After three long, drawn-out expository episodes, True Detective hit its stride last night in its fourth episode, “Down Will Come.” But at the same time, how the hell did we get here?
The episode begins with the ever-unhappy Semyons – Frank and Jordan. It’s still hard to truly take Vince Vaughn’s Frank seriously when everything he says just sounds so contrived. Frank is lamenting some dead avocado trees in the couple’s backyard and he treats it like someone just took a hit out on his father. Later, he says something about sugar that’s supposed to be intimidating. At this point, it might be worth commending Vaughn for his lackluster performance because he is really nailing Frank’s haplessness. Frank is over the hill, but still trying to rebuild a crooked empire. Whenever he threatens his clients’ businesses and demands his cut, they seem to give in to him out of fear. But it’s more like fear of an irrational, hopeless man who is desperately trying to prove his worth – not the fear of a calculating mob boss.
After the Semyons get in their two cents, we find Paul Woodrugh groggily waking up somewhere unfamiliar. He, apparently, got blackout drunk the night before and indulged in being his true self with his army buddy/secret lover. In a fit of confusion and hate, he leaves the apartment to go find his motorcycle, which, it turns out, has been stolen. All of a sudden, a swarm of paparazzi interrogate Woodrugh. This is where it felt like I missed an episode. Yes, Woodrugh had a run-in on the highway with a high-profile celebrity, but these reporters were asking him about the war and Fallujah. Since when was Woodrugh a celebrity in his own right? Ray Velcoro later calls him a “war hero.” At this moment, True Detective seems to have skipped a beat, and although it’s easy to pick up on something possibly missed, it brings in to question what else has gone unsaid.
Elsewhere, Velcoro and Ani Bezzerides actually begin to investigate Ben Caspere’s death. They abandon the sex-worker angle for a moment and look in more related areas for clues and leads. They interview Mayor Austin Chessani of Vinci’s daughter at a hookah lounge. They don’t learn too much about Caspere, but all signs have pointed to Caspere being a really boring dude anyway. Instead, we learn that Chessani’s first wife (the daughter’s mother) was schizophrenic and hanged herself in an institution when the daughter was 11. Bezzerides, though still walled-off, coaxes more information out of her with her own story of a lost mother (at age 12).
As it turns out, the creepy doctor from Episode 2 (Dr. Pitlor, one of our suspects) was the doctor at that institution. A few episodes late, but Pitlor is now the first legitimate third-party (strange) connection we have to a possible group behind the crime. Bezzerides’s father confirms the connection with old photos of Chessani and Pitlor at his hippie retreat, where Caspere also attended some seminars. For once, personal backstories and black-and-green auras finally pale in comparison to the case at hand. It doesn’t matter who is investigating the crime when there is actual suspense and intrigue to be had.
Following more fishy details, Ray and Bezzerides venture out to the lawn we see at the season’s beginning with pink-flagged white stakes in the ground. As someone from the California EPA tells them, the land is useless. People stopped living and farming there because it was hopeless for growing. Our truest detectives are beginning to discover that some pieces don’t add up on the surface, so they must add up in some deeper way.
Then, just like that, we got a suspect: Ledo Amarilla. Dixon (that fat detective who seems upset about something) and Woodrugh get some prints from one of Caspere’s watches at a pawn shop. Turns out Amarilla is a pimp and Irina Rulfo, one of his employees, took the watch after servicing Caspere…allegedly. With just this one lead, the department opts to arrest Amarilla and charge him with murder. Dixon gets another lead on his whereabouts and the bulletproof-vested team looks to nab the suspect. Then…
It’s an absolute bloodbath. Amarilla and his crew have no regard for human life and spray automatic weapons recklessly from within a warehouse to protect themselves. Dixon is one of the first casualties, taking a gruesome shot to the head. Ultimately, many, many people die (cops, civilians, and bad guys), and Amarilla kills an innocent man before being gunned down himself. Seriously, how the hell did we get here?
The second half of the season should bring more intensity as new questions are sure to arise. Did Dixon have ulterior motives? He was spying on Caspere before his untimely end. Will the case be suspended due to the carnage? Bezzerides is already suspended from the sheriff’s department for sexual misconduct (aka total bullshit). Ray was just getting himself together (“soberish,” as Frank says); it’d be a bad time to take him off the case. We’re four episodes deep and yet, this is the first time any character has had a real confrontation or conflict. It’s the first time we, or they, have encountered something truly unexpected.