“Other Lives” begins at the scene of the Vinci Massacre that ended True Detective’s fourth episode. It’s surreal. How do we move on from such accidental and needless violence? By fast-forwarding 66 days beyond the event. At home in Scottsdale — his new, more affordable base for gangster activities (but don’t call it that) — Frank Semyon, the only protagonist not involved, watches a news segment on the Massacre. Nic Pizzolatto quickly picks up the rest of the debris left by the Massacre: Ray Velcoro’s left the force and works “security” full-time for Frank; Ani Bezzerides has been demoted to inventory duty and is required to attend sexual harassment therapy groups due to her love of big dicks; and Paul Woodrugh has been promoted to detective of insurance fraud. We all miss that bike now. The city closed the investigation of Ben Caspere’s murder and pinned it on “the Mexicans” involved in the firefight.
“Other Lives” is subdued, reflective of the shell-shocked characters who have to find a way to carry on as if they didn’t participate in a deadly raid. Ray speaks to himself. Bezzerides shakes, drinks more, and moves from robo-dick cigarettes to the real cancer sticks. Woodrugh seems to drink more, too, but he’s not one for admitting things.
Nobody is comfortable in their new roles. Ray’s a goon who has to shake down working immigrants who just want a home. His pain is palpable. Bezzerides is bored. Woodrugh’s too deep into his own lies to live comfortably. He’s constantly on edge, whether it’s berating his mother for stealing his war money or sitting stone cold at the dinner table with his baby mama and soon-to-be mother-in-law, who’s just happy to see her daughter in seemingly good hands. Just as they’re losing it, though, Katherine Davis comes by and reunites the gang. She wants to make a run at attorney general (now that the attorney general is running for governor), and reopening and solving Caspere’s murder is her ticket.
It’s refreshing to see the characters deal quietly with their issues (which we now better understand) while actually doing their jobs. Finally, in Episode 5, we have police work. Bezzerides hand-delivers photos of the jewels we knew belonged to someone connected to Caspere. Woodrugh then finds out the late Detective Dixon found the jewels months back, but hid them from the squad. (It’s hard to trust the guy who led a suicide mission to a meth house.) But all that progress is overshadowed by the information Ray would beat out of Dr. Pitlor. Who knew our deus ex machina would come in the form of a battered, spray-tanned Rick Springfield? Pitlor delivers the motive for Caspere’s murder, which we’ve been dancing around since Ray got shotgunned: He was blackmailing some powerful men and they wanted the video — and Caspere — gone.
While the murder investigation unfolds, Frank is still playing the tough guy role, trying to be something he once was. He’s short with people. He doesn’t back down. It’s kinda lame. His wife, Jordan, thinks so too. She’s tired of Frank’s act and just wants a husband. Like flipping a switch, Frank becomes “nice” and cuddles and smokes weed and smiles. It’s not Vince Vaughn’s most convincing performance (again), but we see some change from Frank. He has yet to loop back into the storyline meaningfully, but this attitude change could turn him toward the good guys, or just make him worse — there’s no telling.
Episode 5 begins to get at the heart of the story. And all that exposition is getting applied directly, not tangentially as before. Ray is brought back into the investigation with Davis’ assurance she can help him keep his son. Bezzerides’ sister is our ticket into Caspere’s seedy nightlife. What once seemed random now makes sense. There are still contrived moments, like putting Frank’s right-hand-man Blake in a driveway with Pitlor and the Mayor of Vinci’s son, but for the most part, it’s all coming together.