True Detective S02E06 Recap: 'Church In Ruins'

So far, True Detective season 2 has been little more than an exercise as to why it could never measure up to True Detective season 1. Missed opportunities, lack of vision both in the writing and in the directing, erratic storytelling and disjointed dialog; all of these things and more have made what was one of 2014's biggest and best television surprises a shell of its former self. On top of that, creator Nic Pizzolatto's insistence on following certain beats from the first season (like, for example, the narrative-shifting action sequence from two weeks ago) or purposely going against the grain in other instances in order to avoid season one comparisons have left it in season one's shadow. Yet I've tried to enjoy this new season for what it is, a dark, gritty detective show that's more about characters than it is the mystery. Episode six, "Church in Ruins", however, may have finally been the breaking point.

In this episode, it seemed like every second line of dialog was a parody of itself. That's sort of a trademark of the show, even from last year, but it felt odder and more out of place than usual. It didn't help that the storytelling was disjointed and sort of nonsensical throughout. Forget that the mystery surrounding Casper's murder and its implications are almost irrelevant at this point, characters go from having guns pointed at each other to casual conversation multiple times within singular scenes. There's an extended scene where a cop reminisces about the Rodney King L.A. riots as if it's supposed to mean something to the viewer even though it was introduced five minutes prior at a fulcrum for the narrative. And if you've heard of Chekhov's Gun, say hello to Chekhov's Knife, as Ani Bezzerides murders a plank of wood while her sister explains to her how much trouble she'll be at this party she's about to attend undercover as a prostitute.

All of that culminates in maybe the most ludicrous sequence of the season so far, the Eyes Wide Shut style orgy which results in a dead Russian, a coincidental discovery of a missing person, and a bunch of evidence to implicate all the people our cops have been searching for all season. The orgy itself wasn't nearly as much of a problem as the pre-show controversy would have you believe. The show had drawn the ire of critics online during filming for a casting call giving away the scene, inciting people to assume Pizzolatto was up to his own mysoginistic tricks yet again. Honestly, it was fine in that regard. It was an orgy, people have sex during them and girl trafficking is a major theme to this season's plot.

It was just ridiculous in how it was presented, to the beat of a soundtrack that felt like it was taken from an alternate universe James Bond horror movie mashup. Meanwhile, Ani is in and out of there in like 5 minutes, between dispatching of the man who's trying to court her, slitting the throat of the man trying to keep her there and carrying the woman she had been looking for out of the mansion, as are Paul and Ray, both dressed as cat burglars as they loot of the place of the evidence conveniently placed for them in the first room they search.

In a season that seems to be all about set pieces and big moments, this one felt like the most out of place. I'm willing to accept the shootout, because it had consequence. I'm willing to accept the Ray death fakeout because it was a bold move to make that early in the series and the show is probably better off with Colin Farrell's character still alive. This one just felt lifted straight out of an action sequences with a weird soundtrack slapped on it.

It didn't help that last week's big twist didn't really pan out to anything interesting. After Ray finds out that the man he killed years ago thinking it was his wife's assailant wasn't the right guy, he shows up to Frank's house to confront him. They start the episode sitting across from each other with guns cocked, but Frank quickly convinces him that he didn't purposely deceive him, he just took advantage of someone he thought was manipulable after receiving information. Whoever worked Ray over, it wasn't Frank. Ray accepts this, and we accept this because we know Frank to be a better guy than his line of business would suggest, but it's just a little silly that a second later, they're just chatting about work, although Frank warns him about the next time Ray plans to point a gun at him (more foreshadowing?).

The episode also continues the trend of Frank somehow being the best detective in a show where he's literally the only person who isn't actually a detective. He's still trying to track down Stan's killer, even though we have no frame of reference for who Stan is or why we should care that he's dead, other than an after-the-fact scene where he consoles his orphaned son. He tracks down some girl who might be able to point out a cop who's implicated, but the Mexicans get to her first, either because they're involved or simply because they want to send a message to Frank; I'm not sure yet.

By the end of the episode, the cops have a potentially messy situation on their hands but a lot of damning evidence on the whole Casper situation, but Frank's in a lot deeper in the illegal mess that he wanted to get out of. I'm not sure where this could all be going in the last two episodes, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing. For some reason, the disbelief finally broke free for me. While I'm still enjoying this show in some capacity, I'm starting to wonder if it's at all in an ironic matter. "Church In Ruins" has a hard time holding up, and for that, it gets 6 Mexican standoffs with actual Mexicans out of 10.

Truest Detective Power Rankings:

4. Ray Velcoro: Goes on a cocaine bender after his visit with his son doesn't go well and tells his ex-wife she can keep the kid so long as she doesn't force him to do a paternity test. Meanwhile, the kid is ambivalent to whether or not he gets to see him again, Frank tells him he's his only friend after pointing guns at each other, and when asked by Ani if he followed up on the missing girl she asked him to, Ray just shrugs it off and says no. Least productive day ever.

3. Paul Woodrugh: Has to sit through a cop reminiscing about the 1992 L.A. Riots, but then gets to be a badass choking people out at the party.

2. Ani Bezzerides: Stabs a guy to death while and finds the missing girl she's been looking for, all while high on molly at an orgy. What did you do today?

1. Frank Semyon: He stumbles at the end when he gets that girl killed and loses business to the Mexicans, but somehow, he's still the best and most productive detective on this show.

Notes & Quotes:

  • Seriously, I still don't know who Stan is.
  • I don't know what broke the show for me this week, but I kept laughing at a lot of the lines you'll read below, and not because they were meant to be funny. It's one thing when a show does one thing that doesn't work or make sense, that happens. But it's been almost every episode so far, and I'm just starting to wonder if that means any of it is actually worth the fuss.
  • "I would have been different." "Of all the lives people tell themselves, I bet that's the most common."
  • Frank points to Ray like you would a scolded dog. Amazing: "Don't you fucking shoot me Raymond."
  • "You know me. You just didn't know you did."
  • Ray tells his son he might not see him again. The kid responds: "K."
  • "That's one off the bucket list; Mexican standoff with actual Mexicans."