Tuesday, August 11, 2015

My Least Favorite Life

One of the few bright spots in this year's incarnation of True Detective was Lera Lynn, appearing as the lone chanteuse in a dive bar on the edge of town.  Her weary country ballads underscored the episodes.  You never quite figured out what she was doing playing to a mostly empty room, but it fit the emptiness of the main characters as they struggled to come to terms with the world that was caving in on them.

As with the first season, Nic Pizzolatto takes himself far too seriously, wallowing in a corrupt industrial town somewhere south of LA that is on the edge of a big land deal that may bring it back to life.  Good premise, but the characters are mostly wrapped up in their own muddled lives, forced into action at rare moments, and even then begrudgingly, as if trying to kick an old dog to life. Lera's My Least Favorite Life summed up the situation pretty well.

Frank seemed to have everything lined up for the big score only to learn that his partner Ben Caspere had been killed and there was no accounting for his three million dollars, which Ben was taking care of.  Tough break, as it forced Frank to go back to being a two-bit gangster, which he thought he had put behind him, no longer able to afford the spacious modern California house that evoked the 60s Golden era.  It was back to a bungalow and all the shady deals as Frank tried to regain his control of the Vinci underworld.

In the hands of a more deft writer this might have amounted to something, but Pizzolatto was out of his realm, drawing more on LA Noir from the 30s to give his series what he probably felt was a timeless seediness.  He did seem to take Raymond Chandler to heart and focus more on the mise en scene than a tightly wound plot, which was more common in British mysteries of that era.  Sadly, Nic got lost in all these trappings and by the time he finally came to his penultimate episode, I simply didn't care anymore.

Like the limited action, the dialog also seemed forced, as if each character carefully formed each word from some deep dark hole of despair from which these utterings barely escape his or her lips.  This was most apparent in Ray Velcoro, Frank's paid cop, who struggled with each and every word as if it would be his last.  It was like watching a dog slowly breath its last breath after being run over by a car.

To Nic's credit, he offered us a female protagonist, but she had no less demons than her male counterparts, as she tried to come to terms with having been raped as a child.  One of the many side stories that seemed to get lost in the shuffle.  Ani was the daughter of a New Age guru, oddly played by David Morse.  Her full name was Antigone.  Her sister was Athena, if I remember correctly.  It seemed like their father saw a lot in them at one time, but Ani ended up becoming a cop and Athena a prostitute.  So much for all the spiritualism of the 60s, although these two women were most likely born in the 80s.

Whenever things began to drag we could always count on another ballad from Lera Lynn, played almost exclusively to Frank and Ray, splitting a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label.  Here she is singing Church in Ruins.  Frank tried to put things in perspective while Ray smoldered in all his pent-up rage, gulping down the shots as if the whiskey would drown his life out forever.

If these characters weren't already incongruous enough, Pizzolatto added one more lost soul into the mix in the form of a motorcycle cop battling his demons from the Iraq War.  Even though he had a deeply scared abdomen to indicate some tragic event in the desert, it was an affair with a fellow soldier that haunted him the most.  Poor Paul wasn't ready to come to terms with his homosexual desires.  He had this cute Hispanic girlfriend he was hoping to get more serious with, but he just couldn't shake these visions of Miguel, especially when he runs into him again at a dirt bike rally, which as it turns out wasn't coincidental.

Nothing is in Pizzolatto's dark world.  Everything is fated, especially when he writes the last episode first.  What you see in the previous episodes is meant largely to obscure the main theme, which becomes snarled in all these tangled story lines, to be extracted in the end as if from the hands of a magician.  The only problem is that Nic had done this last year so avid viewers were ready this time around, picking up the incidental characters and pretty much predicting the outcome two, three, even four episodes in advance.  He should have at least surprised us a little with something completely out of left field, like maybe Lera Lynn's character was the daughter of the jewelers, and that the songs offered tell-tale clues if anyone had ever bothered to listen to her.  Instead, we get some secretary from episode three, who we barely noticed, but Nic was certain to remind us in episode seven.

Anyway, what's done is done, and it is time to move on.  For Lera, her future looks bright now that she's gotten all this exposure.  While not exactly joyful, she does offer a more optimistic note in her own music, like Out to Sea, joined by the wonderful Rosanne Cash.

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