TV Review: ‘True Detective’ Season 2, Episode 6: ‘Church in Ruins’

Questions submitted by my devoted Twitter fanbase:

Who was Stan, again? What did he do? Where did he grow up? Was he on LinkedIn? Facebook? What was his favorite TV show? How did he feel about the second season of “True Detective”? What did Stan even look like? Was he this guy? Or this guy? Why the past tense? Why do you think? Who killed him? Frank’s upset about his death, but why should I care?

As always, readers, thank you for your questions. Though I watch each episode of “True Detective” twice, write about it to fill my time as well as a certain amount of column space, and spend more hours each week thinking about the show than is socially responsible, I can only answer the last question with any degree of certainty: You shouldn’t care — not about the man himself, at least, who turned up murdered in episode three while working as one of Frank’s loyal goons. What you should care about, though, is what he left behind: a wife and a son. Frank and Jordan visit them in the sixth episode to deliver Stan’s cash earnings in a thick envelope.

At first Stan’s death seemed like a lazy and distracting way to reveal Frank’s vulnerability in a risky business venture. Stan’s extreme anonymity to us at the time of his death, combined with how upset Frank was when the body was discovered, just rendered the whole plot thread comical. That the man’s name is memorable only because it’s so ordinary contributed to the laughs. The importance of his death depended on Vince Vaughn’s ability to portray it. It was the opposite of dramatic irony, and it didn’t work.

But “True Detective” takes death seriously. This entire season is centered around a corpse, and the mysteries its onetime animator left in his wake. We never even saw Ben Caspere alive. Is it any surprise, then, that none of us can remember what Stan looked like? Death, in this show, is the starting point, the thing that begets and informs life. The advice Frank gives to Stan’s son to use his father’s death as a way to become a better, stronger person is actually thoughtful and heartfelt. It brought out the best in Vaughn and for once furthered Frank and Jordan’s character arcs. The show had preoccupied itself for a time with whether they could have a child, never bothering to ask the more important question: are they even equipped to raise one? The monologue Frank delivers to the boy is a point in their favor, something Frank himself could have benefited from when dealing with an absent father of his own. Absence, after all, is just another form of death, especially in this tale of estranged fathers, mothers, sons and daughters.

Some further insight was provided this episode into Bezzerides’ problems with her hippie father during a sequence straight out of David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks.” That wonderfully weird show from the early ‘90s also had two lawmen infiltrate a brothel on the outskirts of town to save a drugged woman with daddy issues. But Bezzerides, unlike Audrey Horne from “Peaks,” is far from a damsel in distress. As she promised earlier in the season, Bezzerides survives a male attacker by slicin’ and dicin,’ the man dead in under a minute to a topsy-turvy musical piece from the American composer John Adams. Also disorienting were Bezzerides’ hallucinatory flashbacks that suggested she was sexually abused as a young girl. That explains the special hate she holds for predatory men, and how protective she is of her sister. The man from her past recalls the hairy, animalistic visage of BOB from “Peaks,” also a sexual predator, and the company her father kept as an airy, New Age guru. Perhaps she credits his neglect with her trauma and the death of her mother.

Questions of my own and other odds and ends:

* Who is Chad’s father? He doesn’t resemble his mother, the man who raped her, or Ray. I’m excited to see how this plays out. I think it could be thematically interesting and dangerous to find out Ray is the boy’s father after all. Allow me to quote Velcoro himself: “Wouldn’t that be fucked up?” Of course those words were in response to Frank’s conjecture that Ray might be his only real friend. That opening scene was tense (“Don’t you fucking shoot me, Raymond!”), but the question is perhaps more applicable here. Pain, Ray tells us, is inexhaustible.

* Stan may have died doing a dirty business, but at least Frank is a caring employer who provides good benefits. I like that he’s figured out how to streamline life insurance: Nothing but cash! He should pursue that enterprise and forget this rail corridor nonsense. It has brought him nothing but trouble. All of his business partners, including state Attorney General Geldorf and the Vinci PD chief, were at that sex party and they want nothing to do with him. He at least got a hug from Stan’s kid doing the other thing.

* A lot of great lines this episode, mostly from Frank: “That’s one off the bucket list: A Mexican standoff with actual Mexicans,” he says during a self-explanatory scene. Another zinger comes when he calls out Ray for claiming he (Ray) could have been a better man if circumstances had been different: “Of all the lies people tell themselves, I bet that’s the most common.”

* I’m glad Velcoro and Woodrugh got to do some real police work this episode. How about those takedowns of the sentries guarding the brothel! You heard Woodrugh a couple weeks back: “I need to be in the field.” We prefer you there, too.

A version of this review appeared in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette on July 30, 2015.

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