TV Review: ‘True Detective’ Season 2, Episode 7: ‘Blacks Maps and Motel Rooms’

Detractors of this season of “True Detective,” those who’ve claimed it’s too slow, too self-serious, too obsessed with its own uninteresting characters — their bad dialogue, their daddy issues — should find much to love in episode seven, a tightly-plotted, murderous and downright cinematic entry in an otherwise stagnant show.

The gunfight at the end — which, sadly, left Woodrugh lifeless after he encountered a private military outfit headed by bent Vinci PD Chief Holloway — was undoubtedly thrilling. There was also something gratifying about Frank killing his disloyal henchman Blake, something fun about his playing dumb to the slimy bully Osip and setting fire to his clubs, Frank’s only remaining assets, before Osip himself could capitalize on them.

Yet I found the episode oddly hollow, apart from the way it handled Bezzerides’ struggle with the fact that she had killed a violent man, something she admitted she had waited years to do ever since she was sexually abused by one as a young girl. Her first attempt to seduce Velcoro as an impulsive coping method made sense. His eventual acquiescence, however, did not. It was, in fact, kind of weird, despite the momentous back-and-forth close-ups across the motel table leading up to the dirty deed.

What once was a more contemplative, moody, often bizarre show that resisted its audience’s expectations became ingratiating, conventional. This episode felt more like the culmination of a crime epic than the Lynchian dream it once aspired to, the one more concerned with characters rather than plot, atmospheres and ideas rather than narrative. There was a certain logic, though, to Frank’s behavior. If his world, of bad men and crooked cops, won’t let him become a legitimate business man, why not just burn it all to the ground?

Woodrugh’s fate, on the other hand, felt contrived. Corruption in Vinci surely runs deep, but so deep that even ancillary characters, like Miguel, Woodrugh’s former male lover and fellow soldier, get to be a part of the show’s overarching conspiracy? I know it’s hip plotting to make everything and everyone connected, but this choice, using photos of Woodrugh engaged in illicit activity to lure him into a trap, just felt like a cheap, manipulative way to justify his death. Though that, I suppose, is the essence of blackmail. I guess I’m just bitter.

A version of this review appeared in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette on August 6, 2015.

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