"Finnish expat columnist and critic. Lover of all things geek. Living in Houston with his wife and three dangerously smart cats."
Let’s Talk About True Detective Season 2, Episode 7: Black Maps and Motel Rooms
Each week we’ll be delivering a conversation about the latest episode of True Detective, one of the best series on TV right now. Join us on the ride to the dark side.
Episode 7: Black Maps and Motel Rooms
We’re nearing the end. Next week is the season finale of the show, and last time we saw our heroes —
They were in the woods.
And not even close to being out. We open this second to last episode in a run down motel, somewhere off the main roads, covered by the endless trees. Bezzerides is still coming down from whatever it was they gave her, and Vera, their missing person, is knocked out cold. Woodrugh is going through the files they found, and the rabbit hole keeps getting deeper and more dangerous. Velcoro watches over Bezzerides, knowing a thing or two about what it’s like to come down from dangerous highs.
Bezzerides tries to clear her head. She’s killed someone, true, but a part of her recognizes that maybe she was looking for the opportunity, ever since what happened to her as a child. Maybe everything afterwards has been nothing more than build up to this violent crecendo. Velcoro listens, hoping to understand, when Bezzerides lets it slip that she “was in the woods for four days.” When Velcoro presses on the meaning, Bezzerides tries to push him into having sex with her. “This isn’t going to help you,” he argues. “It has before.” But Velcoro won’t have any of this, and he excuses himself out of the room.
Although, much later, the two finally reach a peak in their connection. Stranded in the motel alone, unable to leave and without resources to work, they take to a mutual pastime: drinking. But both are too shaken up, too broken now to fully enjoy the numbness of alcohol. In almost total silence, only conveyed through prolonged eye contact, the two finally understand one another. It’s not love, and probably not even lust, but when they end up having sex, it’s two people scared, vulnerable and allowing — maybe for the first time — for someone else to help patch that feeling. It is, for the first time this season, a truly humane moment, and McAdams and Farrell play it beautifully.
Returning to an earlier moment, Woodrugh finally finds what they’re looking for: motive. Caspere’s shares were devalued and redistributed after his death, allowing for the Russians and Mayor Chessani’s kids to pick them up at fraction of their value.
It’s a start. Velcoro decides to head to meet Semyon in order to find out what he knows about Irene Ruflo, the Mexican girl who was executed in the previous episode. Bezzerides stays with Vera so she can be questioned upon waking. Woodrugh, on the other hand, receives a text message: pictures of him and his former Black Mountain partner being intimate. It’s blackmail.
More than likely the same pictures that Dixon, Velcoro’s former partner who lost his head in the major shootout in Episode 4 was taking. Woodrugh, making his biggest mistake so far, and keeps it a secret from the rest of the team.
Yup. Like Semyon said previously, self-deception is the biggest lie we tell ourselves. Woodrugh just isn’t ready to out himself, and too stubborn to let anyone help — at least yet.
Instead, he packs his mother and fiancee into a car and drives them to a hidden location — another ramshackle motel god knows where — and leaves them in hiding. It’ll all be over soon, he promises. The air is thick with all kinds of awkwardness, and before anyone can raise further objections, Woodrugh hightails it out the door.
Oh, I’m sure that’s going to go so well.
It’s not exactly his best plan so far. But it’s becoming pretty clear that everything that went down last week is going to have a ripple effect so violent that people better find shelter, and fast.
So Bezzerides is going to get her sister to safety, right?
Precisely. First thing she does is call her and her dad. They need to leave, head somewhere north and stay there — at least until this case is over. Surprisingly, it’s Bezzerides’ former partner who shows up to help. In what is probably a first for Bezzerides, she openly acknowledges her shortcomings in the interpersonal skills department, while her partner apologizes for his childish behavior. In the end, they hug one another, finally on the same wave length. Her partner also gets the best line in the episode. As Bezzerides wishes her family goodbye, she gives each a hug. “Wow, three a day, must be a new record for you,” her partner quips.
Bezzerides also makes a connection with her father when she reveals to him that she finally remembers the face of the man who attacked her all those years ago. It’s revealed that Bezzerides was gone for four days, the implications of which are left hanging in the air like a heavy, dark stormcloud. Her father breaks down, expressing his sincere wish he would have been a better parent, and given her an easier life.
“I wanted to not be my father so bad, it –” he begins, and it’s clear Bezzerides understands the vicious cycle they’re in. Him rejecting his father, and her rejecting him. Round and round it goes. It’s still uncertain whether or not Bezzerides will make it out alive from this, but for now, the hatchet is buried between the two.
Still fuming over the soured deal with the Mexican cartel from last week, Semyon is ready to tear off heads in all directions. Velcoro finds him tossing cards at an empty poker table. It’s here that things start becoming even more clear, as Velcoro lays down everything on the table.
Blake, Semyon’s right hand man who had been disappearing on his own little side-adventures, has been rigging the game this whole time. He works with the Russians in buying out the liens on clubs from underneath Semyon. He killed Stan, after Stan found out what was happening all the way at the start of the season.
Everything big that had gone wrong with Semyon, how all others seemed to be one step ahead of him, all of that traces back to Stan. The Mayor of Vinci? Just a drunken buffoon. His children are working with the railway corridor to muscle him out. It’s been a shadow war, one that nobody clued Semyon in on.
In return, all Velcoro wants is the name of the man who sourced Semyon and pointed Velcoro in the wrong direction all those years ago.
“You’ll have it tonight. Can you show yourself out, Ray, I need to figure out the ins and outs of this,” Semyon requests, barely containing his fury. The moment Velcoro is gone, he tears the side off the poker table. The gloves are off.
Can’t imagine Blake is going to get off easy.
No, he isn’t. Semyon invites Blake to the office the next morning for a drink. His former protege drops a wad of money on the desk — “It’s yours,” he beams. “Some of the girls had a private night.”
(It should be noted here that Vince Vaughn is terrifying in this scene.)
Semyon circles him like a shark its prey. Blake senses that something is off, but tries to play the fool. Soon, Semyon can’t hold back any longer. He smashes his whisky glass into Blake’s face, and proceeds to beat the hell out of him on the office floor.
Blake comes completely clean: Everything has been taken. The clubs, the people who used to be loyal to Semyon. Nobody has is left. It’s only a matter of time before the Russians put a bullet in Semyon’s head. The only out is a deal going down the following night, where the Russians are buying out Caspere’s shares of the railway corridor. Semyon will be left as the fall guy, and driven out — or put in a shallow grave. Still, nobody knows who killed Caspere, since that wasn’t part of the original plan.
What about the man, Semyon pushes, the man who they sent Velcoro after? Who was he? A nobody. Some guy who thought Blake owed him money. Blake saw an opportunity and a way to get in Semyon’s good graces. Velcoro, his tragedy, all the good that Semyon thought he was doing — nothing but footnotes in a pissing match between ants.
Blake pleads with Semyon — the Russians don’t know that he’s been made yet, he could work for Semyon on the inside, a triple-cross! Semyon nods, suggesting that he has something for Blake to do.
It’s then that Semyon shoots Blake through the gut, leaving him gurgling his last moments on the floor.
“You used to be so full of potential — now you’ve shit on my carpet.” Semyon spits, as he towers over his former protege.
Semyon takes stock on who he can count on. Nails, his only loyal man, and Jordan — who arrives just after Blake has been murdered. Nails suggests to divert her, to keep Jordan out of the business still, but Semyon wants her to see this. As expected, Jordan doesn’t even flinch. She calculates the situation, and the love she has for Semyon, and asks what needs to be done.
Semyon has a plan; they’re getting out. Jordan needs to pack their bags and wait. Semyon will crash the Russians party and the two will leave the country. All they need is a couple more days. Upon Jordan’s agreement, Semyon arranges for quick money, plane tickets, and — most importantly – enough weapons to occupy France. Even if it is just him and Nails, they’re going to do some major damage before going out into that good night.
So that’s a no on delivering Blake to Velcoro then.
True, but Velcoro has bigger problems. He drives to meet Davis, his boss and the woman who put their special team together last episode. Only thing is, she’s been shot dead and left in her car. Whoever did it knew that she’d be meeting Velcoro. She was also the only person who knew that Velcoro, Bezzerides and Woodrugh were on the case, and now she’s gone.
Velcoro flees the scene as fast as his car will let him. Whoever wants those files back, their retalation is coming down hard and fast.
Why not take the case to the FBI, or state detectives?
We don’t know how deep the conspiracy goes, or who’s in on it. Bezzerides finally gets a chance to talk to her missing person, Vera, and turns out she wasn’t missing in the first place — she willingly went. In her view, she had a good thing going. All the things money could buy, and one night every so often in a trade-off. She has no regrets, and is hostile towards Bezzerides that she was “taken” from that world.
But she does reveal information on the attorney general, Caspere — everyone went to these parties like the one we saw last week. Caspere had a special girl in particular — Laura, who Vera points out in a photo – that got treated the best.
Another girl took photos of the parties, with the intent to blackmail. It’s these photos that led Bezzerides to find Vera. That cabin painted in blood we saw last week? That’s all that remains of the girl.
Vera’s sister arrives to pick her up, and Vera throws a fit. She refuses to return to a normal life — especially with her sister. Bezzerides is having none of this: If Vera returns to the Russians, Bezzerides will contact them and tell them that Vera has been working with the cops. Then they’ll paint another cabin with her blood.
This is when Velcoro shows up. Davis was killed with a weapon that belonged to him. One of the many he kept in his house. Whoever is trying to discredit them, it’s from the inside.
Woodrugh investigates deeper into a brutal double murder and robbery that occurred in the early ‘90s, something talked about in the previous episode. During the L.A. riots, a jewelry store was robbed, the owners killed, and the only witnesses were two kids — a boy and a girl. Woodrugh pulls up the state’s evidence — the people who did the investigating on the robbery? Holloway and Burris, who are now police chief and lieutenant. The third man working the case is none other than Dixon, now deceased. At the same time, Caspere was working as an accountant for the police.
As he begins to print the files out, Woodrugh sees the latest wanted listings. At the top: Bezzerides, wanted for the murder of the security guard. At the same time, someone watches Woodrugh working from the shadows, but we don’t see who.
Velcoro and Bezzerides go over the evidence once more. Who is Laura? Why was she special? Bezzerides points her out from a photo taken at one of the sex parties. Velcoro pauses, that’s not Laura, that’s Erica — Caspere’s secretary.
Theory: The Birderer just might be a she.
Woodrugh joins the team at the motel. Together they try to piece what little information they have into a coherent whole:
Holloway, Burris and Dixon orchestrated a jewel heist during the L.A. riots, which resulted in the deaths of the parents who owned the store. The robbery was buried under masses of other cases, and the trio got away clean. Years later Holloway and Burris are running Vinci PD, and with it the entire city. Meanwhile, Dixon appears to be working for another party, and has photos and info on everyone — possibly the people running the Railway Corridor project through Ventura.
At some point, Laura became Erica — but the question remains, who was she before that? Bezzerides presents the case that Erica is the little girl from the jewel store heist.
But because Vera refuses to talk, the trio have nothing to go on just yet. Nobody would believe them without a witness, and Bezzerides and Velcoro are now wanted fugitives.
It’s then that Woodrugh’s phone goes off again. More pictures, now with a message: “Hall of Records, midnight.” Foolishly, Woodrugh lies again and leaves.
I’ve said it before, but his problems would almost always be solved if he just knew how to talk to people.
It is a recurring theme. After all, we’ve just witnessed in the past few episodes how communicating has helped both Semyon and Bezzerides inch closer towards something resembling happiness. For Semyon it was closeness to his wife, with Bezzerides it’s closeness to the human race.
But Woodrugh has shut himself away for so long that I don’t think any communication will help him anymore.
So, does he meet the blackmailers?
Yes, but before he does, Semyon gets unexpected visitors.
Right after he warns the mayor of Vinci that he’s being muscled out by his own children (potentially putting another dangerous ball in play), Osip, the leader of the Russian’s, who backed out of Semyon’s deal way back in episode one, arrives at the casino. They’ve bought everything, he informs, and now own all that once belonged to Semyon.
Semyon plays dumb — though he knows, and we know, that Blake already spilled everything. Even when Osip asks after Blake, Semyon shakes his head like he has no clue. Osip is on top, and he offers Semyon a chance to run the casinos — on salary, of course. It’s quiet smugness, seeping into the conversation like mold. Semyon accepts. What choice does he have, he argues.
The charade lasts until a few hours later, when Semyon clears the casino over a “gas leak,” and proceeds to empty all of the money out of the safe. When Osip’s new security henchman questions the supposed leak, Semyon shoots him in the head. Not content with just that, he truly does release a gas leak in his wake, and sets the casino to burn in time.
What follows next is Semyon’s total return to the monstrous gangster he tried to leave behind. Like the boogeyman, he stomps through all the clubs, casinos and bars that the Russians bought from under him, emptying them of their money, and burning everything to the ground.
When we last see him, he’s standing by his car atop a hill, overlooking the destruction in his path. Beneath him, portions of the city burn. He’s going to war.
Damn. Finally everyone is fighting back!
Nobody is going to lie down and take the punishment, that’s for sure.
Meanwhile, Woodrugh arrives to the Hall of Records, but hesitates as he approaches the meet. He dials Velcoro — he’s walking into something and it feels wrong.
“So don’t go,” Velcoro advises. But before Woodrugh can turn and leave, he spots Miguel — his former Black Mountain partner and lover. The man he spent a night with.
Woodrugh marches up to him, demanding answers. Miguel still works for Black Mountain, but they’ve rebranded. They’re now Ares Security, working exclusively for the Railway Corridor people. The same ones out for blood. Woodrugh has walked right into a trap.
“You’ve got more eyes on you than you know, get inside,” Miguel orders. They descend deep into the tunnels beneath Vinci. Down there wait the rest of the security crew — and their boss, Holloway, the chief of police of Vinci PD.
“None of this would have happened if you’d just been honest with yourself,” Miguel taunts Woodrugh.
Holloway demands the contracts back, and Velcoro and Bezzerides. Woodrugh bluffs and accepts, but demands to set a meeting somewhere else. As he pulls out his phone to call Velcoro, he lulls Holloway into a false sense of security, grabs him as a human shield, and turns the tables on his former team.
So he calls for help, right? Right?!
Uh, no. He brutally knocks Holloway out cold, and proceeds to run for dear life into the darkness of the tunnels. The chase that ensues is terrifying to watch. Woodrugh runs and hides the best he can, but realizes that his only choice is to fight. Kitch, once again, shows just how great an actor he is, by portraying Woodrugh as completely at home and natural in his surroundings. He’s no longer fidgety or hunched, but a lean, mean killing machine.
Even Miguel isn’t spared from his wrath, as Woodrugh uses him for another human shield, allowing Miguel’s head to absorb bullets meant for him, and peppering his former team with lead in return.
Wait, he survives? Woah.
Yeah. He takes out everyone. Finally, he spots an exit. One of the ladders that he was brought down from. He ascends from the darkness into almost angelic light, despite it just being fluorescent bulbs.
Woodrugh makes his way outside, back into the night. He reaches the street, and is ambushed by Burris, who shoots Woodrugh in the back.
Woodrugh slumps down, already dying. His stomach is covered in blood. With his last strength, he crawls forward, spewing hatred at his attacker. “Fuck you. No. I won’t die like this. Fuck you.”
He reaches for his gun, and Burris fires another round into his skull.
Woodrugh slumps down, dead, as Burris disappears into the night. The last thing we see is the pool of blood underneath Woodrugh grows larger.
True Detective airs Sundays on HBO.