Here’s what occurred to me during the big shootout last night, which, for all its gore, wasn’t half as tense as that long tracking shot last season where Rust Cohle made his getaway from the stash house: This isn’t going to improve. Something will happen to partly redeem the investment of our time — there’ll be a big twist where one of the cops turns out to have been involved in Caspere’s murder — but nothing’s going to happen to make this show better as drama. It’s now irretrievable. What could they do with, say, Vince Vaughn’s character at this point to make him interesting? If Frank Semyon had something interesting to say or do, we wouldn’t have been treated to umpteen different (and progressively inscrutable) scenes of him shaking down his lowlife former associates or menacing his underlings. Frank is the Dana Brody of “True Detective,” a character who’s interesting only insofar as he’s tangentially involved with the characters you’re actually interested in yet who somehow receives just as much screen time as they do. Vaughn can’t act, at least in this role, and the dialogue he’s given (how ’bout that “louche” bit last night?) gets worse with each episode. We’re supposed to sympathize with him on some level because of his various misfortunes, from the abusive dad to the unhappy wife to Caspere losing his life’s savings, but I don’t care a bit and can’t believe anyone else does. It seems at times, as some on Twitter said last night, as if he’s wandered in from a different show. He should show up once an episode for three minutes to check in with Velcoro on how the search for his money’s coming and then get lost.
Here’s something else: What new insights have we gained into any of these characters since episode one? How has, say, Ani Bezzarides’s character developed in the four hours we’ve spent watching this show? It hasn’t. Neither, really, has Velcoro’s, whose split personality as a corrupt brute and a guy who wants to be a better dad to his son was clear from about 20 minutes into the series. Woodrugh is deep in the closet and is tormented about it; that’s the extent of his “arc” through 240 minutes of showtime thus far. The only character who’s shown any development is — ta da — the dial tone Frank, who’s gone from self-assured casino boss about to swing the deal of a lifetime to harried husband who’s afraid he’s lost everything to violent gangster muscling his old associates for cash to get back on his feet. This is, for all intents and purposes, a show about Frank Semyon with the mystery of Caspere’s death a subplot rather than vice versa, which is … a disastrous mistake given viewer expectations, the weakness of the material Vaughn’s provided with, and his own difficulty delivering it convincingly. Even if that dynamic reverses in the last four episodes and this becomes a show about solving the mystery again, you’d still be left trying to explain why half the series was devoted mainly to Frank.
Every one of the principal characters is still being oversold by Pizzolatto. It’s just not clear that any of them are worth buying at this point, in part because they’re so undifferentiated. Ray and Ani and Paul and Frank all have parental issues, and sex issues, and intimacy issues, and violence issues, and (with the possible exception of Frank) substance-abuse issues. They’re almost interchangeable apart from the facts that Ani’s a woman, Frank’s a crook, and Paul is sexually confused. And, as you note, Sophie, there are just too many of them to be allotted the individual attention that Rust and Marty received last season.
Maybe that explains it — there are just too many leads, with too many similar problems, for an eight-hour show to give them the development they need. But even if that’s true, even if they had to pick one or two characters to explore while short-shrifting the others, why would they pick Frank? I suppose in theory he’s the most interesting character since he’s on the wrong side of the law but he’s trying to do the cops’ jobs for them by solving Caspere’s murder (he’s the “true detective” on this show), but that potential has been buried under bad casting and bad writing.
Anyway, rather than give you a preview clip of next week’s inevitably disappointing episode, here’s the new trailer for “Suicide Squad.”