True Detective Season 2 Episode 7: Black Maps and Motel Rooms

Steve Cavanagh picks up where we left off with episode seven of HBO’s True Detective, and investigates how the intense finale of episode six plays out. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)

I thought episode six was going to set us up for something great in the last throes of this series, and you can read all about that episode courtesy of my buddy, Mason Cross, right here.

Unfortunately episode seven, for me, was a bit of a hit and miss.

Let’s start with the misses. Well, I kind of missed everything. Seeing Velcoro, Besserides, and Woodrugh go over the land documents they recovered in the previous episode and attempt to put the conspiracy together – it was just a lot of fast, dull exposition. What has kept me going throughout the series is seeing how the mystery will play out. What are the real clues and what are the red herrings? It seems that there are no red herrings, every little detail from the tacked on diamond heist to the fleeting glance we saw of Dixon (he was the sloppy cop who got shot in the head a couple of episodes back) taking photos of Woodrugh – well the writer tries to bring all of these together. And how does he do it? By having the main characters mumble their way through a conversation in a motel room by naming extraneous characters who you’ve forgotten all about and who you kind of knew were dirty anyway. The Black Mountain sub-plot (no, I couldn’t really remember this either) is tacked on to our mystery and a fair few others strands are crowbarred into place. And those plot strands have not been developed enough earlier on in the series; no groundwork has been done so the reveal itself is confusing.

I don’t need a black map, I need a flow chart, a series of flashbacks to remind me who the hell all these minor characters are and even some name tags might be good. It’s the equivalent of getting to the end of a murder mystery novel only to discover that the real killer wasn’t any of the main characters, whom you suspected, but the man in the newsagents who bought a Mars bar, who isn’t named and appeared for one line in chapter four.

This was sloppy and poorly executed plotting. It was as if the writer had spent sooo long on character building that a studio executive said to him, ‘By the way, you know you’re only getting 8 episodes, maybe you should try and focus on the plot here.’ The consequence is that almost everything that you’ve wanted to know the answer to comes in one big expository flood. I’m not saying the plot is bad, it has simply been badly handled.

What was good? Frank was so bad he was excellent. The menace behind Frank has now come out and at least I was able (just about) to follow that plotline as he discovers one of his own has been plotting behind his back. Frank takes no prisoners here and this is the best we’ve seen him in the entire series. Bravo.

Great character work again from Colin Farrell, but I kind of get the impression that he’s beginning to wonder what all that work was for if the story itself doesn’t hang together.

A word on the end of this episode. When you end an earlier episode with one of the main characters being shot and killed, and then discover that they are not dead after all – choosing to end a later episode by shooting and killing a different main character just doesn’t work. All the shock and emotional punch has gone because you threw it away earlier in the series. You don’t get to sucker punch the audience twice. This is basic storytelling and something that should’ve been obvious to all involved. The result is what should have been a highly emotional scene simply falls flat on it’s ass.

It’s sad to say that this is how I now feel about this season, it’s been thrown away. It had a lot of promise, some fantastic performances, some really great writing, some terrible writing and dialogue and what could have been a great LA crime story has been mishandled and fudged.

I had high hopes and was thoroughly enjoying this season of True Detective, but unless the last episode manages to pull off something utterly amazing then I’m afraid this season will go down as a failure – an interesting failure, but a failure nonetheless.

 

Do you agree with Steve that season two has been underwhelming? Leave us a comment below!

Steve Cavanagh was born and raised in Belfast before leaving for Dublin at the age of eighteen to study law. He currently practises civil rights law, and in 2010 he represented a factory worker who suffered racial abuse in the workplace, and won the largest award of damages for race discrimination in Northern Ireland’s legal history. His first novel, The Defence, was published by Orion in March 2015. Find out more on Steve’s website.