Archive for June, 2015

True Detective, “Night Finds You”

Well now. That was interesting. I didn’t go into this second episode of True Detective expecting Ray to exit the series, blasted away by a strange birdman on a tip about a house. Then again, I also didn’t expect such an entertaining episode.

It wasn’t just Ray getting shotgunned, twice, that made my day—or his, as it were. This was a good episode, developing all the characters and the plot, and generally picking up the pace. Overall, what the first series had going for it in terms of focus, this one has in terms of sheer quantity. Where the last episode felt needlessly disjointed, this one shows how much pinging around among the characters can work. Larger networks of complications come to be explored, and I’m generally interested now in seeing where everyone ends up going.

Not all of them are going to get there, apparently. Well, so be it. But that’s just the ending: let’s begin at the beginning. This is a recap, remember.

Vince Vaughn wins this episode. As much as it is Ray’s ending that is remarkable, it is Frank who dominates the action. Last week, it wasn’t exactly clear what he was. While he owned the town, there was a huge question of how much. Now we see how little this is. The house he has is double mortgaged. And it turns out the last of his liquidity was in the pocket of the dead Vinci City Manager, Caspere, waiting to be invested in the high-speed rail system. Now, that money is gone, and Frank’s lost everything: he’s cut out of buying into the development for the railroad, and lost the cash to boot. He’s screwed, in a tight place, exactly as impotent as, well, he actually is.

He explains this himself at the beginning of the episode. He sees two stains on the ceiling and feels like nothing in his life is real. The story’s obsession with fathers—who all seem, even in Ani’s case, to have screwed up their kids—continues: Frank tells a story of being beaten and locked in the basement for days. “Sometimes I wonder if I ever got out,” he says, looking at two stains on the ceiling, and complaining that the world is made of papier-mâché.

As far as that writing goes, it’s still a bit contrived, as usual. Vaughn does his best to bend it into something that goes somewhere where Pizzollato wants it to go, the location of which remains a bit of a mystery to me: I think he’s going for tawdry, in the end, here and later, especially in those hilariously bad lines about McAdams’ smoking a vape pen.

Regardless, Frank’s problems are bad, and the rest of the episode he goes on the warpath. It’s clear that now he needs Ray to solve this case, to find out who offed Caspere, because that man owes him five million and then some. He gets on Ray’s ass about it, and even does a favor for him by finding an address—the address that turns out to be the birdman’s house, funny enough.

In the course of his efforts to turn things around, Frank has two toughs clobber a guy, and then he walks over to him snarkily: “Jeez, what was that about? What’d you do to piss somebody off? Can you think of anything?” It’s this type of smartassery and irony that Vaughn can bring to a role, and which makes his comparative deadness in the rest of the series now appear interesting. When you see how excited he can be to break out of that basement, you’re beginning to get a sense of how deep his usual feeling of impotence goes—something deeper than the droll dialogue could tell you.

Frank is also taking things into his own hands because he doesn’t trust the efforts of our little ragtag group of heroes, who stand around the body of Caspere in the morgue, baffled. The State Attorney General decides to use them and the body’s location in the jurisdiction of Ventura Country to probe into corruption in the City of Vinci in general, and so has kept it from becoming a specifically Vinci case. Ray begins to suspect that they’re also simply staging something to cover anything up, and even confesses his obstructive role, “in the interest of transparency,” to Ani.But it isn’t clear.

Still, the murder is concrete enough to solve, even if the corruption isn’t. There’s the emasculating wound on the body, first and foremost, which we see in vivid detail. Everyone takes a slight step back upon seeing it. The most interesting character in the show, Ani, moves away slightly, but doesn’t, like Ray does, bat an eye. As she pursues leads throughout the show that have to do with Caspere’s frequenting escorts, she looks at porn and behaves similarly. Castration, penetration: there is nothing in the violence of these that is going to make her flinch, and Ray’s expectation that she would, at least in the one case, seems all the more bound up in his problems. I think the show is suggesting that we should think similarly about ourselves, too, in the second, which seems backwards. But I’m not sure yet: the show is so busy conflating sexuality and violence and vice in general, and so far has depicted female desire so thinly (as either longing for a hot hunk or for settling down), that it’s hard to parse what Ani’s stance actually is with respect to it all. We need more episodes to see.

In the process of her investigations though, she and Ray go casing places Caspere frequented: his house, which we’ve already seen, a creepy visit to a sunlit therapy center, where we’re informed Caspere suffered from “a painful past.” The result isn’t anything much, from an investigative point of view—indeed the investigation itself only proceeds in this episode through chance encounters and backchannel means. But in the course of Ani and Ray’s making their way around to Caspere’s various haunts we get the first inter-car talking-while-driving dialogue reminiscent of the last series.

Except it isn’t reminiscent of Rust and Marty, at all. Ray is self-defeating and stupid, Ani isn’t forthcoming. She smokes a vape pen. He makes a horrible joke about how not many people can pull off a ecig, though she does. For his part, it weirds him out: “a little too close to sucking a robot’s dick.” The dialogue is stilted and strange and uncomfortable. It is also relentlessly cold. The last series, Marty’s attempts to crack Rust were endearing but also just great pretexts for warmth and humor—not least when Marty would grow frustrated with him. This cast, by contrast, are rigorously trying not to touch or be touched by each other, or by anything. We watch them stay in their own worlds.

Ani’s coldness at least continues to be interesting. As thickheaded as he is, it doesn’t get by Ray that Ani has a knife strapped to her leg. She explains: being a woman in her line of work means being in a situation where any man can overpower you. That’s intolerable, maddening. “No man can walk around like that,” she adds.

Meanwhile Paul also retreats into himself. He does some work for the task force on the murder that’s been formed, turning up bank statements. But mostly he spends the episode leaving wherever he was—Malibu, I guess—and holing up in a hotel, nearer the investigation. He says his goodbyes, first to his mother, who, it turns out, is creepily incestuous! So, that’s something new. Then he ditches his girlfriend, making it incredibly clear that all this is her fault. But he is so passive aggressive because she wonders about his distance. Later, as he ogles rainbow-clad partygoers and a young man turning tricks from his hotel window, it’s clear: turns out to have all these girl troubles and conflicts because, well, he may be questioning his sexuality.

It’s a crude enough depiction of this questioning, and the link of it to his mother’s incestual longings doesn’t make his journey lose any taint of perversity. Again, by the crude logic of Pizzolatto’s brand of copland, a father’s to blame: she’s feeling him up on the couch, presumably, because, as she says, his father was never around. I’m still not sure where this character goes, but at least he’s not just the witless self-destructive former-Blackwater patriothunk he appeared to be in the first episode. Now he’s more on his own, and sees that solving the case could be a way back to his beloved bike. The question in this show remains, though, why characters’ struggles gain a kind of legitimacy only when they take up the burden of dealing with the legacy of their fathers.

This brings us back to Ray, who now is trying to be that father. He was supposed to meet his kid at the mall: instead he’s left standing with his ex in front of a Buffalo Wild Wings, pathetically holding a new pair of shoes he bought for the kid. She tells him she’s going to get sole custody. He shakes uncontrollably, reminds her of what he did for her, which was, long ago, on the tip from Frank, kill her rapist. She reminds him he didn’t have to do that, and he replies forcefully that he did, “by any natural law.” This is a world where all ties are artificial, where we long back for those past links to the natural. What’s interesting is that this feels a lot like mainstream crime writing: we might be witnessing one of the better pulpy detective fiction transfers to the screen, here. But that doesn’t make it any more satisfying.

Ray goes and meets Frank at the bar. All pumped up from his “investigation,” he can’t take Ray’s sour, sullen mood: confronted with his admission that he’s contemplating suicide, he simply says, in tones at once paternalistic but also simply beyond that sort of struggle, “I thought you were harder than that,” tells him never to speak of it again, and hands him the address that will lead him to his doom. Just as he is getting ready to leave, the bartender Felicia, played charmingly by Yara Martinez, sits down. She brushes her hair back, revealing a huge scar on her face, but doesn’t seem to care that it’s there—she’s beyond whatever trauma was involved. She suggests they could run away and have some fun together. Ray won’t have any of it. He’s too tired, he’s too trapped in his own struggles, those days are over. Choosing to see redemption simply as a kind of temptation, he gets up and goes to meet his fate.

It’s all over by the time he arrives: there’s a shot of the car in which we saw the City Manager being transported right outside the place. Frank pokes around and we enter a creepier place. He finds a huge pool of blood, the rack where presumably Caspere was tied up, and a camera, which is still on. But the man in the bird hat is already behind him, and just before he can draw his gun, blows him away.

What to make of this? It’s a tough time to be a TV character, apparently. We’re in an age of TV where we like to see them die as much as live. There’s something bizarre about this trend generally, but in True Detective especially: so much billing of Colin Farrell in this series, and then you get rid of him in the second episode? Really? The critics have been weirdly keeping up the possibility that he is alive. It’s certainly a way to make me tune in same time next week.

But at what expense? There’s nothing to the murder, no motive—Frank didn’t set this up, clearly. It’s just this masked man. All that matters for the story, really, is who is behind the mask. This is an appearance of some abstract and unclear kind of evil, then, a creepy killer like the first series. But evil, it turns out, is just not as creepy when he comes in blasting. Everything is too quick, too fast, too unexplained to be truly menacing, to make me even wonder about his identity, his motive. At most the death, like many things in the new series, it feels like just another thing to respond to and/or screw with critics, or with any sense of our expectations. The one real link to the last show, a brooding heterosexual male detective character who can’t get his act together, is done away with. Fine, I guess. But the question still remains, where is this show going then? As it stands, the death feels more like a freak accident than a twist.

A few notes:

Flashbacks: The show is doing a thing where it will take a scene, cut away and show some background, and then reinsert itself back into the scene. It’s almost as if Pizzollato can’t tell his story without filling in background, going backwards as well as forwards. History seems to matter a lot, though he doesn’t like filling it out fully.

Cliché, again: People made a lot of the clichés and bad dialogue in the last series, but I actually thought it was generally palatable. Maybe that’s because it was more interesting when delivered in an irresistible drawl over a steering wheel in the hot sunny swamps. There’s something just so compelling about even the pointless remarks of Rust that saves it from being cliché, and turns it into campy exuberance. Here, not so much. There’s something almost revolting about the idea of a campy detective dialogue in the back and forth Ray and Ani have over her “robot penis” vape pen. Something interesting is happening with Ray in this episode: we see a little more of just how insecure his masculine insecurity is. I’d personally have liked to see this explored, so I hope by some fiat of some sort that he comes back. But I think that’s about it.

Hippies: There’s something in this show about hippies. It’s about as obsessed with them as Justice Scalia, and mentions them just about as randomly. Even the mayor of Vinci is one. Or was at one moment. Speaking of his coked-up son, whom Ray apparently scooped up one night, he calls him in some strange Eastern metaphysical parlance “a destroyer.” And continues: “In my day it was about consciousness expansion.” The me-generation apparently is finding it tough in going in today’s California. People are too self-involved even for them. Later, Ani and Ray go up to the treatment center, which mostly deals in superficial wounds: plastic surgery.  Ray says something all these crumbling flower children might appreciate, speaking to Ani about the industrial waste dump the Mayor and his cronies have made of Vinci: “I tend to think you get the reality you deserve.”

Ray, again: I’m sorry to see Ray go, if he really indeed goes. I was starting to like him. His hapless line, “I support feminism by having body image issues,” is so unutterably bad. But it would have been interesting to see him pursue this strange self-defeating, self-victimizing attitude in dialogue with Ani more. Men’s ability to be self-deluding and to play the victim of women’s liberation knows really no bounds.

True Detective, “The Western Book of the Dead”

So, we have True Detective again. The much anticipated series is back and as brooding as ever. Except instead of mystical conundrums and serial killers in the sultry Louisiana sun, we get a fairly straightforward police procedural in the heart of LA. And instead of two buddy cops confronting a mysterious horror, we get a trio of very different people swept up in a wide-ranging case of corruption and rather standard-issue vice. Not the same at all, though it keeps the same name. The venture represents a huge investment of HBO in a production team to pull off something amazing. Did they?

Not yet, I think is the right judgment. But I’m willing to wait for things to come around.

The doubts many had at the end of the last season (after seeing the rather trite ending to that remarkable story) resurface here: Pizzollatto may just have lucked into something amazing last year, and when given free reign actually messes things up as much as he turns things into magic. But that’s as much as anyone does, of course, and while he’s perhaps not the genius he was promised to be, his skill in creating entertaining drama still manifests itself in the new series.

The first episode mostly spends time introducing us to the characters, starting with detective Ray Velcoro, a raging fuckup ably played by Colin Farrell. He’s at school, visiting his kid, doing due diligence so he can hopefully regain custody of him. Already the insecurities are apparent, as he tells the kid to “be proud” in a way that tries way too hard and watches, furiously, other boys make fun of his shoes as if an insult to his kid were an insult to him.

There’s nothing deep about these problems: they’re brutal scars and personal traumas—his wife was raped—that have ruined his life for him. Rust, by contrast, looked like Wittgenstein, was a genius who also happened to be a crack cop, and who came close to getting by on all this, living the good life to boot. He was damaged by loss, but then also made near mad. A strange combination of his own talent and tragedy that befell him. His problems were real, but they were also brought on himself, when they were brought on himself, in a noble way. Ray doesn’t quite do this. Something about him is more controlling, more brutal, but also weaker too, and his actions aren’t noble but simply compensatory: he later goes to the bully’s house and, in a glorious moment of Freudian craziness, makes him watch as he takes brass kunckles to the boy’s father.

As far as his talents as a detective go, they seem to amount merely to a willingness to compromise himself. He bends over backwards for a corrupt police department, that of the toxic industrial wastland of Vinci (a kind of grosser Carson). He’s only an average true detective, in other words, and none of his investigative work actually does anything to make up for the screw-ups in his life. This almost might make his redemption, if he ever has any, more satisfying. Still, it’s in the future: for now, he is stuck investigating the disappearance of the sex-addict City Manager, and passing along inside information to Frank Semyon, a dirty gangster who tipped Ray off long ago about the identity of the rapist.

We don’t really see much of Frank in this episode, though he’s a much more compelling character—largely due to Vince Vaughn, who plays him. Frank’s got a good life, and has made enough money through vice and corruption to get along comfortably. But he still seems to be low on the totem pole when it comes to playing power politics at the scale he would like to be. This may be because of his high ideals: he is proposing a huge business scheme to buy up land alongside a new high speed rail system to San Francisco, not for himself, but for his kids. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have any, and complains (to Ray) that it’s likely he won’t be able to. Maybe those with less scruples about the future are willing to seize more of the present. This impotence seems, however, to keep him driving forward in his minor schemes, and there’s something appealing about how he doesn’t lose sight of some high ideals, though he’s willing to compromise all the others. Vaughn has the right qualities to convey this strange mix of hope and desperation. For now though, there’s not much for him to do with it: Frank just seems to keep Ray busy, and to see hints of the sly machiavellianism by which he’s managed to get Ray in his pocket, after initially saying that giving him the name of the rapist was simply a favor, is the most entertainment we really get out of his character in this first episode.

If you like seeing frustration like his though, you’re in for more of a treat. Frank isn’t the only one with situational hangups: there is, too, Antigone Bezzerides, played by Rachel McAdams, of the Ventura County CID. She’s seemingly stuck cleaning up the messes of men, but she prefers it to the life of pointless permissiveness initially offered by her father, a new-age guru. In fact, she sees that permissiveness as far from pointless: she believes it is corrupting, all that talk of free love she was fed turning her sister, for example, into a camgirl. Patrolling the farms around Ventura County, and busting a camera operation in some farmhouse outside Oxnard or Somis, she actually finds her sister there, and gives her a stern talking-to and even makes her cry.

This is satisfying, but also disturbing. What McAdams stands behind is clearly the law, and its superiority to the lawless exercise of desire. The way she’s applying this law seems to be with a particular attention to policing (literally) sexuality. But it isn’t clear yet whether she is staging a pseudo-feminist complaint in a pro-sex world than revisiting her childhood, which is what her sister accuses her of. She is so tough with her sister because, well, there is a strong sense that her father’s values screwed everyone up. This might be a more retrograde motherly impulse than it appears, then, even if she tells her father herself—who explains this to her—that this reading of things is wrong. But then again, also retrograde is the anti-sex angle, which is the sort of perverse dilemma I presume the show is trying to stage. It’s not clear what is going on with McAdams, in short: the show has set up too many feints to be able to judge this, its greatest intervention into the formula of the original series, in advance. What is clear is that sex in the show in general is bad, and even more than that sex and free love is the opposite of policing: this might be, like a certain strand of detective fiction you can find in paperback, and very much unlike the first series, a very pro-cop show. And Ani’s general suspicion of it all might be just her playing her role in the values of the larger world she inhabits.

Frustration with sexuality is also what’s hounding Paul Woodrugh, a CHP officer played by Taylor Kitsch. He’s suspended after getting a blowjob from a starlet he busts for reckless driving out on PCH. But if sex appears at first a vice of his, an indulgence, wait until you see him at home, or rather at the home of his hookup buddy Emily (Adria Arjona). She practically tears his pants off, but he retreats to the bathroom. Later he ditches her to ride out on his bike, turns his headlamp off, to see how stupid he can be while showing to the world he’s divided on the issue. Sex! Yes? No? Let’s be self-destructive while we decide. Of course it’s an internal problem or dilemma of some sort, but we don’t know its origin yet or any real reason for it. So we’re left watching his face flap in the wind.

All this character introduction is well and good, then, but feels flat without a plot. All we get of this, throughout the episode, is a car with the City Manager’s body in it, driven by a dude with a crow mask. The car is on its way to Mugu Rock, where the body is dumped. Paul, on his bike, happens to skid off the road right where it is sitting, and calls 911. Ray is called out from Vinci, Ani because the body is found in Ventura County, and Paul, well, because he found it. They all stand around the body—and we zoom and fade out.

So everyone is brought together, basically, because of a dude in a crow mask killing a City Manager who blows a lot of money on sex parties. Will the show generate obsessive internet speculation over the man’s identity? I doubt it: he isn’t menacing enough to really be interesting, yet. Something falls flat about it, and about the whole episode. But it’s a serviceable first introduction to a new, highly sexually-frustrated and family-unfriendly world here, and Pizzollato seems to like to move slowly. Maybe there’s enough interest in that world to keep things at work for a while, in the absence of any real mystery or detection.

I’ll tune in next week, but in the meantime, here are some general notes:

Evil. What the hell happened to evil? The first show was so striking not for serial killers, mysticism, Louisiana, Nietzsche and nihilism, but their total combination, and the ability of this to suggest that evil was afoot and incarnate, roaming around on a riding mower. A victim wasn’t just another victim: it was a cosmic tragedy, and was something two strange buddies had to rectify. The show, at its best, was actually an experiment of combining a detective story with the horror genre, the sense that the world was actually a different and much more fearsome place than the one we think. Of course, it was only in the last episodes that we really realized how very much of a buddy comedy it was, too: the type of show where Marty can get hit in the chest with an axe and of course doesn’t die. But the point is that this was how the show made what felt like a genuine approach and revival of noir. Instead of the steely Philip Marlow indifference towards the dead as just another byproduct of society, the true detective was consumed by otherworldly forces that seemed to will wrongs to happen. That is completely gone in this new series. Utterly. Totally. What we’re given instead is a procedural. And so the most interesting element of the title—probably the only real reason for using the same series name—is also gone.

The milky lady in the City Manager’s apartment: Woah. What was that. It looked real. But then we find out it somehow is just another part of the dildo decor. I’m not sure if it is. Alan Sepinwall, as so often, had the best line on this: this was the opening of a door, only to shut it again. It felt like a mockery of everything mystical the first show involved, the way Rust’s hallucinations made the weirdness of the killer strangely more a part of the creepy insane world we were inhabiting. In that respect was very much like many elements of the show—such as the tape recorder Ray uses to talk to his son—which seemed to deliberately want to signal continuity only to reveal it to be a point of departure.

Narrative: The narrative is deftly put together. Pizzollato is, remember, the guy who put together most of the last series through retrospective narration, intercut with the present, and was responsible for one of the biggest yelps of joy my mouth ever produced when he brought his story into the present. Unlike some things that seemed excellent in the first series, this can only be pulled off with skill. Now, with a lot to juggle, and three characters to keep track of, the first episode moves along with surprisingly little effort, introducing us to people and a whole new world, at the same time as laying the groundwork for the rest of the show which will have them them together. I was impressed. Say what you will, the pacing is still great, and with that dead eyeless man driving through the whole story, the thruline is excellent. It could have been a little more suspenseful, yes, but no first episode of a series like this could probably pull that off. The shot of all three detectives that is the first episode’s culmination is a bit over the top, a little too triumphant—as if the story were saying, Hey! Yes! We pulled it off! They’re all here!—but the whole show is always over the top.

The direction: The direction seemed good. Some nice scenes of the ocean particularly. It’s not the first series, and remains throughout strangely imitative of that first show. Should this be the case?

The setting. L.A. is not La. When I first heard the show would be taking place in the north suburbs of Los Angeles, and that the Ventura County Sheriff would be involved, I was excited. I grew up around there. It’s a land of farms dotted with oil fields, dirt and dry grass next to the beaches. Something could be done with this that was similar to what the first series did, only now it’d look maybe like a mix of the Southern California of There Will Be Blood and Collateral. But then most of this episode was set in and around Vinci, which seems merely to be the industrial crud of Carson or somewhere nearby. This is disappointing, since it offers nothing of the sense of strandedness and isolation that is involved in the first series: indeed, the landscape was just as much a part of the show as anything else. There is still a lot of driving, but Ray also gets a parking ticket. The location, in short, is part of a much more social world than the last series, full of anything but lonely, empty plains and hidden, twisted communities that we came, weirdly, to enjoy traversing—though there is a sex cam shack hidden, rather improbably, in the middle of an Oxnard farmhouse. The episode ends at Mugu Rock, north of Malibu, however, and traverses a lot of PCH, so perhaps more action will take place along that strip.

Antigone: McAdams’ character Ani was easily the most appealing character in the show. She didn’t have the fucked up charm of Woody Harrelson, but she has something similar. She’s wound too tight on the one hand but also likes what it turns her into. She suffers no fools. But this toughness also seems like a weakness, and in that respect is just like the toughness of all the male characters on the show. It may be too close to father’s day, but I couldn’t help but feel that the confrontation with her father ended up attributing this disposition to his treatment of her, even when the scene was meant to prove the opposite. Her hippie dad (played by David Morse) doesn’t want to impose values on her, even accuses her of having a daddy-complex; she tells him to blow off, but ends up obsessed with values all the same, and isn’t afraid of telling people about them. There was a short shot of all the men roaming around naked in the locker room, contrasted with her putting her gear on by herself, which seemed genuinely interested in her lonely position on the mostly-male police force. But her emasculating conversation with her boyfriend was much more interesting, and seemed to be where the show really is concerned with her: “now’s not the time you want to talk about this,” she says to him when he wants to bring up something about “the relationship.” That’s not just straightforward, that’s right, and shows her toughness comes from a moral obsession as well as a knowledge of what commitment to any higher ideal means. Her dressing down of her sister, too, who she finds working in that strange sex cam house in the fields, is almost entirely in terms of a struggle to live life in terms of higher ideals. It may be that the show can really only get at her situation as a woman by seeing it as a moral one. Still, that’s more than the first show did with any woman, and it’s an interesting angle. Whether it makes her more like the boys, will be the question.

Flappy-face Kitsch and the ridiculousness of male drama. Men, on the other hand, are as ridiculous as ever. Colin Farrell seems serious enough to respect as a character. But oh Taylor Kitsch, what the hell are you doing here? Do you have a role? All you do is apparently screw hot women and then get angry about it. I’m really not certain what the hell he is here for. The scene of him on the bike, oh my. And his line about America. I’m perfectly willing to love the cliché in this writing: what are detective stories but clichés after clichés, well worn formulas that manage to turn out different each time. But “we fought for America”—a reference, I presume, to some sort of service with his higher-ups in Iraq—is something delivered in passing, it’s too pathetic an appeal even to be mocking. And so, in that flappy face of his on the motorcycle, we find really what’s going on: something trying to be too serious.

The music and the tone. I couldn’t help cringing a little throughout the show whenever I heard the music: those creepy strains were too serious for the sunny and generally cliché content. For some reason, the show has everyone always wondering how to address clichés. We’re more sensitive now about how the presence of cliché can reinforce things as much as play with them, because we understand well how postmodern irony and unseriousness can also be used to further agendas. There’s a way that the clichés of True Detective are a little too tortured. Vinci? Ray Velcro-I-mean-Velcoro? They sound like B-movie names. Maybe that’s what Pizzolatto is going for. But the truth is, we are willing to accept clichés now on TV when they’re a matter of psychology, when they explain behavior, not only because then we’re free not at all to participate in them, but because this gives them some clear purpose. So I can clearly say Ray’s beating the bully’s father figure is so over the top, and so classically, hilariously Freudian, it’s probably the best part of the first episode. But I feel certain in saying that only because it is also done by someone who I can also dismiss as a horrible asshole. When the whole show is cliché, we don’t have the same freedom to pick and choose what seems camp and what seems simply over the top, what’s simply play and what is trading in and reproducing well-worn and ugly ways of viewing the world. Making us guess like this is a way of restoring freedom to an author, though.