True Detective’s first episode ended with an eyeless corpse. In “Night Finds You,” it pulls a last-scene move that’s a zillion times more shocking, and could mean that season two is about to take a dramatic turn way early in the season. Spoilers follow!
As the episode begins, Frank and Jordan are in bed in their tasteful house. She’s offering soothing words to calm his nerves about that lucrative land deal that’s teetering on collapse, but his mind goes to even scarier places. A pair of water stains on their bedroom ceiling triggers an unpleasant childhood memory he’s never told Jordan before: his father’s habit of locking him in the basement when he went out for the night. One night, he remembers, the old man didn’t come home, and young Frank was left in the rat-infested cellar for days on end. “Sometimes I wonder, what if he never came home? What if I’m still in that basement in the dark? What if I died down there?” For a brief moment, he entertains the thought that this whole world is a fabrication ... and the water stains are a sign that he needs to wake up.
A clever bit of editing dissolves those two round water stains perfectly over the face of a man who can never wake up, and has a pair of mutilated eye sockets to prove it. Of course, it’s Caspere, the city official whose untimely death is the source of Frank’s money worries, and is also the reason loose-cannon trio Ani, Ray, and Paul have been brought into the same room. (At the autopsy, we get a look at Caspere’s most severe wound, and it ain’t his missing eyes. It’s his missing genitals, “from a 12-gauge at close range.” Remember that.) But before they can get into detective mode, there’s dissent among the higher-ups over which jurisdiction should take the point: the state of California (since Paul is a highway patrol officer, and he’s who found the body); the Ventura Sheriff’s department (where Ani works); or the city of Vinci (if you’ll recall, last week Ray and his partner investigated the break-in at the missing Caspere’s porn-stuffed abode).
In the end, it becomes a team effort. Sorta. Paul is told that if he helps solve the case, he’ll get a promotion, but he’d rather be prowling the roads on his motorcycle than be tied to a desk, even if it means tangling with Lindsay Lohan-ish actresses who’ll do anything to avoid another DUI. Ani is made head of the detail, with Ray assisting, but she’s privately briefed to keep an eye on the shifty Ray, of whom she’s told, “Word is, he’s bent.” And she gets a 101 on Vinci; apparently, it’s California’s leading producer of toxic waste. This factoid leads, unsubtly, into Ray getting his own angle on the case in a meeting that includes the mayor of Vinci, whom we last saw pressing the flesh at Frank’s failed development pitch. Ray is given specific instructions to “control the flow of information.” He’s game, but he has a valid question, especially considering his well-honed skill at playing both sides of the law: “Am I supposed to solve this, or what?” As expected, he doesn’t really get a straight answer. Later, in the service of transparency, he tells Ani he doesn’t think the investigation is supposed to work. “How compromised are you?” she asks. He won’t answer.
Despite Ray’s years of secretly doing Frank’s dirty work, he doesn’t seem to know much about Frank’s business dealings. For one thing, when the two men meet (this time, it’s outdoors in gloriously industrial-ugly Vinci, not in a nightclub ... that comes later) he’s sorta surprised to learn Frank knew Caspere. But Frank is cagey about sharing details; what he wants is Ray to work double-duty as his clean-up guy on the case. Frank is out millions of dollars, not to mention valuable future opportunities, thanks to the seemingly “fast and loose” money-management dealings of a dead guy. He’s in a state of barely-contained fury, distractedly crunching a pair of glasses in his bare hands. Later, on the heels of last week’s “beat up an investigative journalist” orders, he watches as a man who wrote an expose on Vinci’s sweatshops is clobbered by thugs, then steps in after to offer a threat that’s couched in faux concern.
Meanwhile, Ray and Ani visit Caspere’s house. “Guy really thought about fucking a lot,” she dryly observes. And we throwback to True Detective’s first season, full of so many driving scenes featuring two characters who can barely stand to breathe the same air crammed into a car together. She’s focused on the case, and Vinci’s quirks (where do the thousands of people who work in the tiny town actually live?), but he’d rather ask her about the e-cig she puffs on with the dedication of someone who’d really rather just be smoking. When they visit the mayor of Vinci, they get barely any information on Caspere, except that he may have been seeing a woman improbably named “Miss Tasha.” Caspare’s shrink, clad in sunglasses and a cravat, has a little more info for them, telling the duo that Caspere was fond of hiring escorts ... the younger the better.
Everyone detailed to the case (insert your own wishful flashback to The Wire here) meet to go over Caspere’s paper trail, including some suspicious ATM withdrawals, and Ani can barely veil her disgust with Ray’s reluctant partner, Dix. When the older man stumbles off, she asks Ray, “You tight with him?” “I’m not tight with anybody,” he replies ... including, it seems, his own son, since his ex-wife has cut off visitation rights after last week’s violent shenanigans. At any rate, Ani and Ray deduce the ATM activity was likely due to “hooker blowouts.” As they drive through Vinci at night, Ani quizzes Ray about the city’s shady economy. “My strong suspicion is, we get the world we deserve,” he opines, sounding for a moment not unlike Rust Cohle. When they get to talking about Ani’s knife fetish, she reveals she carries so much metal to even the playing field if she’s attacked by a man. Anyone who attacks her will “bleed out in under a minute,” she says. “Well, just so you know, I support feminism ... mostly by having body-image issues,” he jokes. She doesn’t smile.
There’ even more bad news for the frustrated Frank when the California Attorney General announces he’ll be investigating corruption in Vinci, in light of Caspare’s murder. The news report comes over the airwaves just as Frank’s delivering kickback money to the Vinci mayor. When he admits he’s $10,000 short, the mayor threatens the only thing Frank has left, the poker room. But Frank has his own agenda in finding Caspare’s killer, since whoever did the deed likey has his mitts on all of his money. So he launches his own investigation, and comes up with the address of Caspare’s second house, in Hollywood. He meets with Ray, back in the nightclub, but Ray’s not so eager to obey. “I’m tired,” he tells Frank, who ain’t hearing it and is not ready to break up just yet.
But Paul’s girlfriend is fully prepared to dump him; one suspects he’s only managed to stick around so long because, as the show is fond of pointing out, he’s really freakin’ hot. Each detective deals with domestic drama this episode, or the suggestion of it; we also meet Paul’s weirdly flirty mother, who compliments his muscles and eats his fried-chicken peace offering only after he removes all the skin from each piece. Plus, there’s Ray being cut off from his son, who’s terrified of him, and Ani’s recollection of her New Age cult childhood in Guerneville, in Northern California, as “a fucked up place.” (In what is surely no coincidence, Ani learns the missing girl she was investigating last week, who had ties to Ani’s father’s cult, placed her last known phone call from Guerneville.) The only happy family on this show is Frank and Jordan, it seems ... so far.
All that comes before, however, is nearly forgettable when the last scene shows its shocking face.
Ray might be tired, but he turns up to Caspare’s Hollywood house anyway. It’s a cavalcade of bad omens: a dripping sink that’s about to overflow, a pool of blood on the floor, animal heads mounted on the walls, and strange recording devices. Oh, and a figure in black, wearing a mask that looks like a crow’s head ... that emerges from the shadow and shoots Ray. Yeah. He or she shoots Ray. Ray falls, and the figure strides over, stands over him, and shoots him again at point-blank range.
WAIT SO WHAT HAPPENED?
IS RAY DEAD?
HOW COULD HE HAVE SURVIVED THAT?
HOW COULD THEY KILL OFF THE ONLY INTERESTING CHARACTER/ALSO THE ONLY CHARACTER WITH A SENSE OF HUMOR?
Oh, True Detective, you nasty devil. “Night Finds You,” indeed, and of course we’ll be counting the minutes until the next episode, to find out WTF really just happened.