True Detective 2×05 ‘Other Lives’: What comes after

True Detective 2x05 Cover

All stories have to contend with a balance between characters and plot.  Both need to move forward in terms of their development, but since both are linked, that forward movement needs to occur together, or at least have a reason for being incongruent.  If the plot is moving forward but the characters are stagnant, then the plot stakes are hamstrung by a lack of care for the characters.  If the plot is stagnant but the characters are developed, then we’re not seeing the characters actively doing much, and it hurts the narrative as well.  These certainly aren’t equal sins, as choosing characters over plot often yields far richer rewards (case in point: Mad Men).  However, that balance still needs to be struck, one way or another.

True Detective 2x05-1

Source: HBO

The biggest issue with this season of True Detective has to do with the incongruence between the characters’ personal lives and the Caspere case.  The reason I mention this first is because, when we look at “Other Lives”, we’re looking as what is essentially a reboot of the show’s second season.  It starts 66 days after the shootout that is now dubbed “The Vinci Massacre”.  The investigation has ended, with the perpetrators in the shootout taking the fall for Caspere’s murder.  Frank is living light as he peddles drugs through his clubs.  Ray is Frank’s muscle and is still trying to get custody of his kid.  Ani is working evidence and attending sexual harassment seminars.  Paul is off the streets and is still engaged to his pregnant girlfriend.  There is a massive amount of exposition necessary to bring us back up to speed, to the point where the Caspere murder is being investigated again.

True Detective 2x05-2

Source: HBO

The issue is that almost none of the exposition, the character work, has anything to do with Caspere’s murder.  Think about it.  If Frank disappeared from the story altogether, what would change?  Okay, we wouldn’t have as much access to the Vinci elite in order to see how they process the investigation.  But what if the “Frank having a child” story wasn’t a part of the show?  There wouldn’t be that discussion of masculinity and control, but, from a plot perspective, nothing would change.  It has nothing to do with Caspere’s murder.  Now, I’m not saying that everything has to tie back into the plot.  But there has to be enough screentime devoted to scenes at least related to the plot to justify having a little extraneous content.  When watching “Other Lives”, there was no real insight into the Caspere investigation until at least halfway through the episode.  This also wouldn’t be a problem if the character development had enough forward motion.  But, when we see Frank, Ani, Ray, or Paul’s problems, none of them really evolve past their initial setups.  Paul is gay and can’t come to terms with himself.  Ray is in danger of losing his kid.  There isn’t enough momentum to justify taking up more screentime with exposition that doesn’t say much more than it did before.

True Detective

Source: HBO

This might seem like a stark contrast to the frustration that I’ve had in previous reviews with those who spew vitriol against True Detective’s second season, but this imbalance that I’m discussing is a huge issue for television shows in general.  This latest season of Game of Thrones, while good, has felt extremely slow in terms of plot and character development (just look at the awful Sansa storyline), and it detracts heavily from the quality to not have that balance down to a science.  Also look at The Walking Dead, which tried so hard to balance the two during the “Alexandria” back half of the season, only to not have enough character development to make most of the half-season’s big moments really land.  The character deaths that I remember most from those episode weren’t because of their emotional impact, but because of their visceral quality.  And that keeps the show from becoming truly great.

True Detective 2x05-4

Source: HBO

At the very least, “Other Lives” teases some future developments that look interesting.  Ray finds out that his ex-wife’s rapist was arrested recently, which means that Frank tricked him into killing a different man.  While neither Ray nor Frank’s story creates much tension, it helps to have some forward movement to create new relationship dynamics and move things along.  There’s also the missing girl Vera’s connection to parties for Vinci elite, where her last known location holds a torture cabin complete with arterial blood spray.  That, along with Ani using her sister and the task force to push the case forward, is the most invigorating component in “Other Lives”.

True Detective 2x05-5

Source: HBO

A lot of the content about control is still present, and still has enough depth to be meaningful.  While Paul deludes himself into believing he has control, and Frank gives in to the lack of control he has, the most interesting character here is Ray, but lashes out like a rabid dog when the only semblance of control he had left is taken from him.  Now that the success of the case will help him keep his son, he beats the psychiatrist senseless when looking for clues.  But it’s when he learns that he never even killed the rapist that he loses it, going to Frank’s house to lash out in the only way he knows how.  Now that Ray is unhinged, his character is a lot more interesting.  Ani, while not nearly as dramatic as Ray, is going through an unhinging of her own.  Now that she has purpose again, she’s developing an obsession with following through with the case.  And that obsession is putting her sister in the crossfire.  It goes to show the lengths that people go through to find control in their lives; Ray and Ani both risk lives to do so.

It goes to show that True Detective operates best when focusing on detective work.  While the content dealing with control is fascinating, its connection to the plot is strained at best.  At this point, with only three episodes left, shifting away from character development and using the characters to tie up the plot is the best way to steady the season.  And, with the next episode promising to move forward with the sex parties and the torture rooms, the focus is at least shifting in the right direction.

So what did you think of “Other Lives”?  Do you think the last three episodes are going to wrap up the mystery nicely?  Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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