Tim Goodman: When You Opt for the Orgy, You're Out of Ideas (Or Why 'True Detective' Is Beyond Redemption)

The much-discussed orgy scene in the latest episode of 'True Detective' was unsexy, unconvincing and symptomatic of the whole season's heavy-handed, wrong-headed, desperate approach to storytelling.
Courtesy of HBO

The only thing Hollywood loves more than success (financial, unexpected, underdog or otherwise) is a garbage fire of colossal proportions.

Which brings us to the second season of HBO's True Detective, a series that's been critically eviscerated and then, purely for the sake of schadenfreude, "hatewatched" and buzzed about via social media.

Having seen the first four episodes — half the season — I gave up because the show was terrible on almost all fronts, and I personally don't believe in hatewatching anything.

Ah, but Sunday's episode featured an orgy scene (because of course) that had everyone talking — and mocking — and I was dragged back into the fray to assess it and the current state of the show in general.

Well, this shouldn't be too hard — my verdict is: bad and still bad.

While it's not true 100 percent of the time, it certainly is in the case of True Detective: once you opt for the orgy scene, you're pretty much out of ideas. Sunday's episode featured knife-obsessed Ani (Rachel McAdams) going undercover at the orgy (because of course), and if the extensive scenes of her knifing the living crap out of the wooden duct-taped "man" she keeps in her apartment weren't foreshadowing enough for you, then there's not an anvil big enough for your head.

And really, this is the major problem with the second season of True Detective: the writing is awful. Awfully constructed, awfully pretentious, awfully obscure, awfully delivered — though in many instances, the actors are not entirely to blame because they are either (1) poorly matched to the material (particularly Vince Vaughn, who is probably unfairly getting killed over it), or (2) not at fault, since no actor on this planet could make these words work.

It's not really surprising that this season of True Detective has failed to live up to the first season — I detailed many of the early concerns in my review of the show. What's most surprising is the level of failure. It's like the series is relentless in its pursuit of being bad. HBO couldn't have seen this coming, but you have to wonder if they had (a billion) notes for creator Nic Pizzolatto.

Because they certainly should have. And one of them should have been "What the hell is happening here?"

Although True Detective is comically confusing at times — a problem that has been social media gold for haters — most other times it's painfully obvious. It telegraphs what will happen. The characters are straw dogs. The bad guys are from central casting. Everybody is so inexplicably angsty that you just want to slap them instead of watch them.

That's a problem. Put it on the pile.

As for the orgy scene itself, it was mostly what you'd imagine a TV version of an orgy to be: rich, old, overweight white men gathering somewhere remote while the women are bused in, given a Binaca-blast of Molly and then, in the case of Ani, followed around the house to witness the debauchery through a blurry lens that indicates the love drug is kicking in. As she wobbles about, little snippets of sex acts can be seen behind her, and the camera goes fuzzy a lot because, you know, she's been drugged. In case this was unclear, one scene has Ani stumble into a dinner platter with a roasted, stuffed pig. In case that particular anvil was too light for you, the camera goes back to Ani and then settles again on the pig.

Look out below!

If you have a pig on a platter, you probably have a sharp knife to cut it up and, well, now Ani has a weapon against the chubby and old Texas oil man (because of course) who's about to take advantage of her.

Said Southern caricature picks Ani because the other girls there are "just empty eyes." But not Ani, who, I hate to point it out, does, look empty-eyed in her drugged-out state. "See, to me it's just as much about the dialogue," says the oil man, though I wish he hadn't, because nothing on True Detective should ever, ever reference dialogue (don't keep pointing out your weak spot).

Few shows have had characters spout as much nonsense in such a short amount of time as True Detective this season. The show has virtually zero chance at an Emmy unless there's a new category for verbal diarrhea.

Moments before this TV orgy happens, two devious paper-mache cutouts have a conversation that ends with this: "A full moon is the best time to ratify alliances."

Pass the Molly. This may be a long night.

Now, to be clear, I've never been to an orgy. But I can't imagine they are as stylized as TV and film generally portray them. And this episode of True Detective perpetuated the glossy dream of models either standing around pleasuring themselves or placed near a mirror in such a way as to catch reflections of skin in some artistic fashion. Like Vogue, only with f—ing.

At least McAdams wasn't asked to disrobe for no reason; she's suffered enough with the dialogue. Of course, there's no real reason behind any of the actions characters take on this show. They are forever doing what they shouldn't just to create some spark of drama. But was anyone really afraid that Ani was going to be, um, compromised at the orgy? I thought one thing and one thing only was going to happen: that someone was going to get cut to ribbons by her knife.

And they were.

But not before True Detective managed to ruin an orgy, which seems kind of impossible when said orgy is on HBO, a historical beacon of nudity and sex. Ruined how? Well, if you're going to give people an orgy, shouldn't it be sexy? Or at least titillating? This was all dull posing and sub-softcore sex. If you're going to play the orgy card — and as a reminder, you shouldn't, unless you're completely out of ideas — then play the hell out of it. Even Showtime's clinical Masters of Sex is more erotic.

The exclamation point was, of course, the introduction of scenes culled from Twin Peaks that hammered home the fact that Ani was abused as a child, seemingly at her father's peace-love-and-zen retreat.

So, yeah, that'll take the Viagra right out of you. Nobody wants allusions of child abuse woven into an orgy scene. No doubt this was another attempt by True Detective to be gritty and real, but it came off as misplaced and corny. And at this point, hoping for something better is clearly useless.

Naturally, every one of the True Detective characters made it out of this dangerous, ill-fated orgy unscathed. "What happened in there?" asks Ray (Colin Farrell), to which Ani replies: "They gave me something, I don't know. I think I killed someone."

Well, duh, it's not a successful orgy unless you do.

The episode ends with Ray spinning his muscle car into a corner and hitting the gas as the team heads off into the moonlight (literally — there was a gigantic moon in the frame).

Then the soundtrack kicks in to anvil home that it was another successful getaway.

Because of course.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine

 

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