TV Review: True Detective (2×07) “Black Maps and Motel Rooms”

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The vultures are circling and stuff’s going down in the penultimate episode of True Detective’s second season.

“Black Maps and Motel Rooms” picks up with Ani (Rachel McAdams), Paul (Taylor Kitsch), and Ray (Colin Farrell) cooped up in a motel room immediately after escaping the orgy mansion from last week’s episode. Ani is still a bit shaken up from the Molly spray and her killing of a security guard at the mansion. Paul is sifting through the documents he stole, which turn out to be signed by Tony Chessani (the son of the mayor of Vinci) and Osip Agronov (the foreign mobster who’s been giving Frank a hard time as of late). It also appears the documents show that the shares of Ben Caspere have been redistributed. Ray is there to keep Ani calm (he offers her a joint to ease her mind), even turning her down for a quickie while she’s still feeling the Molly in her system.

Paul’s actually dealing with a lot this week. Not only is he dealing with the revealing documents, not only is he worried his cover in the investigation might be blown, not only does he have to move his pregnant fiancée and his mother into a hotel room together for safety, but a mysterious phone number has been sending him photos of him and his former Army buddy/lover Miguel getting intimate. Regardless, Paul does some research and learns that Ani’s stabbing of the security guard got to police ears and now she’s wanted for questioning.

With this bit of information, Ani tells her sister and father to pack up and get out of town before they get hurt or roped into this whole fiasco. After some touching goodbyes to her family, Ani then talks to Vera (the missing girl she saved from the mansion last week) about how she knew Caspere. Turns out Vera and Caspere met at the retreat Ani’s dad runs, and hnw Caspere hooked her up to “the circuit” of sexy ladies and the valuable diamonds seen pawned away earlier this season. When Ani asks Vera to testify, she flips her lid and says how she wanted to be at the mansion and never wanted to be rescued. Even when her sister reunites with her, Vera still won’t give out any more information, despite Ani pointing out that Vera may not be welcomed back into “the circuit” in the friendliest fashion.

Meanwhile, Ray goes to meet Frank (Vince Vaughn) at the casino to recap his wild night at the mansion. Ray tells Frank that Tony and Osip bought Caspere’s shares (most of them containing Frank’s money) and that Blake (a close associate of Frank’s) has been making deals with the Catalyst Group (the company trying to retake Frank’s land) behind the scenes. In return, Frank tells Ray he talked to Irina (the prostitute who pawned Caspere diamonds and whatnot), who was told to pawn Caspere’s stuff by a cop. Frank also lets Ray know he’ll have the name of the man who misidentified the rapist of Ray’s ex-wife by the end of the day.

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As it turns out, Blake was the culprit, as he knew that Frank wanted to have a cop under his thumb, so he figured he’d give Frank some random name up in order to impress him. Blake spills his guts to Frank, but not before Frank smashes a glass across Blake’s face and throttles him against a wall. Blake reveals his dealings with Osip and how Osip has been wanting to take out Frank for a while. After admitting to killing Stan (another worker close to Frank) and revealing a big cash exchange is going down between Osip and the Catalyst Group, Blake says that he can be Frank’s inside man on the deal. Too little too late, as Frank puts two bullets in Blake and watches him die on the floor of his office. Frank tells his wife Jordan (Kelly Reilly) to leave town and hide for a while, as he knows Osip is coming at him with guns blazing. He clears his casino, kills one of Osip’s men, starts a gas leak, and lights a fire, burning the place down. He then goes to one of his clubs, clears the safe, and burns that down too.

Meanwhile, Paul meets up with the mysterious photo sender, who turns out to be Miguel himself. He leads Paul into an underground tunnel, where he meets up with his old colleagues of Black Mountain Security, who have been working for the Catalyst Group and have been spying on Paul for a while. Vinci Police Chief Holloway reveals that Detective Dixon (who was killed in the shootout in episode four) had been spying on Paul, and Holloway got a hold of the dirty photos. He wants Paul to give up the documents he stole from the mansion, and Paul says he’ll bring Ani and Ray to the meeting if he goes free. Of course he’s lying, as he grabs Holloway and uses him as a hostage to get out of the tunnels. He kills Holloway and shoots his way out of the tunnels, making it outside trying to call Ray for help. Unfortunately, another crooked cop is waiting for Paul outside and shoots him dead.

“Black Maps and Motel Rooms” does what season two of True Detective has been doing all summer: building up to something. What it does differently (and better) than any other episode this season is that it actually involves events directly happening in the episode. Explanation is given on events that happen very recently, which keeps the audience invested in the episode, instead of having to take notes on plot developments that don’t show up until two episodes later. There’s nothing hinting at dread and despair; it’s all right in front of the audience, and that’s a good thing. It may seem rushed to have all of this last minute plot development (which was easy to predict with the snail-slow pace all season), but it still makes for the most investment in the story all season.

I’ve said many times that Taylor Kitsch’s Paul Woodrugh is the worst of the four leads in this series (and in retrospect, he still is), but his death was actually quite tragic. Or at least, the way his death was framed, as he tries to crawl to his gun, refusing to die just as he’s trying to make himself an honest man. There’s also a scene where his pregnant fiance (Adria Arjona) is watching an old movie with Paul’s mom that has a mother looking at her new baby with awe. Paul’s baby mama starts weeping as she sees the happiness coming from motherhood and wonders if she’ll ever experience that, with or without Paul. It’s a great punctuation mark on Paul’s death that makes him a tragic character. Kitsch’s acting hasn’t been perfect, but seeing him lose the dark game of the show makes the long parts of his journey almost worth all his stupid smolder looks (almost). There’s also Vince Vaughn squeezing in some small but effective menace as he beats (and shoots) the life out of Blake. It’s made clear that he’s no big shot, but just a former rat who got too big for his britches trying hard to stay alive. That should’ve been his character since the season premiere, but it’ll be interesting to see how he’ll tie it all together. Rachel McAdams and Colin Farrell both do their part of sweating the case crumbling around them, especially McAdams in Ani’s heartbreaking goodbye to her father and sister. The episode also has Ani and Ray having sex at the end when the two finally realize how screwed up they are, but it’s predictable and not as exciting as the show thinks it is.

Next week is the 90 minute season finale, so lord knows there’ll be plenty to dissect. “Black Maps and Motel Rooms” is more (but better) build-up to the crescendo of season two. It reminds the audience how tragic the characters are but lets the situations and emotions do the explaining instead of just babbling exposition. Hopefully the finale has more of a pulse and keeps this going, otherwise we’re all in for a 90 minute crash and burn.

7/10

Jon Winkler is a 22-year-old movie/music nerd in Southampton, NY by way of Merrimack, NH. He loves watching, listening to, dissecting, mocking and talking about movies, television, music, video games and comics. He enjoys a good cheeseburger, believes CDs and vinyl are superior, likes to make people smile if they're having a rough day, and is rumored to be Batman (unconfirmed).