Ray, lacking that which was key to his Rayness, can’t even threaten violence. The most he can do, clean-shaven and sober, is threaten to report the woman to immigration authorities. Ray, you’re such a softie.
But I’m not done. The mustache signifies something else: a fresh start, not just for Ray, but for Bezzerides and Woodrugh as well. Both were demoted after the mid-season massacre, but they can’t pass up an opportunity provided by state attorney Katherine Davis (Michael Hyatt) to continue investigating the Caspere murder as a secret unit, including Ray. This will give them a chance to approach the case sincerely without any of the political motivations that facilitated the last effort and expose the widespread corruption that has plagued Vinci and its neighboring areas for so long. Like Ray’s upper lip, everyone’s looking for a clean slate. Don’t believe me? Take it from Bezzerides: “It’s never too late to start all over again.” I’m rooting for them, because if they succeed, Davis will ensure that Ray gets custody of his kid. If that happens, he’ll never have to shave again.
Thoughts on the stuff I couldn’t connect to the mustache:
* Let’s have more of Mayor Chessani, whose Michelangelo-inspired micro nap was interrupted by a very mean flick in the face by Frank. I wouldn’t mess with the Chessanis, Frank. “They are a highly inventive family,” according to the creepy doctor Pitler, who’s providing reconstructive surgery for the prostitutes that Chessani’s kid, Tony, is running through high-end clubs. The mayor has the best line of the episode: “Not everyone has our physical fortitude,” he says, referring of course, to his being a functional alcoholic. Wait, Chessani has a mustache. Damn!
* Poor Dixon. I thought we weren’t supposed to speak ill of the dead. In this episode, he’s described as a portly, flatulent, wet-brain alky. To be fair, the criticism was warranted. Dixon’s shoddy surveillance did lead all those cops into a deadly ambush. Also, I can’t remember if he had a bonafide mustache or just stubble. Could be another missed opportunity on my part. Damn!
* Frank and Jordan have finally come to a decision about their progeny. They are going to adopt. I don’t want to hear any more about it.
* How about Colin Farrell! I know, I know, I’ve spent enough time praising him already, but he can be so disarming in moments, and utterly frightening in others. That close-up after he learns Frank probably deliberately set him up is just terrifying. The man is dangerous, mustache or no mustache. Ha. I did it again.
* I liked the sense of raw unease in this episode. Everyone is still rattled by the events from last week, and the aerial shots of the city, backed by a soundtrack of clangy, industrial tones, are particularly corrosive this time.
A version of this review appeared in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette on July 23, 2015.