Monday, June 22, 2015

Impotence is a fact of life

No, seriously. It is. If you don't believe me, just go watch episode 1 of the second season of True Detective. They will beat you over the head with that fact even worse than the beatdown that Colin Farrell's character delivers to the father of the kid who bullied his son at school. Problem is, I think impotence kind of wound its way into the script, too. Was it a bad hour of TV? No. Was it anywhere near even the slow opening of season 1? About as close as Carcosa.

Let's meet our cast: Taylor Kitsch is Paul Woodrugh, a CHP officer (degree of difficulty limits on all Erik Estrada comparisons begins now) having a secret affair with the big, blue pill that he can't tell his girlfriend about and which leads him to getting suspended when he figures some desperate low-grade starlet might be the solution to getting it back up without the assist. Fine. Those sound like human motivations and provide us our rogue operator who will be torn between sticking to the law and running across it in order to get back to the force. He has a little bit of stock Hollywood in him with the burn scars and the stories "from the war" (Tangent: We're confronted with an odd situation in this, our modern era, in that when someone says "from the war", he/she could be talking about Iraq, Afghanistan, or both, so we're never quite sure which of our endless wars they're talking about. But that's OK, since Ignorance is Strength. Now back to the Ministry of Love./tangent) but we can live with that. It gives him a background. Unfortunately, it didn't also give him good dialogue, such as when he tells his lieutenant that the bike "makes me feel alive!" I could understand if he just wanted his job back and didn't have to express how having the throbbing machine between his legs was what made him... Oh. Right. You think I'm projecting? Just wait.

Then we come to Rachel McAdams, who plays Detective Antigone Bezzerides. I shit you not. Her character's name is "Antigone". A little Greek classical drama/mythology lesson for those not in the know: Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus by his mother, Jocasta, just in case you thought sexual mores weren't going to utterly dominate our story. The name means "in place of one's parents", which is exactly what we see Antigone doing in her first scene, where she runs an operation to clear out a webcasting studio that happens to employ her sister, Athena(!), gettin' busy for dollas. See, prostitution is a crime, but making porn for willing customers isn't. However, Ani's impotence extends to both her attempts to shepherd her sister into something Ani considers worthwhile (She's against porn; shouldn't her nickname be "Anti"?) and apparently her ability to feel meaningful outside of her job, since we spend a few seconds watching her load up to receive the last charge on the Alamo before she heads out to the casino and somehow fails to beat the house (clearly, it's not just men who need their guns to feel powerful.) Hard-drinking cop, gambles, has family refuse to accept advice or protection; bog standard, but OK. Maybe there's something more. It's the name that just kills me. I mean, fine, I'm probably in a small minority who knows the reference but, seriously, did Pizzolatto really want to be this obvious? It's not enough that her sister could have been wrapped up in drugs or something more subtle, but that sex theme just won't go away.

Continuing our soiree is Frank Semyon, played by Vince Vaughn. Frank's a crimelord with a heart of gold, since those guys always seem to be successful. In Hollywood. They also seem to be really numerous in Hollywood, which makes you think that most writers may never have met someone who actually controls a significant part of the underworld (out of the goodness of his heart, no doubt.) Frank's frustrated because his big development deal for a new light rail system (doubtlessly going right through Toon Town) hinges on the city planner who has recently disappeared. Frustration mounts, but in Frank's case, it's even more obvious when it becomes apparent that his wife, Jordan (Kelly Riley), is far more adept at running his business than he is. See, Frank's impotence isn't because of hormones or family issues or even just job frustrations; it's because his wife makes him so. So, back when season 2 was announced, there was a hot rumor that the story would center around not just one but two female leads, in the same way that season 1 had used women as little more than background for the main story, which was the struggle between Rust Cohle, Martin Hart, their differing philosophies, and how they were both running from them. If that's your story, great. Sometimes you're just not going to have other people in prominent roles. Now we've arrived at season 2 and not only is one of the leads completely overshadowed by her compatriots in terms of interest, but another is kind of a secondary character who find herself cast as a symbol of the problem that afflicts all the rest. This is hardly a step forward. It's not helped by the fact that Reilly is the far superior actor to Vaughn, who not only didn't sell me on the idea of him being some kind of underworld kingpin, but was also stuck with the most rote scenes imaginable, even in what appears to be a trumped-up police procedural. For the whole minute that we waited for Osip (Tim Murphy) to leave the room after handing Frank his glass, I muttered: "Don't throw the glass. Don't throw the glass. Don't be fucking standard rage nitwit and throw the gla-. Shit." And, just in case you didn't get that whole impotence thing (No. Really.), Frank has to let Ray know that he and Jordan are going the IVF route because, you know, it's not working. A lot of things aren't.

Oh, yeah. Ray. Colin Farrell is Detective Ray Valcoro. He is. Just look at him. The hangdog eyes. The pornstache that pretty much screams "down on his luck." The heavy sigh that accompanies every spoken word. The character is basically the walking definition of malaise. Of course, we discover that not only was he unable to prevent his wife's rape, but that he's now reminded of it every time he looks at the son who resembles him not at all and whom he now can't even get regular access to, in standard American weekend-dad style. You almost might say he was impotent... or something. Once again, cinderblock meets head when we're informed that he's "not interested in that anymore", when asked by Frank if he's dating anyone. It's at this point where I'm wondering if we're watching an HBO series or a dramatization of a Dr. Ruth call-in show (which, now that I think of it, might be kinda interesting...) To Farrell's extreme credit, he takes the turgid material that he's given and turns some of it into points of genuine interest. You can see the inner conflict in his face at several points of the episode, even right before he delivers the aforementioned beating. That said, the character is so standard police procedural that you wonder why someone (director, editor, Farrell himself) didn't stop and turn to Pizzolatto and say: "Is that it?"

Because that's the way I'm feeling about the whole show right now. The disappearance of the city planner who then turns up at the end, setting up what might just be a long game of: Who killed Casper? (we didn't get the answer to that with this guy, either) is memorable of nothing so much as The Killing, the AMC show that Pizzolatto did write for and which he probably never wants anyone to ask him about again. And, yet, here we are. It's a murder mystery, doubtlessly involving multiple factions of interest, and affecting most of our main cast, all of whom could have "angst" tattooed on their foreheads. Sounds familiar? It does to me and that's terrifying. Of course, Pizzolatto gets miles of credit from season 1, so I'm not bailing after one episode (again, last season started a little slowly, too) but there's a lot of ground to make up next week. Pile all of the above on top of the interviews with Pizzolatto that seem to indicate he's not letting anyone else interfere with his singular vision (like director of all of last season, Cory Fukunaga, whose talents led to the greatest long shot in the history of the medium) and I start to get pretty leery of how quickly this might crash and burn in the face of mammoth expectations, not least my own. Get it up, Nick.

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