Screens: HBO

'Maybe It's Time To Put This Cop Shit To Bed'

You said a mouthful, Frank. ...Sarah D. Bunting tries, fails to suspend her True Detective disbelief.

A part of me feels it's uncharitable to list the credibility fails in last night's True Detective -- or any TD episode, really. Stark realism isn't, I think, what the show is aiming or has aimed for, is one thing. Another thing is that it's like pointing out chipped paint on the deck chairs on the Titanic. Or some other comparison that isn't quite so big.

What strikes me about the unbelievable bits of "Down Will Come," though, is the believable responses from (most of) the actors. If the corps just set their reactions to autopilot, the clonky Maltese Fauxlcon lines and pointedly quirky situations and naming conventions would blend in better, become just an undifferentiated mass of unmoored pretension best not examined. Unfortunately, Taylor Kitsch does "scorched-stupid hangover" so well that I have to care what happens to Woodrugh even if I don't quite buy any of it.

Especially not Frank.

I don't want to bag on Vince Vaughn every week in this space, so I will reiterate that the problem with Frank is not really, or not mostly, Vince Vaughn. Vaughn is not necessarily helping himself, but while his jumpy morning-bourbon take on a broke gangster going un-legit is not working for me, at least it's something different; it's interesting, even if it's mostly annoying and unfocused. It's also, I would guess, how he's directed. He's flailing around on top of the lines, where McConaughey walked calmly through the same woofy material.

Said woofy material is the primary culprit. With credit given for the "every time I'm in, they pull me back out" take on the crime lord's dilemma, I simply can't believe this is how they talk to each other. Frank gets a series of rusty cowbells tied together like "there's so many things for me to go about the wrong way, I'm losing my fucking vision" and "I'm trying to navigate through the blur," but one of his former associates also takes our hand in his sweaty one with "I think it's because your other plan, it somehow failed." Oh, word? I don't think that conversation contains any exposition, is A. B, I don't buy that any of these guys necessarily feel like they have to entertain Frank's muscling his way back into a cut of the action, and if they did, I don't buy that it goes the exact same "Frank asks, the lesser baddie snorts all 'we'd do that why?', Frank says something of Jedi menace, the lesser baddie looks ill, and scene" way every single time.

Also, quit it with the TJ Ecklestains.

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And Vaughn isn't the only one stricken with the dialogue equivalent of passing a bag of horse chestnuts.

"I lost her in the light" coming off the water, Bez is forced to say to her sister about their mother. Rachel McAdams does the only thing she can with the line, making the delivery painfully reluctant but an itch she has to scratch; it's still terrible. Woodrugh's ex/trick/whatever is less adroit with "Be what you want, it ain't bad," and the mayor's daughter tries to hide behind a couple of monster bong hits to release "There's no rules; you see? That's how it's always been" and "My father, he's a very bad person," but ain't no smoke thick enough, alas. Even if you believe the mayor is this baroquely disgusting and morally dislocated, you can put his kid in a hookah bar to talk to the cops about it, I don't think.

You probably think I'm going to clock "you have one of the largest auras I've ever seen," but David Morse put it over and Colin Farrell knew what to do with it. This is what I mean, though: the bits of skill and relatability just throw everything else into starker relief.

And can we get some "relief" from womb-related agita?

I mean, starting with the ep title, plucked unsubtly from "when the bough breaks, the cradle will fall, and ... baby, cradle and all." YUP, GOT IT NOW. Woodrugh's naked, eager relief at being obliged to create and head a traditional het fam is pathetic, but sympathetic, and Kitsch plays it true. Not so Vaughn and Kelly Reilly; Vaughn is given a noirish stork reference he bobbles, and Reilly's face just doesn't have the play you'd hope for.

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And: no one cares, really. We have sins-of-the-father ripples going all the way to shore just with Clan Velcoro. I don't really need a meditation on the cons of adoption via Frank's sophomore-workshopped "at least with your kid it's your sins." True Detective is not a straight procedural, and that's fine, but find some ground on the "all systems are corrupt, even the personal" half-acre that isn't plowed to death, please.

And speaking of death, let's talk about the climactic shoot-out.

First and foremost, whether or not it's the factual case that every single person on or near the scene -- cops, protestors, bus passengers, passersby -- is killed except the three case detectives, that's how it seems by the end of the sequence. (Which, not for nothing, goes to credits on a freeze-frame, like, I don't think you want the Police Squad allusion tracking blood everywhere, friendo.) My notes: "Ambush. ...Anyone reloads? ...Everyone squibs to head exc PW Vel Bez. ...Reload?"

I mean: the shooters hit everyone, everyone, fatally. They can't seem to so much as wing Our Heroes, though Bezzerides is zigzagging across every shooting sightline available and the guy they came to arrest is double-fisting hacked autos. (I think; I don't know guns.) That that's happening is already outside the bounds of believability -- Amarilla's just a medium-sized fish in this food chain, and I don't think he'd have risen even that high if this is his warrant-elusion strategy -- but the "villains' aim sucks, heroes = sharpshooters with magically endless/self-loading ammo" trope is so trope-y, you just really can't go there without some acknowledgment or irony.

Not what the firefight is for, I don't think. I think it's at least in part intended as a set-piece nose-thumb to Cary Fukunaga's instant-legend six-minute tracking shot from last season. The firefight sequence does create tension -- albeit cheaply, and it soon becomes evident that nobody in the credits is going to get clipped -- but the real shame of it is what the actors are doing with it. Again, the cast chooses thoughtful, non-stock responses that track with their characters: Woodrugh is weirdly cool, but almost energized by what's going on, not frazzled or doubtful for the first time since we met him; Velcoro is fatalistic during the shootout and shattered afterwards; Bez knows it's fucked, so that's the only thing she says. McAdams's rendition of the physical shock Bez is in in the aftermath is nicely done, and I was pleasantly surprised that the director didn't literally have her puke. Farrell's trembling hand is everything.

It's good work from all three, and it's in the service of a cynically showy reset (I think, based on the previews? I don't know anything more than y'all) that isn't realistic, doesn't really move the investigation forward that I can see, and shows the show's ass in terms of its inability to find new, felt-understanding takes on tired genre banalities. True Detective can only put so much on the actors' shoulders.

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