Nic Pizzolatto reminds me of a late-blooming pitcher. His first balls are wind-ups at molasses speed. Then he begins to find his groove in the penultimate innings and throws curveballs at the plate. Last week concluded with a point-blank execution of Velcoro and the viewers are somewhat concussed by shock. He has thrown us off balance in the best possible way.
With Velcoro on the sidelines, the prayer for most of us is that Paul will be italicized in the remaining six episodes because he has been the elusive main character so far. All the clues indicate that Paul was a Robert Ludlum black-ops assassin who is shell-shocked by his past transgressions. Much to our chagrin, Paul is still an asterisk but with him on the suspect detail with Antigone, he can still ramify into a fully fleshed-out character in later escapades. He is shadowed by Teague Dixon (W. Earl Brown) which will hopefully be a gratifying payoff but so far, he is just a caricature of homophobia which was antiquated and insulting back when Cruising was released in 1980.
Janus Metz resumes the helm from journeyman Justin Lin and he mesmerizes us initially with a dreamlike vision in the afterlife with Ray in a limbo with the uniformed spectre of his ashamed father (an outstanding Fred Ward) and an country-fried Elvis impersonator on stage. Afterwards, we are afforded gruesome gallows humor with Ray awakening from his riot-shell injury to discover that he has “pissed [himself]”.
The angst of the police investigation has rendered Vaughn impotent and when he is unable to reach climax from fellatio, the subtext of wayward fatherhood emerges. From Ray’s rabid overprotectiveness to Eliot Bezzerides’s laissez-faire nature towards his daughter’s hedonism, Pizzolatto is scrawling an indictment on moderation in patriarchy. This leitmotif is reinforced by the racist Ward who blames the post-Rodney King riots for constraining the police force (“No country for white men”).
When characters interject verbiage like “apoplectic” and “stridency” into shop talk, Pizzolatto is emulating David Mamet but he isn’t the accomplished, silver-tongued wordsmith that Mamet is to pull it off entirely. In spite of that pretentiousness, Pizzolatto’s writing is meritorious when it comes to introspective arcs. The best of which is when a physician bluntly asks if Velcoro wants to live and his silence speaks volumes.
Still the most enthralling aspects are the cross-purposes of both departments where Ani is assigned to scrutinize the corruption of Ray (“I’m not saying ‘fuck him’ but make him think you would.”) while Velcoro is coerced to persuade Ani to incriminate a pimp for the murder. Finally, being set in Tinseltown, the show mildly lampoons the film industry in an insolent Argo fashion with Ray and Ani conducting interviews on a post-apocalyptic location shoot.
With Velcoro attacked as a message and another associate decimated in a warehouse, Vaughn is now a frothing and irate menace. I love when he bumps into Paul at the nightclub and glowers at him with disdain. It reminds the audience that Vaughn is at his best when he channels his repressed anger and his fisticuffs with the gilded-teeth club owner.
My hope for the longevity of the show is that Ward becomes integral in the next few episodes and Paul is shaded with more depth. In the meantime, this is a decidedly middlebrow outing for the sophomore season which is becoming a redemptive conduit for Vaughn.
Rating: 3 out of 5