The first episode, entitled “Western Book of the Dead” follows four main characters: highway patrol officer Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), Vince City Detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), State CID officer Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) and crime boss Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn). The story takes places in the city of Vince, a fictional Californian city filled with corruption and organized crime. Velcoro is a crooked detective discreetly paid by Semyon to take care of his dirty business. Officer Woodrugh is a war veteran struggling with what seems to be post-traumatic stress disorder. His job as a motorcycle patrolman seems to help him cope with his trauma. Officer Bezzerides is a highly qualified and skilled officer in the State CID who is completely devoted to her career, while trying to distance herself from her father, who is a preacher in a strange religious organization. Frank Semyon is a crime boss who hopes to become a legitimate businessman by investing gang money into an upcoming project to create a high speed railway system across California. His plans are interrupted by the untimely disappearance of a city manager who was supposed to broker the investment deal with the Russian Mafia.
Honestly this episode was rather frustrating to watch. Each police officer was introduced separately and they do not meet until the last five minutes of the episode. Like I said in my review of season 1 of True Detective, the true magic of the show comes from the interactions between twisted and broken detectives while they delve into the dark corners of humanity. This episode seemed to get bogged down creating compelling and dark backstories for each of the FOUR main characters, which ended up consuming most of the screen time, rather than immediately focusing on the story and delving slowly into background and character motivations.
With that said I do not plan on continuously comparing this season to last season, and I did find some bright spots in this first episode. I found Detective Velcoro’s story rather compelling as the audience learns in the opening minutes of the show that Velcoro’s marriage fell apart after his wife was raped and beaten. His wife has a child approximately 9 months after the rape, and despite the boy’s questionable paternity status, Velcoro treats him like his own flesh and blood. I think this parent-child relationship will be fascinating as the season progress, growing and maturing. Velcoro is by no stretch of the imagination a good parent, but his love and affection for his child is expressed in small and sweet gestures, such as the little digital recorders he bought for himself and his son so that they can exchange audio diary entries and express the emotions they have trouble expressing in person.
My feelings about “Western Book of the Dead” are very mixed. On one hand, I am very excited by the overall mystery, which involves a criminal conspiracy in the construction of the California high speed rail system and it was rather fun to watch veteran character actor Timothy V. Murphy play a Russian gangster. Pizzolatto proved last season that he can create conspiracies with great finesse and detail. On the other hand the episode felt very tedious and dull as I was forced to sit through basically four separate background pieces until the larger mystery came together at the end. With the lack of character interaction, the episode felt like it lacked a central driving force. Hopefully, now that all four characters have been established this episode, next week’s episode will be more compelling and exciting.