But the key character is Velcoro’s paymaster, Frank Semyon, whose dirty fingers have been in every racket a town can offer, from drugs to gambling to booze—all of which flourish under the watchful eye and greased palms of law enforcement. (That Frank is played expertly by Vince Vaughn is kind of the cherry on top of all this. Best-known for comedies such as Old School and Dodgeball, Vaughn is an unapologetic libertarian who introduces Ron Paul to adoring crowds, praises Edward Snowden, and stumps for Second Amendment rights like nobody’s business.)
From a libertarian perspective, it’s perfect that Frank’s big play to “go legit” is to use political connections to get in on the billion-dollar boondoggle that is Jerry Brown’s real-life high-speed rail project. Governor Moonbeam’s sad, never-to-be-completed legacy project is dependent upon huge amounts of federal and state tax dollars and eminent-domain abuse. It has no chance of succeeding at anything other than filling the coffers of politically connected plutocrats and displacing thousands of regular people. Even lefties at outlets such as Mother Jones, who usually gush over rail projects like Matt Damon over low-flow toilets, are calling bullshit on the plan.
But here’s the real genius part of True Detective: The corruption on display in True Detective is bigger than Frank, Cesere, Velcoro, or any single individual and is thus uncontainable. It’s systemic and inevitable in a world where politicians, gangsters, and businessmen form a sort of human centipede that’s impossible to disentangle or rein in. When the government controls who gets to build what where and what sorts of permission is needed to run a bar or a restaurant—not to mention a whorehouse—you end up building graft and corruption into everything. That’s the deepest libertarian insight of the show and it infuses every frame. It also energizes its main setting, the fictitious L.A. suburb of Vinci.