The closing shootout of “Down Will Come” is the second round of True Detective in a nutshell. As the detail wastes ammo and people in the pursuit of Ledo Amarilla, it’s five seconds of “Whoa, cool!” followed by two seconds of “Whoa, really?”, on a loop. The episode aims to impress with its gonzo gun show, but the amount of carnage borders on self-parody. In the hands of someone like Edgar Wright, the big finale would be the comedic set-piece of the year. Helmed by Jeremy Podeswa, the man behind the camera for 2015’s most controversial Game Of Thrones episode, it’s so over-the-top it can’t help but entertain.
And because True Detective still fancies itself the thinking person’s cop show, there’s some genuine thoughtfulness mixed in with the splattered cranial matter. Paul can’t run from the things he did overseas—personal and professional—so Podeswa frames Taylor Kitsch’s portion of the shootout like one long military flashback. From low angles, against the soundtrack of machine-gun spray, industrial SoCal subs in for occupied Afghanistan. “Down Will Come” puts Paul in situations that should make him comfortable, but he’s driven out of them by self-propulsion or societal pressure. He flees Miguel’s place, he can’t return to his temporary home at the Days Inn, he doesn’t accept a perfectly reasonable and presumably healthy breakup. He balks at all of these circumstances, only to find his trustiest means of escape—his motorcycle—missing.
But in the chaos of the shootout, he’s home. Paul is our anchor during the sequence, the picture of composure who watches Dixon go down, then manages to hit a more difficult target with a less-powerful gun. Following Paul’s lead, “Down Will Come” finds a degree of confidence during the sequence. The action that takes place around the bus wreck is a tense piece of choreography, and the very end of the episode lingers long enough to allow all the death and damage to truly sink in. (And in case you need a little more time, there’s a freeze frame.)
This long inhale is much appreciated, because there’s an absurd amount of death and damage to account for here. Re-assembling the formation in which they originally met, Woodrugh, Bezzerides, and Velcoro shoot looks to each other that say, “Boy, that escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast.” There was an explosion, and a bus crash, and Ani almost gets to kill somebody with her knife. (Maybe some other time…) The explosion follows the cartoon logic of the entire shootout: The cops empty so many rounds into that building that something was bound to blow up.
It’s amusement by way of bludgeoning, taking the pronouncement “everybody gets touched” to new extremes. Among the dead are cops, criminals, protesters, commuters, and at least one transit employee. The destruction of the bus—which follows a TV reporter talking about the destructive effect the rail extension will have on the bus system—would count as the bluntest bit of metaphor in “Down Will Come,” if it weren’t for this golden nugget from The Semyon Family Book Of Everyday Wisdom, delivered by Jordan as she and Frank look out over the casino pit.
Whoa, cool Midas-touch golden hue to the casino office. Whoa, really—we’re driving the gambling thing home that hard?
The True Detective take on human nature gets a heavy work out in “Down Will Come.” Thanks to a pawn shop lead and two sets of fingerprints, the purported solution to the Caspere case makes it look like the kind of thing people have been doing to each other for centuries, the world’s oldest profession leading to an instance of the first crime. But this season is the story of characters who don’t want to do things as they’ve been done before—even if they were the ones doing them. It’s people railing against who they truly are, be it Frank re-entering the organized crime game or Paul denying himself Miguel’s affection.
Frank thought being poor was behind him, but that thinking is the type that led to him being broke: Dissatisfied with what he already had, he bet big on the rail extension. Now he’s sinking back into old ways, which include ownership of Lux Infinitum and drugs from the quaintest little bakery in Southern California. (Free irony with every purchase of a decorative kewpie.) Frank could’ve branched out into real estate, owned fruitful avocado trees, and fathered a full brood of mini Semyons (analogy alert: the trees and the Semyon’s reproductive organs are the same thing), but he’d never be completely at ease in a job where he couldn’t threaten uncooperative partners with dental trauma.
The way Vince Vaughn seems to wake up whenever he gets to play gangster Frank can’t be emphasized enough. Compare his scene in the bakery with the later scene in which he can’t seal the deal with David Denman. One features a man relishing the lurid terms of doing business on the black market; in the other, he might as well be reciting U.S. tax code. That’s really to the detriment of the scene opposite Denman, which otherwise manages to be the plainest explanation to date of what Frank hoped to get out of the rail deal, and why Caspere’s death prevented that from happening. But that all gets glossed over as Vaughn attempts to keep Frank’s tooth-pulling Mr. Hyde at bay, a struggle that could account for the wild fluctuations in his performance from moment to moment. He’s playing a multifaceted character who only wants to show the one facet, and the strain to do so leads to emoting in dozens of directions and “fuck”s that land like verbal anvils.
He’s putting that harder side on display because he knows he’s being watched. The eye-like water damage from “Night Finds You” returns to haunt Frank in “Down Will Come,” taking the form of rings in a tablecloth. The eyes know what Frank has done, and they know what he’s trying to do, and they probably have something to do with the deaths of Caspere and Stan. There’s something to living under surveillance that season two is trying to dig at, manifested in voyeuristic tableaus (the view of Detective and the future Mrs. Woodrugh from outside the coffeeshop) or the overhead photography gliding above the freeway. High-powered interests are invested in the detail’s findings, and so everyone involved is being monitored. Ani has internal affairs on her tail; Paul has the L.A. media snooping around hotel entrances.
The gaggle that prevents Paul from hangover recovery wants to hear about more than Lacey Lindel. In another love letter from Nic Pizzolatto (sharing the writer’s credit for the first time, with Scott Lasser) to his BFFs in the press, the reporters request comment on Paul’s experiences in the Middle East, questions he hears in a completely separate light. After ending an indulgent night at Lux in Miguel’s bed, he’s in a self-loathing panic. Bringing back last week’s doublespeak, Paul tells Ray that he doesn’t “know how to be out in the world,” a specific situation to which Ray, in bad dad mode, applies the most general of advice. (“Look out that window, look at me. Nobody does.”) Velcoro would do well to swear off of spoken advice and stick with the chemical support he keeps in the glove compartment.
The reporters’ questions, Ani’s trouble with IA, the eyes following Frank: It’s possible (and likely) these are all just massive coincidences. That’s True Detective telling us to keep our eyes and minds open while encouraging a healthy dose of skepticism. Caspere’s watch turns up in a pawn shop with incriminating finger prints on it, but one of the people to whom those prints belonged is now unavailable for questioning. It all seems to wrap up the Caspere case conveniently—a little too conveniently. Especially considering that the prime suspect in the murder appeared to know that the cops were coming for him.
When we learn more about the case, fewer details feel purely coincidental. The three cops and the one gangster all look like good candidates for the fall alluded to in tonight’s nursery-rhyme-nicking episode title; in “Down Will Come,” Ray guesses (and receives confirmation) that Ani and Paul aren’t well-liked members of their respective squads. The amount of fire they draw at the end of the episode suggests that they’re either getting too close to the truth, or they were set up by someone trying to protect the truth. The retaliatory assault sends a message, loud and clear—like an SUV slamming into a city bus, the sounds of “Whoa, cool!” and “Whoa, really?” resounding through the streets.
- My apologies for the late review. HBO was unable to provide early access to “Down Will Come”; network reps are unsure if they’ll deliver any further episodes of season two prior to air. In all likelihood, the remaining season-two reviews will post late Sunday nights/early Monday mornings. Thanks for your patience!
- Betty Chessani is played by Emily Rios, a.k.a. Andrea from Breaking Bad/Epyck from Friday Night Lights. She’s yet to have an onscreen Dillon reunion with Taylor Kitsch, though.
- My new favorite detail at Vinci police HQ: The “Eat Shit And Die” poster some bullpen prankster framed and hung on the wall.
- “You know what one of those dog fuckers said to me once: ‘I’d rather be wrong and first than right and second.’ That tells you all you need to know.” But really: What does Nic Pizzolatto think of the reporting profession?
- Frank Semyon, the tooth fairy’s personal enforcer: “Now I never lost a tooth—never even had a fucking cavity.”
- Mayor Austin Chessani, fan of classic TV cops: “Let’s be careful out there.”