“Church in Ruins” is episode six of True Detective’s eight-ep second season, which has yet to trigger the buzz of season one. (Without a magnetic lead character like Rust Cohle, and the lack of much spooky intrigue, it’s not surprising). But as the closed-loop approaches completion, a few surprises still await.
Frank and Ray finally have it out over the incident that brought them together 11 years ago. Ray comes armed and furious, ready to annihilate Frank for setting him up and, as he sees it, ruining his life (“I would have been different!”, he speculates, though Frank isn’t so sure: “Of all the lies people tell themselves, I bet that’s the most common”). Frank also suggests that Ray always had it in him to be a killer ... he just helped draw out that instinct. But there’s no shoot-out at Casa Semyon today, as Ray seems to accept Frank’s protestation that he didn’t know he was giving Ray bad information about who raped his wife. And as we’ve seen, there’s a lot of things that Frank doesn’t know. So we’re inclined to believe him about this, too.
The stench of warning hangs heavily in the air, though, as Ray shares what he’s learned about Frank’s underling, Blake, running girls behind Frank’s back. If Frank can tell Ray who supplied him the wrong name ... thus setting young cop Ray down the dark path he’s now forced to walk ... this score might be settled forever. Maybe. Because the price of that name is helping Frank find Caspere’s lost, incriminating hard drive, and searching for that has already gotten Ray shot once this season. And Ray has unfinished business with the real rapist, who’s now in jail; the prisoner’s glare gets wiped off his face right quick when Ray (“Key on my eyes, dipshit, and see if I’m whistling Dixie”) lets him know with precise language the revenge he’ll be enacting on this man while he’s behind bars.
In Guerneville, Ani and Paul investigate the shack where someone (a woman, they learn) died a horrible death, and though Katherine Davis comes up to check out their findings, the local sheriff is territorial over the scene. “Work the girls and the parties,” Davis tells Ani, who gets an invite to an upcoming event via her worried younger sister’s connections. Finally, we’re gonna get a peek into one of these gatherings! But it takes the entire episode to get there, so sit tight.
Davis sets Paul on the trail of those mysterious blue diamonds, which turn out to have been stolen during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The husband-and-wife proprietors were both murdered during the robbery in front of their young children, and as Paul quizzes a now-retired cop about the still-unsolved case, we realize the older man is from Ray’s father’s era on the force. That can’t be a coincidence. And the way the crime is described, it’s pretty clear that crooked cops were behind the heist. Look for those two kid witnesses, who were placed into foster care after the tragedy, to have major bearing on however this plays out.
More ruined lives comes to light when Jordan and Frank pay a condolence call to the widow of Stan, Frank’s murdered employee. While Ray is having an awkward, court-supervised visit with his son (who, he’s accepted, isn’t biologically his, and is also inexplicably a Friends fan), Frank counsels Stan’s similarly-aged son: “Sometimes a thing happens, splits your life. There’s a before and after ... and if you use the bad thing right, it makes you better. Stronger.” That’s not the case for Ray, who decompresses from what was likely his final appointment with his boy by snorting heaps of coke, shooting Cuervo, blasting the New York Dolls, and sobbing.
As Ani gets on the world’s most sinister party bus, Frank uses intel gleaned from a gangster he’s tortured to track down Irina, the woman who helped pawn Caspere’s belongings after his death and may know where that all-important hard drive is. Turns out she’s tied to the glowering men who sauntered into Frank’s club last week, letting him know they didn’t appreciate him stepping on their turf. “That’s one off the bucket list, Mexican standoff with actual Mexicans,” Frank cracks, but nobody’s laughing. An uneasy deal is struck; Frank is so desperate for information on Irina that he’s willing to negotiate his “I don’t need any partners in the club!” terms. Though he gets a quick phone call from her, in which she says the man who gave her the stuff to pawn was a cop, she’s killed by the gangsters before they can meet face to face. “You heard her,” the gangster boss shrugs. “She was working for cops.” Once again, as Ray observed at the top of the episode, Frank isn’t really in control of anything, as much as he keeps convincing himself otherwise.
In an isolated mansion, Ani submits to a breath-spray dose of “pure Molly” before woozily prowling the sex party (old men in tuxes, naked women, giant dishes of Viagra, a food spread that includes a glistening pig head), searching for clues while Paul and Ray do some clandestine investigating on their own. Ani’s detective work gets sidetracked briefly when she has a terrifying flashback to the man that apparently molested her as a young girl ... but she snaps back when she recognizes Vera, the woman with ties to this sleazy scene she’s been searching for all season. It gets messy. OF COURSE it gets messy, since True Detective has been teasing Ani’s badass knife skills for weeks.
However, despite the pleasure of seeing Ani fish-gut a man three times her size, this had to be the most contrived ending of the entire series. Ani and Vera escape with the help of getaway driver Ray, as Paul piles in and begins paging through the documents he’s stolen from a desk in the mansion. These are so ill-gotten they could presumably never be used as actual legal evidence, but apparently they outline a dirty land deal and are covered in big-shot signatures. So that’s convenient.
As the car zooms away into the night, under a full moon, it’s all too tidy, too conventional for a show that made such a name for itself last season by being completely original. As others have pointed out, this season has been relying far too heavily on coincidences for its plotting; some are to be expected, of course, but by now, the threads are more tangled than the Southern California freeway arteries True Detective loves to shoot from high above.
And is anyone else getting pretty tired of the round-robin of fail that the Frank storyline keeps taking us on?
Two episodes to go. Really missing that King in Yellow right about now.