Like this season’s third episode “Maybe Tomorrow“, “Church in Ruins” did something important: it peeked out, briefly and with clear purpose, and tried to put forth something that we’d never seen from the series before. This is essentially the equivalent of inching the shower curtain open just enough to reach your arm through to grab your towel before the cold air comes rushing in — again: brief, purposeful, a foray into something different characterized with intent on avoiding that something different. I could continue to over-convolute this line of thinking, but, hey, if you’re entertainments of the more Byzantine variety, I give you True Detective.
“Maybe Tomorrow” was packed with humor, and it was the type of humor that ‘Tec had never engaged in until that point. “Church in Ruins” was a milestone of sorts, too, but far more difficult to pin down. Yes, there are way more going-ons in Season 2 as compared with Season 1 — cadres of tough-looking supporting characters in slim-fit suits, piles of dead bodies with/without eyes, hooker parties, gambling addictions, custody battles, missing blue diamonds, etc. etc. etc. You’d be forgiven for rewatching an episode or two out of confusion. But, really, the confusion one might have felt after “Church in Ruins” likely had nothing to do with what just happened and more to do with the weird way in which it all went down.
The scene that sticks is obviously the hooker party, which Ani attends undercover as Ray and Paul tiptoe around outside like they’re in that party scene from Ace Ventura.
The obvious thing about this obvious scene is the music, a sweeping and disorienting orchestral piece that at first appears to be playing as the party music at Chez Hooker. It’s totally at odds with crank-clunk industrial soundtrack from the rest of the season (and even from the first season), but more importantly it’s jarringly at odds with the scene itself. We realize it’s not the actual party music, and so we start to chalk it up to the fact that Ani’s just been given a spray of “pure Molly” (this is a gathering of hookers — if you’ve stepped through the front door already, you probably don’t need to get fueled up with party-favor MDMA). She has a reaction to the drug, encounters a past trauma Nightmare on Elm Street-style, and ends up stabbing a dude until he bleeds out.
…and then the trio of policepersons speeds away into the night, guided by an exaggeratedly large full moon, asphalt churning under their tires as asphalt only does when the car’s passengers have just achieved victory. Victory? Was that what that was supposed to be? In part, this jarring imbalance in tone seems intentional, and it was great to see that Ani’s killing of Big Party Guy was very definitely not portrayed as a victory. She’s not thinking I’m a strong woman and that guy dared lay a hand on me so he got what he deserved — no, she’s thinking what the hell did I just do? How easily that scene might have played out differently, with no moral consequences at all for Ani or anyone else. Still, though the whole riding-off-into-the-moonset thing seems bent on throwing that into instant relief.
But I think the important thing is that this scene had verve, had a way of drawing you into Ani’s disorientation. There may have been less action, but it was somehow more harrowing than the buckets-of-blood shootout from the end of “Down Will Come“. And hey, wow: there was no angsty brooding, no outlandish threats of murder or bodily harm, no lofty grabs at deep philosophy, nothing of the sort from which we’ve come to take for granted as What True Detective Is. Like the humor in “Maybe Tomorrow”, the shaky sixth hour “Church in Ruins” mostly survived by leaping into new territory. The fact that that territory is still tonally confounding is, I suppose, another matter entirely.
And, yes: sixth hour. Six of eight is in the bag, meaning two left, meaning it’s time to start guessing whodunit with reckless abandon. One reviewer noted the interesting benefit in the fact of Ani, Ray and Paul all kind of sucking at their jobs — they’re none of them superstar detectives, and so we as viewers have to kind of jump in and try to line up the puzzle pieces that these sometime-schmucks are too distracted to recognize as clues. But then when we really get down to it, is Caspere’s murderer really the only thing we’re hunting for here? Out of the many dangling plot threads, this is hardly the most intriguing one. Heck, there might even be something with the revelation of the supposed rape of Ray’s wife, seeing as how the apparent perpetrator looks nothing like Ray’s chubby little son.
So my pointless prodding will lead there, to the lies that still seem to be swirling around the past that Ray and Frank share. When Ray leaned in to threaten the alleged rapist, the darkness clouding his face almost seemed to suggest that he might be capable of bloodletting Caspere mores than anyone else. I’ll prod at the fact that Teague Dixon was definitely involved, due to his connection with the diamonds, and remind myself that the Raven used rubber buckshot “like a cop uses” and that Dixon was tailing the sexually-confused Paul. Whose orders were those, to follow a possibly-homosexual cop? Perhaps someone who, oh, I don’t know, clearly has an obsession with sexually-motivated crime? Let’s face facts: we all know the bar singer from the first few episodes is clearly behind Caspere’s murder.