‘True Detective’ 2.04 Recap: “Sometimes Your Worst Self Is Your Best Self”

Hey everybody, it’s time to recap another episode of ‘True Detective’, the show that makes you pay close attention in order to unravel a mystery that you don’t give two hoots about. I’ve tried to give this series a chance, honestly I have. But at the midway point of this second season, I’m not any more interested in this group of characters or the case they’re investigating than I was back in the premiere. Knowing I have four more of these babies to watch before I’m granted my unconditional pardon isn’t going to make the next month worth of Sundays any easier.

How bad has ‘True Detective’ gotten? Let’s take a look at the opening scene between Vince Vaughn and Melissa Gilbert… err, I mean Kelly Reilly… who play the characters of Frank and Jordan. The scene, in which the two get into another back-and-forth about their inability to conceive a child, isn’t as important as watching the performances – which are just awful here. Vince hasn’t been good at delivering a lot of the material he’s been given on the show up until this point in the series, but this scene seems like a rehearsal instead of something that should have made the final cut. Don’t believe me? Go watch it again. It’s dreadful.

Latent homosexual Paul awakens in the bed of a hotel, where he discovers that he spent the night with the guy he got a few leads off of in last week’s episode. Because he can’t accept the fact that he’s into men, Paul freaks out and can’t get out of the hotel fast enough, going out to the sidewalk and dropping some loud “f-bombs” at absolutely no one. It’s enough to get the attention of a group of nearby reporters, who mob him and start asking him questions about the actress he’s accused of letting out of a ticket for sexual favors. Just come out already, dude. Your life, and my television viewing, will be a lot easier.

[Ed.: He was swearing because he left his motorcycle on the street and it got stolen. –JZ]

Given his financial woes since the murder of Ben Caspere (whose last name we finally get the correct spelling of this week, thanks to a white board that appears in this episode), Frank has been going around to old associates trying to get back into some shady business arrangements to make money. These include having a sit-down with a guy in a bakery to negotiate selling drugs, offering protection for a Latino apartment complex, and getting back into the restaurant business with a friend of his wife’s (which, to no viewer’s surprise, leads to another fight between the couple).

While the above is going on, Ray and Ani are busy investigating the case, starting with following and interviewing the mayor’s daughter, who passes along the vital information that her father is a bad man. (Really? We didn’t know this already?) But the big step in the investigation this week focuses around a man named Lito Amarilla, whose connection to Ben Caspere is… vague. I think Lito is a pimp and Ben was seeing one of his girls, but honestly, I have no clue what Lito has to do with this case, other than that he’s an excuse for the episode to end with a shootout. More about that in a bit.

Paul meets his girlfriend in a diner. She tells him she’s pregnant. She’s religious, and she’s keeping the baby… which, by the way, is the worst conversation you can have with your girlfriend, particularly if you don’t want kids, but especially if you’re a closeted homosexual. Since Paul is rejecting his gayness, he sees this as the best opportunity ever and tells her that he loves her and wants to be with her. She replies, “I guess I love you too,” which is exactly the kind of response you want to hear from your gal, isn’t it?

It wouldn’t be an episode of ‘True Detective’ this season if we didn’t get a scene in the bar with Frank, Ray and the world’s worst lounge singer ever. There’s not a whole lot exchanged this week, other than the fact that Frank tells Ray that he’s getting back into some of his more illegitimate dealings and wants Ray to consider leaving law enforcement and coming to work for him.

The episode wraps up with Ray, Ani, Paul and a group of officers raiding a warehouse where they believe Lito and his men are located. They barely arrive on the scene when they start getting shot at by machine guns out the window of a building. Firing back at one of the men causes the top floor of the building to explode in a burst of flames, but Lito and a few of his guys try to make a getaway in an SUV, with Ray, Ani and Paul in pursuit on foot. The SUV crashes into a bus, and eventually Lito is the only bad guy left. He grabs a hostage from the bus and points a gun to his head as both Ray and Paul point their weapons at him. Lito kills the hostage, and Ray and Paul react by shooting Lito full of bullet holes, killing him. As Ray, Ani and Paul look around at the damage, they realize that most of their team and a good number of innocent civilians have been killed.

While this ending is certainly the most action we’ve seen on ‘True Detective’ this year, one can’t help but compare to the ending of Season 1’s fourth episode, which also ended with a big shootout sequence. The difference is Season 1’s sequence (which was a long, continuous tracking shot) was an impressive piece of filmmaking that fans were talking about for weeks. This episode’s shootout is just a typical action scene that’s certainly more violent than the Season 1 scene, but nowhere near as impressive by any measurement. Some of you may say it’s unfair to compare this season with last season, but the show-runners must certainly have known that by putting this scene at the end of the fourth episode, it would instantly remind people of last season’s fourth episode. Not only do I feel the comparison is fair, I believe it’s warranted.

And so ends another episode of ‘True Detective’. Did we learn anything more about the murder this week? Not really. What about our lead characters? Nope. Anyone think this season is going to change significantly in its final four episodes? Well, Ray is shaving his moustache next week. That might be the most exciting development so far this season.

Sorry about the spoiler.


  1. In the first four episodes of the second season of True Detective, Nic Pizzolatto has offered a number of clues to the identity of who killed Vinci city manager Ben Caspere and subsequently complicated gangster Frank Semyon’s (played by Vince Vaughn) multi-million dollar land deal ahead of a planned a high-speed railway project.

    Paul Woodrugh (played by Taylor Kitsch) killed Caspere.

    Paul Woodrugh is the Oedipus character, in a fugue state on his motorcycle when he returns to the picnic table where Caspere’s corpse is seated (Season 2, Episode 1); in a fugue state returning to the homosexual military cohort’s residence to spend the night (Season 2, Episode 4). As he attempts to repress what disturbs him most, Woodrugh dissociates at times and is not fully aware of his actions. He commits acts that he would not otherwise commit, and subsequently he does not remember those acts.

    Detective Dixon (played by W. Earl Brown) suspected Woodrugh, but now Dixon is dead (Season 2, Episode 4).

    In Season 2, Pizzolatto counts on his audience to overlook what is hiding in plain sight, just like Season 1.

    And don’t forget, there is a videotape in the second season of True Detective, just as there was in the first season. There is always a videotape – it is an ironic and necessary ingredient in the Pizzolatto literary formula because after all, like Caspere, most people like to watch . . .

    I live among you
    Well disguised

    • matt

      While I hadn’t given it as much thought as you, I actually had the same thought that Paul is at least somehow involved. I’m not really sure why. I did find it convenient that he just happened upon Caspere’s body in ep 1, but there’s just something nagging me about Paul. I can’t articulate it.

      • matt

        Velcoro makes a half-joke statement in this last episode that was something along the lines of how he hoped it wasn’t Paul that he and Bezzerides chased the other night. I kind of disregarded that…but then Paul can’t find his bike. What if it wasn’t stolen, but just parked elsewhere during one of these fugue states you theorized? And maybe Paul doesn’t think it’s stolen…but knows he probably went and did something that night that he can’t remember. He tells Velcoro in the car after he’s picked up that he doesn’t know who he is anymore.

        I also think there’s something more to that scene when Paul bumps into and locks eyes with Vince Vaughn. Something seemed a little too deliberate about the encounter.

        Or I’m just grasping at straws.

  2. I like this season of the show a lot more than Shannon does – which is to say that I like it at all, since he doesn’t. That said, this was a frustrating episode. I thought the shoot-out was very well done. I have no complaints with that. However, until that scene, the episode was frankly pretty boring. I don’t feel like much of anything important happened until the ending.

  3. cardpetree

    This season is pretty damn badass. I find the characters very interesting and Vince Vaughn has been great. That shootout was one of the best shootouts I’ve ever seen on television or in a movie.

  4. Peter

    Was the whole shootout a set-up? I thought that was clear watching it, but Shannon didn’t mention it. The Mayor repeatedly said he wanted to get Bezzerides, and the way he saw them off saying be careful (paraphrasing). Obviously he and other people involved in this investigation/cover up knew this group of cops were going, when and where. Yes, others would be in harm’s way also, but that doesn’t seem like it would stop the mayor.

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