TV review: True Detective 2.3 — “Maybe Tomorrow”

True Detective Maybe Tomorrow

Spoiler alert: Ray isn’t dead.

Nosediving into the kind of Lynchian absurdity that True Detective has only hinted at so far, we open on Ray in the bar, a z-rate Conway Twitty impersonator singing a particularly exaggerated version of “The Rose” on the lone stage. Ray’s father (Fred Ward!) sits across from him — in a seeming nod to Col. Briggs’ ghostly visitations from The Black Lodge — telling Ray how he will eventually die. But it turns out neither of them are dead yet, and when Ray comes back to Earth, Ani unceremoniously puts him back to work.

Meanwhile, Frank’s mission to jizz in a cup, and make a baby, falls on deaf balls despite Jordan’s best efforts. Considering the pressure he’s under, who could blame him? He’s trying to get his five million back, while picking up where he left off in the underworld game. He has enough on his plate. But Jordan, beginning to feel like the single-use wet wipe she’s written as, pines for more meaningful reciprocation in her partnership with Frank. “Suck your own dick,” she tells him, though that could be read as a fair criticism of Pizzolatto, who is clearly only interested in exploring the dynamic between hardened men on convergent (generally destructive) paths. In this world, despite all the talk to the contrary, women are more often plot devices rather than actual characters (Ani, aside).

Speaking of which, Frank and Ray have a heart to heart. Theirs would seem to be a mutually beneficial arrangement, but it’s a conversation loaded with unspoken truths. Frank gets uneasy when Ray goes off the reservation. Frank needs him in a box (perhaps in more ways than one). Ray grows more unpredictable the more he suspects Frank is holding out on him. Given that he almost got himself dead last week, Ray’s new lease on life (and living it right) definitely looks like it will upend the apple cart. These two are going to collide sooner rather than later.

Absurdity rears its head again, as Woodrugh and Ani check out the Mayor of Vinci’s home, a palatial den of inequity complete with a hot, day-drunk, cheating wife, and faux-gangster son who might be a real player. At this point I begin to wonder if Pizzolatto even cares about the audience suspending disbelief at all, anymore. I know Vinci is a fictional place, seemingly inhabited by no one, but you’d think someone would notice that the Mayor is living like Tony Montana. Of all the gambits this show plays at: overtly corrupt businessmen and cops, onion-layers of inter-jurisdictional investigations, Frank’s quest to keep his land deal alive, and Ray and Ani’s cagey truce in working together to find the killer — it’s these hints of a ritualistic, venal, sexually perverse, upper-class of (basically) public servants that rings the least true. If for no other reason but it seems like it couldn’t possibly be kept secret, in this day and age.

Because, aside from the theme of fatherhood that runs throughout this episode, and how doing it badly holds repercussions for the rest of us, “Maybe Tomorrow” is about revealing secrets.

Steve, Ani’s baffled one-nighter from the first episode, returns to slut-shame her in front of the whole office. Woodrugh might have gotten it on with an old war buddy, which he’s not willing to acknowledge personally or publicly. Ray learns of the investigation against him from the least likely source, and it turns out that beating the living shit out of a big-ass Samoan doesn’t give Frank a boner. Maybe that wasn’t so much a secret as much as something I’d just hoped would happen. Instead of boning Jordan, the episode ends on what feels like a nod to the last scene in The Godfather II. Not with a bang but a whimper.

I feel like it’s already an ongoing refrain that True Detective isn’t the same (or as good) without Cary Fukunaga. This episode even seems to comment on that during a scene on a cheesy, post-apocalyptic movie set, that appears to elbow the erstwhile auteur and almost director of The Stand. Janus Metz picks up the directing reigns from Justin Lin for this episode. To a degree it feels like scenes flow more smoothly, at least, and the performances are more fully realized. But the overall effect is still impersonal, scattershot, and less stylized than before. The investigation moves forward, revelations open new corridors, and we glean enticing hints. It’s all quite compelling, but without the sense of awe we felt during season one, or even felt ever so briefly when we thought Ray got his balls blown off with a 12-gauge. Clearly, Pizzolatto is a strong writer, but it’s equally clear his work is made stronger in the hands of a masterful director. Call me when they find one again.

Though I’ll take it when I get Fred Ward as a racist ex-cop who fires up a doob and gives us all a lesson on why Fred Ward is, and always will be, an absolute badass (and if this weren’t already obvious to you, drop everything, fire one up yourself, then go watch Remo Williams and Miami Blues). Because it is the cast that’s making True Detective work as well as it is right now — even as they succeed making the show’s growing list of shortcomings feel even more apparent.