“True Detective” Season 2 Episode 2 — “Night Finds You”

Investigating California with eyes wide shut.

Last week’s season premiere of True Detective played out like an hour-long version of Ani Bezzerides strapping on her knives: Lots of preparation for a hovering war. While “The Western Book of the Dead” went about its business, dropping our main characters up and down the California coast without much explanation of how they got there, “Night Finds You” gives them a little bit of room to breathe. But not much.

The episode opens on Frank Semyon staring into a pair of suspiciously large water stains that have apparently sprouted overnight on his ceiling. “It’s like everything’s papier-mache,” he tells his wife Jordan, then launches into a story about his father routinely locking him in his basement. One night, Semyon père gets arrested and Frank is stuck. The light burns out and he runs out of food, at which time a rat nibbles on his finger. He grabs it in one hand, then “I just kept smashing it until it was nothing but goo in my hand,” he says. It’s a ludicrous story, and I’m not sure that we’re really supposed to believe it. Vince Vaughn, to this point, plays it like a parable, letting the details pile up around him without considering their validity. “Two more days I was in there,” he says, and the scene suddenly shifts. The camera hangs on Semyon’s face as he squirms under the weight of the memory, Jordan’s hand reaching in to console him. “Ever since, I wonder: What if he never comes home? What if I’m still in there?”

That theme, of being trapped in a dark and hostile world, carries throughout “Night Finds You.” Vaughn’s performance—the way he implies a quiet desperation behind his dead-eyed stare, the hushed “motherfuck”s he utters as he faces down his financial ruin—makes Semyon’s attempt to fight his way into a legitimate life seem both heroic and fated to fail. “Everyone in here thinks they’re Pretty Woman,” says the FUCKYOU-grilled strip club owner, and he’s not just talking about the dancers.

Meanwhile, our detectives gather over Ben Caspere’s disfigured pelvis to begin their investigation. Rust and Marty’s contrasting worldviews were what animated True Detective’s first season, but those viewpoints were driven by the detectives’ engagement with the case at hand, by their own attempts to grope toward meaning in a world apparently devoid of it. Caspere’s murder, while horrific, doesn’t give these characters the chance to ruminate about the world in the same way that the cultish murder of season one did. And while nobody needs another eight episodes of Cops in Cars Getting Caustic, we do need something more to hold onto here. Paul and Ani are both given uncomfortable vignettes—Ani calmly sipping whiskey and watching pornography, Paul flexing his jaw and avoiding eye contact while his negligee-wearing mom tells him he has hound’s blood—that give us a sense of their backgrounds, but their demeanors when interacting with the other characters keep them largely opaque.

The great gambit of the first season was that the case was hardly the point. And the fleeting glimpses we’re given in “Night Finds You” do get us closer to these characters’ humanity, even if it’s only by a matter of inches. Season one developed slowly, too—something that seems to have been lost to the fevers of the Yellow King, judging by the reaction to last week’s episode—but with four ostensible protagonists, it’s going to be difficult for season two to give us enough time to get to know them without the plot bogging down. For now, we’re like Frank Semyon, staring at something whose origin we hardly understand and unsure whether what we’re seeing is the real thing or not. FL

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