'True Detective' Hits the Restart Button in Episode 5

The case finally moves forward, but everyone's lives are still a mess.
HBO

In the wake of what went down in Sunday's True Detective, it's tempting to think of this season like a video game.

True, none of the principals were killed in the massive shootout that ended episode four last week (unless you count Colin Farrell's mustache). Nonetheless, episode five felt a bit like a restart in Grand Theft Auto: After spending a lot of time tooling around California, things went sideways in a major way, but "Other Lives" brings viewers back into the game at more or less the same place they started.

Circumstances have changed in the two months since the shootout. Ray (Farrell) quit the Vinci PD and is now working mostly for Frank (Vince Vaughn), who has downsized to Glendale and gone headlong back into the criminal life.

Ani (Rachel McAdams) is stuck in the property room and at sexual harassment seminars at the Ventura sheriff's department  although the latter at least allows her to utter one of the more amusing lines of the season, a deadpan recitation about how much she loves "big d**ks" that wakes up the assorted d-bags also taking the training. She also revisits the missing-person case that came up in the season premiere and is likely connected to the larger story.

Paul (Taylor Kitsch), meanwhile, is working insurance fraud cases for the state, clenching his teeth over a settlement with the actress (Ashley Hinshaw) who falsely accused him of soliciting a blow job, and spiking his iced tea to get through dinner with his fiancée and her mom. So, everyone's miserable again, just in a slightly different way than at the start of the season.

Enter state investigator Katherine Davis (Michael Hyatt), who is starting another, more secret task force after watching her former boss close the Vinci case and immediately announce a run for governor with a mysteriously large campaign fund. So we're back to Ben Caspere's hooker parties and blue diamonds, the missing hard drive with all that sex-tape stuff and the creepy Dr. Pitlor (Rick Springfield).

Once all the resetting is out of the way, there is at least some movement on the case. Paul discovers that the late Teague Dixon (W. Earl Brown) knew about the diamonds before the task force found them in Caspere's safe deposit box.

Pitlor, after having the crap kicked out of him by Ray, offers up that Caspere and Tony Chessani (Vinicius Machado), the Vinci mayor's son, ran the hooker parties in part to gather blackmail-worthy dirt on the powerful attendees, including a state senator.  (Frank's henchman, Blake, and the Russian mobster he's met with a couple of times this season are also apparently in on it.) Oh, and on a trip north, Ani and Paul discover what is very likely Caspere's murder site.

On top of that, Ray discovers that his ex's (Abigail Spencer) rapist has been arrested on a new charge. With DNA from the new case matching hers and a handful of others, it comes to light that Frank sent Ray to kill the wrong guy all those years ago.

Farrell plays the heck out of Ray's realization, but what could have been a powerful moment for the show  his confrontation with Frank  gets undercut a bit by choosing to make it the closing scene. It's likely still to pack a punch in the next episode, but it's a shame to have to wait out one of the better character beats of the season.

The reset also means that everyone is basically on the same page in terms of what they're after: Caspere's killer, the powerful forces behind it and their own redemption, not necessarily in that order. It streamlines the at-times-confusing nature of the original case, but it also tacks away a little from the idea that the systemic corruption in Vinci is at the root of everything, which is a shame.

That Mayor Chessani (Ritchie Coster) isn't directly involved with Caspere's sex-and-blackmail scheme (sextortion?) is almost a letdown, given how gleefully terrible he's been in just about every situation thus far. The "powerful men pulling strings" theme is also a well-worn one. Shifting the focus to Chessani's son (who has appeared in, what, two scenes thus far?) and the sex parties may widen the scope, but it dilutes the impact.

The idea that the (frequently drunk) mayor of a town where no one lives could wield such outsize influence is a great one. It could of course still turn out that the elder Chessani is working things behind the scenes, but for now it turns Chessani into a bit of a fool not to know his own son is one of the "pimps" he spoke of when talking to Frank about Caspere's death.

Three episodes remain in the season, and after some foot-dragging early on, True Detective feels like it's on a better course after this reset. Let's hope those three hours are enough to make the ending feel unhurried.

What did you think of True Detective this week?

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