“What kind of way is that to greet the world?”
– Frank Semyon
Not many people know who Harold Lloyd Jenkins is — and that’s because he wears a mask. In order to better fit the remarkable life of music performance he aspired to, he took that name Conway Twitty and grew into something bigger than himself. He became an icon.
Velcoro may not know who Harold Lloyd Jenkins is either, but that hasn’t kept the incognito Mississippi singer from entering Ray’s near death hallucination. As our fallen hero experiences a strange moment of epilogue in the bar near the end of human existence — which just so happens to look exactly like the one he wastes his life away in — Conway Twitty sings on the stage the same song that it playing over the radio in Ben Caspere’s Hollywood sex address. Ray speaks to the ghost of his still living father who sits across from him. This is how we begin episode three of True Detective’s second season, “Maybe Tomorrow”, which really starts hammering home the theme of masks while getting the season two arc up on plane.
True to the True Detective name, “Maybe Tomorrow” deconstructs all aspects of the mask metaphor through variations on the theme. Each of the four main characters is wearing a mask of their own, there are criminals literally hiding their faces, and the artificial nature of even the non-human locations is evoked. Essentially, we come to see in “Maybe Tomorrow” that there are two worlds in True Detective’s noir fantasy version of California: the one we see — the mask — and the real one.
The most apparent mask in “Welcome Home,” though not the most literal, is the bar of purgatory. The usual symbols of death are all being evoked, and thanks to the present tense framing of this season, we have very little reason to think we, like Velcoro, are being deceived by Conway Twitty and the ghost dad. However, barring slim possibility that this all might be a flash forward to a later death, the Mitch Albom-esque introduction is a complete facade.
The twice shot Ray Velcoro was never in danger of perishing. The shotgun wielded by the Ravenman was filled with rubber buckshot, leaving the sad detective with superficial wounds and an excuse to ask for the day off. The true reality of Ray Velcoro’s continuing life and pissed-in pants was hiding behind the mask of how we’re used to seeing death in TV.
In daylight, as the Vinci City PD tries to keep Bezzerides off her crime scene, we can get a better look at the secret sex apartment. The camera and hard drive that Ray found last week were taken by the Ravenman.
After some scolding from Ani about the importance of partners, Velcoro takes a sick day. Ray meets up with Semyon at the bar and is quick to accuse the mobster or someone from the city of setting him up. It soon becomes clear that at least Frank’s in the dark about this whole Ravenman business. Ray, tired of being a pawn and wanting to preserve his anger, opts to stick with water for once. His next stop is the doctor’s where no mask can hide from his poor bill of health. Still, he’s okay to head back to work the next day.
To end his day, Velcoro gets chewed out by the mayor in the humiliating debriefing of a corrupt detective and then ends his day off with a visit to his racist ex-cop of a dad who bemoans the death of true policing. This is our peak behind his tortured dad cop smokescreen. He is an unhealthy man, trying to live up to his father’s reputation as a law enforcement officer while pretending to be a dad. Later in the episode, Velcoro and Bezzerides stop at his home and Ani sees just how much he’s trying to be a good father to his illegitimate son, having become obsessed with the models he buys in the performance of a good father. Velcoro is a broken man who is trying to don the mask of a good guy.
Bezzerides is saddled with the still pretty mysterious Paul Woodrugh for the first half of the episode while Ray deals with his mess of a life. In their car scenes, Paul refuses to answer any of Ani’s questions, but she endears herself to him by not busting his chops about his alleged sexual assault (which it is becoming more and more clear is bogus).
The two detectives pay a visit to the mayor of Vinci’s house, which curiously happens to be in Bel-Air. He’s not home, but Ani and Paul encounter the mayor’s terrifying son, who we’ve only heard about until now by way of drunken anecdote. He affects various accents, creating an uncanny effect reminiscent to the King in Yellow’s appearance in season one. Through his violent front and fluid personality it’s impossible to know anything about this wasted youth other than he commands power by hiding in plain sight, masking his competence with the symbols of a drug addled madman.
Woodrugh is not dissimilar in how he wears his own mask. The question of his sexuality is all but directly answered in “Maybe Tomorrow” when he and an old buddy from his Black Mountain Security days have a little motocross date. The two watch some dirt biking and Paul’s friend urges him to go to the PTSD group meetings they’ve been prescribed. The suggestion causes Woodrugh to deny his past in the face of his friend’s solid advice of allowing trauma to be a part of him. Paul retracts even further when his pal propositions him under the pretense of having had sex before. Woodrugh fully dons his tortured homophobic mask and trounces his friend.
Strangely, Inspector Dixon is watching from the stands and photographs the encounter. It’s a small moment, and it’s difficult to understand the implications other than that Dix is up to no good, but it points out another disguise. Dixon has been flying under the radar partially because he’s not among the top billed cast, but mostly because he’s consciously playing the part of the lazy cop who hates his detail.
The next day, Velcoro’s back on the job. He and Ani head to the set of a post-apocalyptic revenge film that Ben Caspere was producing. The questioning isn’t particularly fruitful, but thematically it fits in. Caspere was a man of many faces just as California can be made to look like entirely other worlds. They come away with two pieces of information though: a tenuous lead on the case and a hint that Vinci City Hall is conducting a bit of evidence collection of their own, having sent an assistant to collect Caspere’s tax documents.
That night, while Woodrugh is putting his looks to good use, following leads regarding Caspere’s expensive sex life, Velcoro and Bezzirides investigate a driver from the film production that had recently quit. His car was the one parked outside Ben’s secret sex aprtment the night of Velcoro’s shooting.
While interviewing driver, whose alibi of lumbar problems check out, the car is torched and the detectives give chase to a masked arsonist. This time, rather than a raven, the criminal is wearing something small and white, which was probably a smart choice, considering a short foot chase through a tent city allows the masked fire-starter to give our heroes the slip and I imagine the bulk raven head wouldn’t have allowed for that kind of agility. It’s through this encounter that we see the power of a masked enemy. We don’t know anything about the forces that are behind Caspere’s killing thanks to their choice of face-wear, only that it poses a united front that may have something to do with the humiliation of Frank Semyon.
Frank, this week, demonstrates how violent an unmasking can be. So far we have seen him wear the mask of a man gone legit, having found the high speed rail scheme as an above the line way to make some dirty money. The failure of Ben Caspere to make the proper purchases before he died with money won by Frank by selling of all of his Vinci City assets has left the reformed mobster with a nice face and none of the perks.
Frank’s anxiety has hit him in the sex drive, and after Jordan walks out on him in the middle of a futile blowjob, he embarks on an odyssey of unmasking. First, it takes the form of wanting to unveil the identity of old Ben’s killer, theorizing that fellow rail scheme shareholder Osep could be behind the torture killing.
When Frank finds his goon Stan with his eyes burnt out of his head, Caspere-style, he starts taking things really personally. He calls a meeting of all the Vinci City criminal elements at Danny Santo’s strip club (Danny Santo is the guy whose teeth say “FUCK YOU”). A short moment of intimidation and shoulder-bumping happens when Frank runs into Woodrugh, who is also there to figure out what happened to Caspere, and in the back room, Semyon takes off his mask while ripping off someone else’s
Santo challenges Frank, calling him out as washed up and essentially impotent. The name calling devolves into fisticuffs, but when Frank has Danny on the ground, he takes a pair of pliers to the pimp’s vulgar teeth, demasking him while showing his own true, terrible face.
Frank returns home late, with Jordan still waiting up for him. He doesn’t want to talk about what happened, but a shot of Semyon’s hand filled with the teeth of his enemy is enough for us. He acts as if he didn’t lapse into his true nature. Identity is performative, allowing us to hide and protect our most vulnerable traits from a brutal world. Sometimes we’re the good guy, sometimes we’re the bad guy and sometimes we’re like Conway Twitty: consumed by our performance to the point where our masks become inseparable from reality.
After Life – While I’m 90 per cent sure that all of the opening death bar scene was a present tense hallucination, there is part of me (the part that wants every show to be Lost) that can’t help but stick on papa Velcoro’s “They shot you to pieces” monologue. Could this be foreshadowing to a future shootout that results in the true demise of Velcoro?
Politics – The cop bosses are really pushing for a Velcoro and Bezzerides throw down but I find it hard to believe, given their growing but reluctant fondness for each other, that this conflict will ever see the light of day.
Hotline – Will Perkins, Dork Shelf’s Editor in Chief, pointed out to me that the big masked men mystery is very reminiscent of Dennaton’s Hotline: Miami. Think Nic Pizzolatto is a big gamer? What do you think his username is on Steam?
Black Mountain Security Disorder – I’m happy to see that while Woodrugh’s PTSD isn’t being treated, the show acknowledges it and presents an accurate depiction of recovery through his friend. Accurate depictions of PTSD are rare in TV, so it’s cool to see True Detective giving an accurate representation.
The Mask on the Wall – If you rewatch the final scene of last week’s episode, there is an empty mannequin head among the masks on Caspere’s wall. The implication is that the mask worn by that killer belonged to Caspere himself, and has now been appropriated by the acid wash killer. Anyone catch if the arsonist mask was from Ben’s too? I feel like it’s probably time to follow the money, The Wire-style, and see where these dudes are buying their anonymity.