Photo: HBO

'He Was A Portly Man, Smelled Like Bourbon; Flatulent, Too.'

'...The Sarah D. Bunting Story.' The silver linings around True Detective's reset.

"Other Lives" is a reset for True Detective S2, for sure, but it's more head-scratcher than game-changer. I kind of feel like the four episodes we spent painstakingly establishing the ornately rendered -- and rended -- pasts of our main characters, a long enough time in weekly-serial television and an eternity in TD-land where a season is only eight eps, served as just so much throat-clearing. I wonder why we couldn't have just started from here, with Katherine Davis in charge; all sub-agenda crosscurrents among Woodrugh, Velcoro, and Bez stilled; and a real investigation underway and yielding answers, if not more answers than questions as of yet.

We didn't start from here, and "here" has most of the same problems as the terrain we crossed to arrive: self-satisfied overhead shots of SoCal cloverleaves, inadequate direction of our so-called sympathetic villain and his wife, strained pronunciamenti on family as another corrupt system that couldn't carry Woody Harrelson's jock. "Other Lives" is not a hard enough reset to get anyone who gave up last month back on board. But for those of us stubbornly sticking it out, last night's True D did give us cause for cautious optimism.

Katherine Davis takes the wheel.

Davis's "you know what, fuck that" approach to convening a confidential investigation team is refreshing, for a bunch of reasons, starting with Michael Hyatt, who in addition to usually rocking it doesn't have the millstone of casting anticipation banging off her bazooms like much of the rest of the cast. Davis isn't modeling Ben Stone levels of ethical rectitude -- she's willing to use her leverage in Velcoro's custody sitch to motivate him, even if that's really in nobody's interests but her own -- but it's not rococo levels of corruption or Freudian pathology either, which is a nice change.

Ditto the team finally becoming a team.

Each of the three TDs is technically free of other expectations now. Velcoro isn't a cop, and doesn't have to Mirandize or record a suspect; he can just beat on Fantastic Plastic Dr. Noah Drake until he gets some information. Bez is in the evidence lockup, a fairly handy posting if you think about it, and out of sight means out of mind, which allows her to pore over photos, lean on her sister's six degrees of Chessani, and scandalize her sexual-harassment retraining group with comments about penis girth. (Not necessarily a good thing; that bit felt too effortful to me, like Pizzolatto realizing he needed to inject some humor but kind of sucking at it. But let's stay positive here.) Woodrugh is detailed to a fraud division, a turn of events everyone speaks of in regretful tones, but it could become his Prez-cracks-the-beeper-code moment.

And none of them is spying on any of the others, or trying to serve any agenda but cracking the case. Sure, they have their own agendae -- Bez to find Vera, Velcoro to keep partial custody, Woodrugh to get back into the field -- but those agendae complement each other instead of working at cross-purposes.

I like Velcoro and Bez's partner chemistry a lot; I hope it doesn't go further. That moment in the Crooning Ovary dive bar when Velcoro is sort of shooing Bez away from the table and the barmaid is watching jealously is nicely done, particularly on the heels of their "the shootout fucked me up"/"me too, but I only medicate with booze now" exchange.

Familial B-stories that make me impatient show movement.

This isn't to excuse the interminable, stilted scenes between the Semyons on the topic of childbearing, adoption, and "so who loves who" (uch), because it's not possible for me to care any less about Jordan (except to admire her taste in Target blankets; I have the same one


in grey) or take Frank any less seriously as a man of influence. But now that he's agreed to consider alternate means of baby, maybe we can put the subject to bed.

I don't particularly care for the custody battle, either, although I would like to call out Christian Campbell, who has maybe three words of dialogue in the ep, if that, but whose body language is positively zinging with resentful discomfort. It's not believable that Gena waited until now to have a paternity test; it's not believable that she "doesn't know what that means" when Velcoro blurts that Frank set him up; although it's well acted by Colin Farrell, it's not believable that Velcoro didn't see that as a possibility or even assume that Frank had his own, non-Velcoro reasons for getting rid of the guy even if it was the perp; I can't speak to the specifics of this situation on a firsthand basis, thank God, but a lot of it plays strangely for me just overall. Like, I buy that it would sunder a relationship, of course, but that this is how they speak to each other about's hard to explain. Cop films and shows tend to write the fed-up-ex-wife character as though she's always despised our hero, like, she married him, no? Gena has a line about the assault and Velcoro's vengeance breaking him, and them, but it's written, and Abigail Spencer plays it, like she never had much use for Velcoro and like all the shit just went down last year. The kid is a teenager.

...Sorry! Positivity! She's getting the test; it's moving forward; whatever else I think about the arc, it's now an arc instead of a scattering of vaguely irritating dots, and we'll know one way or the other. Farrell and Spencer both do a great job shouldering unrealistic character responses, themselves in the service of bringing them to unrealistic dialogue, and see above re: Campbell.

Hey: actual procedure!

Tracking the diamonds. Following carrion birds to a torture cabin. Realizing Vera isn't the only one who might have seen a blackmail opportunity. Pizzolatto probably shouldn't have gone quite so Rube Goldberg with the crime, or returned to the bleakest-of-sex-crimes well on top of it, but he did, so let's see the thing starting to get solved already. The hunt for a hard drive isn't an easy sell, but it's forward motion, and if TD suffers from anything, it's not self-seriousness per se; it's a lack of balance. Remembering what the show is called and putting said detectives in the car with files in hand is a good start. A late start; only a start; still something.

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