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[Warning: This post contains spoilers for episode seven of True Detective.]
HBO’s head of programming insisted that the ending of True Detective‘s second season will be “enormously satisfying.” We’ll all find out in a week’s time if that’s the case, but Sunday’s episode, “Black Maps and Motel Rooms,” was a good-sized step in the right direction.
The aftermath of Ani (Rachel McAdams) killing the security goon at the orgy, along with Frank (Vince Vaughn) realizing the depth and breadth of the play against him, injects a heavy dose of urgency into the show, and it seems to bring everyone — particularly Vaughn — into a higher gear. It even gives some weight to what might otherwise be an eye-roller of a love scene between Ani and Ray (Colin Farrell), but more on that in a moment.
First, let’s pay respects to Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), who (presumably) met his end in the episode’s final scene. Though his shooting by Burris (James Frain) was staged somewhat similarly to Ray being shot in episode two, it’s rather unlikely Paul will wake up to Conway Twitty the next day. For one, viewers see the first shot from Burris exit Paul’s body, accompanied by a bloodstain, so this was not a rubber bullet.
How Burris knew to be at that particular exit after Paul took out his former Army buddy/lover Miguel and three other trained security officers is a question best not pondered too deeply. As in-the-moment drama, it worked very well: Just as it looked like Paul would make it out and get to connect with Ray and Ani once more, he takes one in the chest.
Paul’s death plays into the Greek tragedy elements of the season as well. Shortly before his death, Miguel tells him bluntly, “If you’d just been honest about who you are, no one would be able to run you.” His inability to become OK with his sexuality was Paul’s biggest flaw, and he paid dearly for it.
His death, along with that of Katherine Davis (Michael Hyatt) earlier in the episode, leaves Ray and Ani as wanted fugitives with no cover from any law enforcement agency. Ani at least has the sense to send her dad and sister away before things get too bleak, and Ray’s son and ex are, one hopes, at a safe remove as well. But they both realize just how deep a hole they’re in.
In that context, the hookup between the two — after what may have been the most elliptical heart-to-heart ever put on film — makes some dramatic sense. They’ve recognized something similar in each other before, and with their careers and lives very much on the line, a release of that tension is a fine, if very familiar, way to go.
Frank, meanwhile, is dealing with his issues in a rather different way. After curbing his motormouth persona to an uncomfortable degree for much of the season, Vaughn gets to loosen up as Frank hustles his plan to get his and get out.
Frank’s decimation of Blake before killing him was more fully animated than the character has been all season, and the roll continued as he seemingly buddied up to Russian gangster Osip (Timothy V. Murphy) before burning down the casino and club Osip just bought out from under him. Would that Frank had been this engaging all along.
The three surviving lead characters now have a common goal — take down and expose the power brokers who have screwed them over in various ways — but, presumably, different ideas about how to accomplish it. Frank has already shown a willingness to go scorched earth, but as she’s ostensibly still a cop, Ani could balk at that (assuming, of course, that all three share the same space in the finale), leaving Ray in the middle.
How it plays out in next week’s episode will be interesting to see. Which, given the show’s stumbles earlier in the season, is not something said lightly.
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