Atonement comes in a myriad of forms in “Other Lives,” though very little of the action in this episode really seems to be in response to the bloodbath that ended “Down Will Come.” Rather, Frank Semyon and the three cops looking to find the murderer behind Semyon’s most trusted corrupt government official’s slaying spent even more time pondering the ultimate effects of their moral trespasses, not-so-quiet indiscretions, and criminal indulgences. Despite the modest but undeniable uptick in active tension and intimate, alluring backstory in “Down Will Come,” the latest episode comes off as no more nuanced or daring than the first three, distinctly uninspired episodes of True Detective Season 2. To paraphrase Vaughn’s bullish gangster, the series continues to have blue balls of the heart.
To be fair, creator and main writer Nic Pizzolatto does illustrate a change in the weather in regards to the fallout of the hugely disastrous attempt to capture Ledo Amarilla. For one, Velcoro has quit the force and joined Semyon as an associate and general tough, and his demeanor continues to be a brand of overtly agonized humanism, apparent when he attempts to collect money from a poverty-stricken Mexican family. Bezzerides, on the other hand, has simply been demoted to the evidence room, while also investigating a missing woman who she believes was involved with the season’s central murder. As for Woodrugh, his biggest trouble is his mother (Lolita Davidovich) using up his $20,000 nest egg, but neither his troubles, nor those of his colleagues, made any headway or, for that matter, revealed a new side of these lost souls. It’s nice and all that Semyon sits down for date night with his wife, and that Velcoro feels guilt for killing the wrong man, but they only add to the series’ malignant, shallow grimness, which neither makes for an interesting story or any insight into the show’s thematic interests – masculinity, sexuality, government corruption, belief, violence, and vengeance.
The only truly remarkable scene of the episode was when Velcoro beat the living daylights out of Rick Springfield’s effete plastic surgeon, if only because there was finally a sense of the character doing something ugly. Of course, that same scene is one of the few that actually moved the story forward, and thus, Velcoro’s temper and propensity for violent catharsis are essentially justified in the story. One might argue that the revelation of Velcoro killed the wrong man would qualify as an ugly act, but that only goes to underline how manipulative and evil Semyon is underneath his wanting to go legit. What “Other Lives” offers for the most part is more talk, detailing the cumbersome backstory and predictable narrative turns of the plot, none of which actually enlivens the proceedings or gives these characters any kind of genuine edge outside of the brooding, tinny cynicism that’s seemingly typified the entire season up until now. One of the final images of the episode is an empty torture chamber, stinking of rotting flesh and caked with dry blood, and there may be no better symbol of the show’s hollow mordancy.
★★ Fair — Only for the dedicated