True Detective 2: Does anyone have a clue what's actually going on at this stage?
Warning this contains spoilers
Once you commit to the idea that True Detective 2 isn't trying to do what it did last year, it becomes a lot easier to enjoy.
In fact, the seasons’ penultimate episode lays thick an idea established a couple of weeks ago - this vexing, debilitating conspiracy was supposed to be almost impossible to figure out - and follows it up by tightening the screws and throwing the four leads into fresh turmoil ahead of a gripping finale.
After the intense drug-fuelled orgy last week, which ended with Ray, Paul and Ani whisking the missing girl off to safety, "Black Maps and Motel Rooms" opens, and ends, with the characters all navigating unstable, unfamiliar, hostile territory.
Each of the characters is thrown to the wolves as the violent, greedy conspiracy threatens to engulf anyone caught in the crossfire. We knew the conspiracy was wide-spread – the show's done nothing but hammer that home – but rather than untangle the knots and smooth out the creases, True Detective is content with using the scale and spread of the greed and corruption to smother its audience. And that's kind of a bleak thrill.
Frank learns his descent back into being a career criminal has been a long-con; the Russians are closing in on his empire whether he likes it or not, benefiting from the cheap prices of Vinci's very own real estate crisis and muscling in on his territory.
After beating a lackey so violently his bowels erupt over his already-disgusting orange carpet, Frank responds to the escalating danger the only way he knows how: torching the casino to the ground, forming his own one-man mission to rip off the Russians and escape with $12 million and a new identity. Hard to think a few weeks ago his only problems were mould-related.
Ray, meanwhile, realises that the unseen forces at play are stronger than he ever thought when he's framed for the murder of Katherine Davis, the law enforcement officer who brought him, Paul and Ani in on the case in the first place. The one thing tethering him to the law has literally been shot to pieces, and there's enough clues there to make it look like Ray, the corrupt, coked-up cop, was the one responsible.
As Caspere's favourite prostitute helps connect the dots, it unravels that nearly every red herring this season has actually been part of the plot, from the children orphaned by the diamond heist, the torture chair, and a blackmail plot gone awry. Not to mention the incriminating documents found at the mansion.
Like last week, though, True Detective is thriving by exploring the people at the center of the investigation rather than the satisfaction in providing a resolution.
We'll find out who did it next week, no doubt, but far more compelling is watching the fight-or-flight response thrust onto the leads.
While Frank plans to take flight and get out of dodge, for Paul his only option is to fight. After learning the first rule of Extramarital Affair Club - don't snog your gay lover near an open window – our hero is blackmailed into giving up Ray, Ani and the documents they swiped from the mansion by none other than his part-time beau.
What follows is a messy escape fighting against the chief of police through the cinematically rich tunnel complex that runs under Vinci itself (#symbolism!) but for our brooding cop Paul Woodraugh, his days of furrowing his brow and ignoring his wife's wellbeing came to a harrowing close.
Just as it looked like he'd get out of there alive, Woodraugh took two bullets to the back and met his end. RIP Paul Woodraugh. I hope there's some good looking angels up in heaven, because you deserve a break, buddy.
It's about time True Detective parted with one of its leads, and despite enjoying watching Taylor Kitsch's anguish fester and spoil over the past few weeks, his involvement in the show has always felt crucial.
The episode’s closing moments, focusing on his pregnant wife, in her motel room, was a sort of pointlessly poignant moment, since we know Woodraugh isn't in love with her and their whole relationship is founded on a blue pill he can take sixty minutes before a full meal.
And it's also true that True Detective slightly skewered the impact of a sudden shooting when Ray sprung back up after being shot in episode two.
But with Woodraugh gone, Frank's grand plan coming into play and Ray and Ani's surly bromance blossoming, the thrust going into the final episode has a much more powerful dynamic.
Speaking of Ray and Ani: that slightly-weird-but-lets-just-go-with-it hookup notwithstanding, those two have formed a surprisingly powerful alliance, so it feels a bit redundant having them hook up.
Rachel McAdams has a hard job being the first well-written female character in True Detective’s history, so seeing her reduced to a make-out scene with a guy, especially when that guy looks as unwashed as Colin Farrell, feels like it cheapens the work that’s gone into making Ani a complex part of the story.
But these two characters have played off each other extremely well all season, and this moment, while not feeling exactly earned, didn't feel as stupid as other parts in the episode, like the line 'Figured I'd drill a new orifice and f**k myself for a change' uttered by one character.
True Detective has spent seven episodes carefully laying the perfect trap. Now, with one episode left, it just needs to figure out how to get out of it in one piece.