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True Detective season 2, episode 4: dad problems, sex problems, and a great shootout

HBO

Warning: I’m about to thoroughly spoil several aspects of True Detective season two, episode four. If you haven’t watched "Down Will Come," look away!

With four episodes under its belt, True Detective's second season is still all about man problems, and "Down Will Come" didn't do much to buck the trend.

The show has been stumbling forward with some shaky script work from writer Nic Pizzolatto, especially with regard to delivering exposition and crafting colloquial slang that sounds like something people would actually say. (Last week's "You ain’t that thing no more. What you used to was" was a stretch. Who says that? Find me one gangster who speaks that way.)

In that sense, "Down Will Come" is more of the same, for the most part. But the episode sets some events in motion that could mean an interesting turn from the humdrum of angsty men and clunky line reading.

For all the ways this episode dragged on, the warehouse shootout was incredible, and will make the investigation interesting again

Last week’s "Maybe Tomorrow" ended on a high note, with Ani and Ray chasing a masked man who torched their car. The scene provided some slick action and cast the villain as very close and very real, but it was an empty sequence that didn’t do much for the plot, all things considered. This week’s concluding shootout makes up for that by a mile.

For one thing, it's a total disaster. In an attempt to learn more about a woman who pawned Caspere’s watch, the crew winds up in a full-on firefight with drug dealers. With much more firepower than the cops, the suspects wind up killing most of the police — as well as quite a few civilian bystanders — before they’re gunned down. Only our three main detectives live.

And they haven’t been on the best of terms with their superiors throughout the course of the investigation so far. Ani is facing a harassment complaint from the officer in her department whom she's been hooking up with, and she’s convinced Mayor Chessani has something to do with it, too. Ray’s being investigated for corruption. Paul is dealing with war crime accusations from his time in the military and is still in trouble for allegedly soliciting a blowjob from an actress he pulled over on the highway.

It all plays out very similarly to the scene in episode five of True Detective's first season, when Rust and Marty sneak into Reggie Ledoux’s property to try to detain the man they think might be their suspect. Right after handcuffing Ledoux, Marty finds kids locked up in Ledoux’s drug lab, and shoots Ledoux in the head in a blind rage. To cover up the hotheaded mistake, they frame the scene as if there had been a gunfight.

The whole ordeal was an incredible testament to how little we could trust Rust and Marty as narrators, and that made for really interesting storytelling. We got to see how their narratives were twisted with subjectivity, edited to keep their records straight and their stories clean.

Once again, True Detective's main players have suffered a major setback with a big screwup. But this time around, it’s going to be a bit tougher for them to cover their tracks. Indeed, they don't have much leeway: The body count is huge, and director Jeremy Podeswa doesn’t dance around the brute scale of the violence. The final seconds of the hour dedicate a good chunk of time to letting the "well, shit" feeling sink in properly.

The firefight could be season two's tipping point: From here, there's a strong chance our lead trio might be kicked off the case in one way or another. If that happens, fans should be excited — it could mean an obsessive, off-the-books investigation, similar to what we had the first season — and that would make for an excellent twist.

Fatherhood plots mostly focus on good ol’ exposition, but they spice up the characters

True Detective

"Down Will Come" kicks off with the Semyons, grumpy because their garden can’t produce avocados and they can’t produce a kid. Fatherhood is Frank’s secret shame, a crucial part of his tightly maintained macho exterior. He has some telling viewpoints on adoption as "doing somebody else’s time," and it goes to show just how much being a dad means to his public image.

Later, Paul meets up with his girlfriend at a late-night diner, where she tells him she’s pregnant. He’s happy, or at least he seems to be, and they bury the hatchet with a kiss.

The show is starting to use fatherhood as a big frame of reference for its characters’ vices and demons. For Ray, fatherhood gives him a reason to clean up his act; for Frank, it’s a testament to his need for masculine control and assertive power; for Paul, it’s the struggle to live up to his idea of a traditional family man when his sexuality begs otherwise.

Everywhere else, fatherhood plots are just doing their best to move the story forward. An interrogation of Mayor Chessani’s daughter at a hookah bar ends with her calling her father a bad man. Ani takes another trip to her dad’s hippie yoga resort for some scattered clues.

It’s probably working out the clumsiest for Frank. One of the first things True Detective did really well in season one was take major actors we weren't expecting to be great — rom-com doofus Matthew McConaughey, for instance — and inventing engaging, believable characters for them. Vince Vaughn has posed that same challenge this season, but the formula isn't working its magic: It's hard to feel intimidated when he taunts fellow mobsters by talking about his pristine dental history.

Sex gets Ani in trouble and makes Paul reconsider some big decisions

True Detective

I have to admit, Ani Bezzerides and Paul Woodrugh are the only two characters holding season two together for me so far. They’re complex, they have good backstories, and they don’t suffer from the ills of iffy dialogue as much as Frank and Ray do. "Down Will Come" did a good job of keeping up that momentum.

For starters, Ani gets suspended for having a relationship with one of her subordinate officers. She’s quick to call out the chief — this wouldn’t be happening to a male detective, she says — though it doesn’t do her any good.

However, at least it’s a plot that relies on the unique struggles she faces as a woman, and that’s an awesome change of pace for a show that has often let its women sink into the background. Most of the time, they're more setup for male relationships than anything else — think of how little we see of Ray’s ex-wife or how little we see of Paul’s girlfriend except when she's waiting at home in bed for him.

In the meantime, Paul wakes up hungover in a stranger’s house, only to discover that he slept with his buddy from the Army, Miguel. He doesn’t remember much of the experience, and he storms out.

From there, things only get worse for him. He takes a cab to his hotel, where his motorcycle has been stolen and a posse of reporters are waiting for him, asking about war crime allegations from his time at Black Mountain.

He’s hit a new low, and catches a ride from Ray, where the two share one of season two's best car-ride dialogues yet. They speak honestly about their demons, but they dance around the specifics and forge some common ground because of it. "I just don’t know how to be out in the world," Paul tells Ray. They’re living in two totally separate universes, but they can connect on that much.

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