'True Detective' Episode 3: Where Men Are Men

Vince Vaughn, True Detective Still - H 2015

Vince Vaughn, True Detective Still - H 2015

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the third episode of True Detective's second season.]

Through a season and change, one of the defining themes of HBO's True Detective has been masculinity and how its characters project their manliness. Sunday's episode, "Maybe Tomorrow," goes at that idea with both fists.

Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) reclaims his gangster cred and gives his character an edge that was lacking in the first two episodes. Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) tries very hard to reconcile an ingrained idea of what makes a man with his own emotions. And Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) opts to accept his fate on his own terms, plus he even gets to save someone.

So, yes, Ray is alive. After a bizarre opening to the episode in which Ray has a conversation with his dad (Fred Ward) while a Conway Twitty stand-in does the late country singer's version of "The Rose," Ray comes to in Ben Caspere's sex house. He has cracked ribs courtesy of the non-lethal ammo the bird-headed gunman used at the end of the last episode and he's peed himself, but he's OK.

After dispensing with Ray's status, however, Frank and Paul  who later on will literally bump into one another, though neither knows who the other man is  take over the episode to a great degree.

We first see Frank at a fertility clinic receiving some unsuccessful, uh, motivation from his wife Jordan (Kelly Reilly). He's distracted to the point of nonperformance, which leads to an argument over who's to blame for them being at the clinic at the first place. "You know what?" Jordan practically spits at him. "Go suck your own d—."

The rest of the episode for Frank is a series of challenges to his manhood (never subtle, this show). Word has gotten out that the dead Ben Caspere made off with Frank's money, and his increasingly frantic maneuvering doesn't help project the image of someone in control.

Mayor Chessani (Ritchie Coster) suggests his hold on the poker room is up for grabs unless he delivers a bigger cut. One of his guys is murdered, seemingly for no reason. And when he tries to gather some former associates to help dig into Caspere's secret life, it's a no-go. One of them, club operator Danny Santos (Pedro Miguel Arce), practically laughs at him. "You're tall, but you're really little," Santos taunts.

Frank then challenges Santos to a fight and proves he hasn't left his criminal life completely in the past, badly beating Santos down and then removing his gold grill with a pair of pliers.

He then returns home, where a lingerie-clad Jordan is reading in an inexplicably dark room. It seems primed for a clichéd scene of Frank reclaiming his sexual dominance as well, but fortunately writer Nic Pizzolatto tacks away from the obvious here. Frank is obviously unsettled by what he just had to do, and he curtly brushes Jordan off when she wants to "make up." Cheers for that small bit of restraint, at least.

Paul, meanwhile, is doing what Ani (Rachel McAdams) asked him to do in episode two, using his looks to help gather information about the case. How well it works would be absurd, if not for the fact that everyone who's attracted to men salivates over Kitsch in real life in much the same way.

As he digs into Caspere's proclivities, however, Paul runs up against whatever he's trying to repress about his own sexuality. A meet-up with an old war buddy, Miguel (Gabriel Luna), doesn't help, as Miguel alludes to something that happened when they were separated from their unit in the desert.

Kitsch really sells Paul's discomfort with himself and where the investigation is leading him. His posture and the death grip he has on his drink in the club show a man who is really not liking where he is, though the why of it remains a mystery. Is he just in deep denial, or is there something more?

The work of moving the case forward in "Maybe Tomorrow" falls to Ray and Ani. She runs afoul of the odious Chessani by taking Paul to his home  in Bel Air, not Vinci (mimicking a real-life case that helped inspire this season)  — questioning his out-of-it Russian wife and his skeevy son.

Ani and Ray also track the stolen car used to dump Caspere's body to the set of a movie being filmed in Vinci thanks to tax credits Caspere arranged in exchange for a co-producer credit. (Its director suspiciously resembles season one helmer Cary Joji Fukunaga; more on that in a post Monday.)

Ani also overhears Ray's ex, Gena (Abigail Spencer), offer him money to get out of town; the state investigators have been asking questions, and Gena wants Ray to get away. He turns her down, opting to stay and take what's coming to him.

Or maybe fight it. After another masked man torches the car just down the street from Ray's house, he and Ani give chase. They lose the guy when Ray tackles Ani to save her from being run over, and he asks her what the state has on him. Her reply: "I don't know."

There wasn't a ton of movement on the actual case this week. The bits of character shading, heavily underlined though they may be, still make for a show that feels like it's gathering its feet. Viewers could do with something beyond "Caspere was into weird sex stuff" as a hook, though. Episodes four and five of season one proved to be big turning points for the show; here's hoping something similar happens in the coming couple of weeks.

What do you think of True Detective so far this season? Sound off below.