Screens: HBO

Women Scorned

True Detective's underwritten ladies, in order of bearability.

True Detective continues to struggle with writing recognizable...well, that's not quite right. I was going to say "recognizable woman characters," but that's kind of the problem: I do recognize most of them, as tropes. Clingy, trashy, reactive, neurotic, oversubscribed tropes who have to have been broken by their childhoods and rebuilt themselves as more masculine iterations of themselves to function alongside the male protagonists. It didn't seem as lazy or annoying last season, because the writing and composition of the show generally seemed more thoughtful and fresh, but with lines like "you used to be a hard man" flying around, it's tough to ignore that you've seen Colorforms less plasticky and patronizing than Lolita Davidovich's character.

Who doesn't get a name, and she's not the only one. Ladies of the "Night Finds You," in ascending order of bearability.

  1. Jordan Semyon
    Maybe someday I can get past the miscarriage of narrative that was Black Box and enjoy Kelly Reilly's work; I'm not optimistic, because I find her off-putting generally, but in any case, today isn't that day. I will say in Reilly's defense that she's obligated to sit through the Semyon monologue that opens the episode as though it's at all credible that her husband would never have shared these details of his abusive upbringing with her, his wife, before; that the details themselves are credible, versus rococo borrowing (that rats tried to eat him; that he "just kept smashin'" the rat he caught hold of; nice try, This Papillon's Life, but no); that anyone speaks in pallid abstractions like "you don't take anything with you" in the middle of the night while staring at an eyes-of-Dr.-T.J.-Eckleburg water stain dye-rectly above his side of the bed; and so on -- and that she's given a feckless "God, baby" as a response. It's a thankless gig, and Reilly does...okay.

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    The most irritating thing about Jordan (also a Gatsby referent, not for nothing) (actually, it...might be for nothing) isn't Jordan herself, but that, based on the premiere, I saw potential for a different take on the "wife of a kingpin" role, but Nic Pizzolatto doesn't seem terribly interested in going there.

  2. The former Mrs. Velcoro
    I can't say I enjoy Abigail Spencer's brittle-defiance thing, but as Amantha Holden on Rectify, she makes it work. You often want to backhand Amantha, but the beauty of Spencer's performance is how often you sense she wants to backhand herself for letting her own life get this far out of her grasp. Spencer's bringing the same curdled self-righteousness to the part of Ray's ex (she is unnamed on IMDb as of this writing; that's probably significant), but I don't think we're meant to sympathize with it at all. I don't think we're meant to see her perfectly valid points vis-a-vis wanting to protect their son from the anxiety Ray gives him, or Ray's general bubbling malaise, or Ray's drinking, or Ray's attachment to dated Western-wear. I think we're supposed to think she's an uptight bitch who doesn't Get It re: what Ray's sacrificed to avenge her assault and blah blah.

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    And thanks to Colin Farrell finding glimmers of relatability in Ray despite the character's cartoonish outlines on paper, it almost works. That, and Pizzolatto lumping Spencer with garbage lines like, "You're bad, Ray; you're a bad person" and the laughable "You weren't strong enough to stay decent." Cut to Ray, thisclose to bursting into tears, and then the former Mrs. V says he'd better stand down or she'll finally get a paternity test. Never mind that I don't think actual people wouldn't have done that years ago already; the threat positions TFMV as a manipulative and selfish bitch. Not great.

  3. Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs. Woodrugh?
    Lolita Davidovich also does not get a name or a credit on the IMDb, which she may have specifically requested given the 0.25-dimensional sketch of alcoholic trash she's tasked with playing. Mrs. W lolls around her trailer in a slip and push-up bra, drinking margaritas out of pint glasses instead of eating solid food (the sad box of off-brand fried chicken Woodrugh brings her is apparently a major upgrade from her customary liquid din-dins) and fondling her grown son inappropriately.

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    She's creepy and cheap, but she doesn't really tell us anything about Woodrugh, and we've seen variations on that maribou-mules-'n'-lunchtime-Popov character a hundred times, done better (op. cit. Ann-Margret on SVU, Beverly D'Angelo on Pacific Heights, I could go on).

  4. The assistant at the Rancho Bizarro Institute
    Have any of the rest of y'all ever noticed Stephanie March's oddly carousel-horse style of walking -- how much vertical play she gets in a single stride, while holding herself somewhat stiffly like there's a book balanced on her head? The assistant has married that walk to Julia Roberts's ongoing battle with any heel higher than a Chuck Taylor.

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    With that said, all hail her gorgeous long bob, which is right up there with Jean "Double Trouble" Sagal's, Angela's on MSCL, and the model/love interest from the "Father Figure" video. Giant round brushes 2016.

  5. Emily
    Another tiresome track from the Nobody Knoooooows The Troubles We've Seeeeeeen (Especially Chicks) album. The script is, I think, dimly aware that Woodrugh's putting their break-up on her is fucked up, but when True Detective fetishizes the fucked-up and willfully maladjusted the way it historically does, it's hard to feel like the writing's on Emily's side.

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    Adria Arjona has an argument for clonkiest woman's dialogue of the ep with "whatever happened to you, I can't fix it" and "you're not right," and if the best the show can do with the character is affix a bunch of pink paper butterflies to her bedroom wall as a boneless stab at some kind of contrast with Woodrugh's murky darkness, I hope we've seen the last of her.

  6. The folk singer
    This is my least favorite life too, St. Tori Amos Of The VFW. In other, more believable lives, a sensitive ovary like yourself who owns multiple rhyming dictionaries plays her heart at a coffee place called Bean Counters. This joint is the place Don Henley was talking about when he mentioned having to play "Gloria" 15 times in a row.

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    Run along now. That masters thesis on "North Country Blues" ain't writin' itself.

  7. The Duchess of Overhead Highway/Traffic Shots
    Well, it might as well be a character, right? Because I counted at least five.
  8. The barmaid
    Her role as a fond protecting angel began last week when she told a co-worker to let Ray sleep with his chin on his chest in a booth; in "Night Finds You," it's clear she's interested in him That Way. It isn't completely outside the realm -- as much as they've tried to make Colin Farrell look like run-down bloaty shit, it's still Colin Farrell in there -- but I get the feeling the map of facial scars is the basis of their relationship, whatever it is or turns into.

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    But any waitress in a joint like this one knows not to date the customers. Or anything-else them.

  9. Bez
    Not sure which is worse, the vaping itself or that it feels like it's designed to show off her handful of shiny silver rings -- but Bezzerides's car trips with Ray lead to two nifty lines from him that give me hope, because I can't rightly tell if they're supposed to be funny, but they gave me a Harrelson-as-Marty vibe I liked, and the first is Ray's bone dry "You pull off that e-cig. Not a lot of people do." Either he's trolling her, or he really means it and this is his clumsy way of trying to bond; whichever it is, it's an actual, human character beat from a guy who to that point was confined to 84 Pounds Of Drunk Mess In A Five-Pound Bag territory. Later, we get a very Marty-esque "Well, just so you know, I support feminism." Hee! Farrell's humble-brag delivery is great. I wish he were called on to be funny more often, and I wish this show especially were inclined to ask it from him.

    Screens: HBO

    Screens: HBO

    Anyway, sorry to make an entry ostensibly about a woman about a man. Ironical! But I like Bezzerides, despite a "book" that should make her unbearable: named Antigone, daddy issues, vaping, a little too into her porn research, trying a little hard with the three inches of whisky. When Ray jerkily begins to advise her that you draw more flies with honey, she grunts, "The fuck do I want with a bunch of flies?" And: seriously. And: not that nobody ever says that to dudes, but I doubt it's as often. I like that she nads up to ask him how compromised he actually is (I also like that he thinks about answering, then respects them both enough to just leave it out).

  10. Katherine Davis
    Oh, look: a competent, no-bullshit woman in authority without a bunch of "my competence as a detective is derived from my neurotic rebellion against my culty pops" backstory bushwa.

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    Michael Hyatt is consistently a breath of brisk fresh air; when we talk about the brilliance of The Wire, let's talk more about her zero-Kelvin-blooded Brianna Barksdale.

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