Paul Woodrugh as Gabriel Luna

‘True Detective’: Maybe Tomorrow

True Detective, Season 2, Episode 3: Where does the kitsch end and the surreal begin?

And you think that love is only

For the lucky and the strong

Just remember in the winter

Far beneath the bitter snows

Lies the seed that with the sun’s love

In the spring becomes the rose

The third episode of True Detective “Maybe Tomorrow” opens with an Elvis impersonator bathed in blue light covering Bette Midler’s The Rose, 1979. The song foreshadows the entire episode, which centers on the four main characters’ romantic dysfunction. It also establishes that new director Janus Metz Pedersen and writer Nic Pizzolatto are endeared to foreshadowing.

In one scene we are introduced to Miguel Gilb, war buddy to Taylor Kitsch’s Paul Woodrugh (Gabriel Luna). He says of support group meetings, “some of that knowledge they spilled makes sense. Stuff about the past, not denying it.” The end of the scene casts the beginning in a completely different light.

We also find out that this character signed on as an electrician. We know from earlier in the episode that Vince Vaughn’s Frank Semyon controls the electric union, so he may become a pivotal figure in the rest of the series. Another minor moment of foreshadowing happens at the end of Detective Bezzerides’s confrontation with her ex-boyfriend. She states, “You talk to me like that again, you’re gonna need a little baggie to carry your teeth home.” This predicts one of the best shots at the end of the episode.

While the Elvis impersonator is singing, the camera pans back and we see Colin Farrell’s Ray Velcoro sitting in the booth at his bar talking to an old man in a police uniform. Pedersen interweaves audio of their conversation with song. A few qualities redeem the scene. It ends with the singer stopping, but the audio continues. Famously used to signify a dream sequence in the “Club Silencio” scene from David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., both scenes prominently feature a person doing an interpretive cover of a famous song. So, Pedersen seems to be continuing Lin’s intentional references to the 2001 classic.

The other positive element is how Pedersen weaves two audio streams: Velcoro talks to the mysterious figure and the background song. Whenever the lyrics are audible, they seem to apply to character’s romantic issues.

“Some say love it’s like a razor, that leaves your soul to bleed.”

Visually, this line gets paralleled in the scene when Ray looks down at his shirt and sees the blood splatter from a shotgun wound. In one of the show’s better moments, he describes his injuries stating, “Took one in the sternum, so my heart aches.” The character says these sarcastically, but the line is more ironic than sarcastic, since his entire character is based on pain. Later in the show, his ex-wife Gena Brune (Abigail Spencer) shows up. She also informs him that he is being investigated by the state and mentions that they are interested in knowing if he took retribution against the man who attacked her.

“Some say love it is a hunger, an endless aching need.”

We’re introduced to Vince Vaughn’s Frank Semyon looking blankly into a fertility clinic. He gets up and announces it’s not working. His wife Jordan Semyon (Kelly Reilly), is shown kneeling in a black gown holding a plastic cup. Semyon’s character is based on unfulfilled need. He wants a family. He wants respectability. Unfortunately, all that he wants is quite different from what he is. As the episode goes on, more layers of pretense are shed and ultimately, under the business acumen of an articulate, well-mannered boss — is a visceral thug.

“It’s the heart afraid of breaking, that never learns to dance.”

Next on the cavalcade of romantic angst is Rachel McAdam’s Ani Bezzerides. About halfway through the episode, former boyfriend and uniformed policeman Steve Mercer (Riley Smith) shows up at her job. In the scene, Bezzerides tells him, “This has run its course… you and I, there’s not much there.” This is understandable in that Mercer’s character seems to vacillate between being a dense smitten simpleton and an abusive macho jack-ass. The only real question seems to be, how could their relationship ever have started? Almost all of Bezzerides’s characteristics, good and bad, seem incompatible with this man, save he does seem far less intelligent than she is. This, coupled with her pathological need to control things makes perverse sense. Their two brief interactions feel more like a school teacher scolding a child rather than two equals talking.

“Who cannot seem to give, and the soul afraid of dyin’, that never learns to live.”

Woodrugh’s repressed sexuality takes center stage. Sent out to try to locate a prostitute connection, we see him hesitate as before, interviewing the male prostitutes. In one scene, he imagines a man wearing white wings kneeling beside a figure behind some shrubs. Interviewing one of the gigolos Woodrugh looks away from the subject and pounds down drinks. With each episode, the viewer learns more about Woodrugh. Kitsch’s acting keeps pace with each reveal. His performance becomes progressively more nuanced as the character becomes more defined. The lyrics profoundly predict the character. More than being gay, the shame of being gay and the fear excites and defines Woodrugh.

The song establishes that the episode will center on the main character’s dysfunctional sexual and family politics. The secondary text of the episode is political. Velcoro and Bezzerides both have scenes with their supervisors in which, with a strange amount of vulgarity, they are both advised that part of their job is to investigate or manipulate the other. Both characters resist the idea. Their relationship is developing into one of the stronger elements of the series. At the beginning of the series neither one particularly liked or trusted the other, but as the series goes on they may end up disliking everyone else even more.

Amid the family and political dramas, Pedersen and Pizzolatto peppered the dialogue with hints about the actual murder mystery. We are told that Velcoro was shot with riot bullets most commonly used by the police. All three investigators are being followed. There is a mysterious holding company that financed a lot of the murdered man’s vices. At times, Pedersen and Pizzolatto seem far more interested in the victim’s sexuality than his murder, although the two very well maybe intricately connected.

Unfortunately, there are a few scenes that test the elasticity of the viewer’s ability to suspend disbelief. Like the opening scene, Pedersen and Pizzolatto seem to be trying just a little too hard. For a good deal of the episode, it’s impossible to tell where the kitsch ends and the surreal begins.


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