TRUE DETECTIVE: “Church in Ruins”

True Detective is nigh unwatchable. Chase Branch offers up an alcohol-fueled solution.

Just what the hell was that?

Remember what I said last week about the bargain struck between the people behind the camera and the actors in front of it? When filming difficult and uncomfortable scenes, writers and directors (or in this case, showrunners) owe it to their actresses to at least be crafting something important for their troubles. Before, I was talking about the junk vulgar dialogue that True Detective actors have endured. This week the show placed Rachel McAdams right in the middle of an orgy scene, so let’s just stick with that thought. More on that in a minute.

True Detective isn’t watchable as a straight television show anymore. It simply doesn’t make any sense. But that isn’t to say you can’t enjoy watching it. Honestly, this was the most fun I’ve had watching the show in weeks. Instead of grasping at any resemblance of meaning or structure, I’ve just taken to inventing games to play while watching the show and joking with friends about which weird tangent could actually improve it. Naturally, the game is based around alcohol.

The game works like this:

Each of our five main characters is almost guaranteed to perform one of their habitual character trait actions every week. They pretty much have to. In the absence of any real character growth, Frank, Ray, Ani, and the gang just have to hit their stereotypical marks. I’m sure you know them well.

Frank Semyon: Crime boss who spouts inane, pseudo-psychological babble every week in an effort to sound educated and mysterious. Whenever Frank utters a completely illogical line of dialogue, have a drink. This week’s hits include comments about not wanting to go to heaven if “that type of sin” keeps you out, and the True Detective version of “stay gold, Ponyboy”: Frank literally tells the child of a murdered man “That’s what pain does. It shows you what was on the inside. And inside you…is pure gold.” I am not making this up.

Jordan Semyon: Frank’s wife. Kelly Reilly’s acting choices are beyond comprehension. She’s actually pretty good as the daughter of a Catholic priest who’s carrying the emotional baggage of her suicide attempt in Calvary, but you’d never know it from her work on True Detective. She wanders through every scene on the HBO drama like she’s had too many Xanax and can’t find her way around without clinging to Vince Vaughn. Whenever Jordan looks like she’s drugged up to her eyeballs, have a drink. It’s not uncommon to check the Frank and Jordan boxes in the same scene, and this week they happened right at the top of the show. After Ray threatened to kill Frank, she stumbled into the room, clung to Frank, and petted his robbed chest. Again, I am not making this up. Of course, since Reilly always plays Jordan like this, this is basically the free space on the board.

Ray Velcoro: A detective who likes to get wet off any number of bad habits. He’s always angry, and loves to make gratuitously violent threats. How could we forget his lovely promise to a child about mothers, fathers, and headless corpses from the premiere? Whenever Ray makes a violent threat, have a drink. This week he told his wife’s rapist that he’d attack his dick with a cheese grater. Oh, Nic Pizzolatto. The hits just keep on coming. This week’s best scene featured Ray’s supervised visitation with his “son,” and the kid’s desire to just kick back and watch old reruns of Friends. I’m convinced True Detective would’ve been best served by zooming in on the Velcoro family television while HBO literally just played an entire episode of Friends for the episode’s final 23 minutes. David McGinnis liked the idea, but would’ve preferred 23 minutes of close-up on Collin Farrell’s face while he watched said episode. Either would’ve been a better use of everyone’s time.

Still hanging in there? If you’re taking shots you’re probably in serious trouble by this point.

Ani Bezzerides: Child of hippie parents and female detective in a man’s world. After the completely male-centric first season of True Detective, Nic Pizzolatto promised to give us a strong female character for Season Two. Instead, we got Ani Bezzerides, a woman who keeps a life-sized wooden human analogue in her kitchen for hand-to-hand knife practice. Whenever Ani plays with her knives, have a drink. After kitchen knife practice, Ani even found time to knife a dude to death at the hooker party that filled the episode’s last twelve minutes.

Paul Woodrugh: Sadly, Paul let us down this week. After five weeks of screaming at old army buddies, his mother, his girlfriend, his bosses, and a swarm of paparazzi, Paul somehow managed to not scream at anyone for the entirety of “Church in Ruins.” I won’t lie: I was pretty upset. Since screaming is the only way that Taylor Kitsch’s take on Woodrugh shows emotion, Kitsch spent most of the episode failing to emote, and looking like a sad mannequin in the back of people’s cars. Whenever Paul expresses emotion through screaming, have a drink.

Once you’ve checked all five boxes, drain your glass, flask, gallon jug of booze, or whatever container of alcohol you’re using to numb yourself enough to make it through another episode of True Detective. Follow me on twitter (@ChaseBranch) during episodes of True Detective and I’ll help you keep score.

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Worthy of special mention this week is the orgy that Bezzerides infiltrated in the episode’s final minutes. She spends the episode’s final quarter running around a mansion filled with drugs, rich businessmen, and women bussed in to fulfill said rich businessmen’s every sexual desire. Since you know that this was Season Two of True Detective, it was every bit the train wreck you’re imagining. I’m sure Pizzolatto and director Miguel Sapochnik envisioned themselves as modern-day Kubricks, fashioning an orgy scene to rival the stunningly directed one in Eyes Wide Shut, but this was just sad.

Featuring out of focus and laggy camerawork that attempted to portray a Bezzerides addled on “pure molly,” Our girl ran around the mansion peeking into rooms where half-(or fully-)naked women engaged in sex acts while men looked on. One party-goer even had the sad task of telling Bezzerides that it wasn’t just about the sex. He was looking for a “real woman,” because “for me, it’s all about the dialogue.” After six episodes of Pizzolatto’s terrible garbage dialogue, that’s just insulting. All the while, a music score that could’ve been lifted from any 1940s crime film played in the background. It couldn’t have been worse unless a “NOIR!!!” title-card had filled the screen every few seconds.

It becomes more and more obvious that True Detective is in over its head every week, and I really can’t believe that anyone is still watching. I can’t believe I’m still watching this disaster. If Pizzolatto and HBO thought that leaking word of a “colossal orgy scene” was really what would reignite interest in this show, it just goes to show you how badly True Detective has lost its way. Try having decent characters and a real storyline. You can keep the shock value.

Thankfully, the “next time on” promo at the end of “Church in Ruins” promised us that “there are only two episodes remaining!” I’m not sure they meant that as a sigh of relief, but that’s how I’m taking it. Hopefully I won’t have to drink myself blind to make it through.

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