HBO Sunday Night Recap: Week of 7/12

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    Photo via EZB14.com

    Photo via EZB14.com

    True Detective: Season Two Episode Four “Down Will Come”

    If a good chef is receiving poor reviews when he serves a new dish, he may hastily return to his signature dish. In season one of True Detective, “Who Goes There” was similarly the fourth installment of the series, and was the episode that turned an eager audience into a cult-like following for the show. Episode four of season two, “Down Will Come,” was assembled using the exact same ingredients, but we the customers were apparently supposed to be oblivious to this. The stagnant season has been predictable, and without clear plot structure since its debut, and “Down Will Come” did little to help.

    The final 10 minutes of the episode, on paper, was everything we love about not only True Detective, but about action entertainment made for a viewing audience. Show writer Nic Pizzolatto used this scene to give the audience an adrenaline boost, like the one McConaghey gave us last year in an Emmy winning single shot scene with gunfire in “Who Goes There.” Sunday night’s final scene was visually satisfying, but it left us shaking our heads at its conclusion, wondering exactly what it accomplished. What we do know is that our protagonists were backed into a corner well before the fight began.

    Paul Woodrugh (Kitsch) found his world crumbling early in the episode, waking up to find himself an awkward walk-of-shame situation at a man’s apartment. To boot, as Woodrugh tries to flee the scene, he discovers that his beloved motorcycle has been stolen. Oh wait, there’s more – the press are waiting outside his hotel room to ask about the military crimes that we know happened, but not much else about. For the first time all season Woodrugh appeared at peace, in the middle of a bullet storm during the episode ending raid. Additionally Kitsch was allowed to speak, which is a nice change of pace, and he proved competent in moving the plot forward.

    New and improved Ray Velcoro (Farrell) may not be Colombo, as he lamented to his superiors earlier this season, but it turns out he’s a decent mentor for his younger partners. His scenes with Bezzerides and Woodrugh (and to an extent Frank, but i’ll get to that) were among the best in the episode. Ray is no longer able to be a father to this real(ish) son, but he calmly lays his hands upon the shoulders of his partners and gives them paternal advice nonetheless. It’s a bit bizarre that a character would undergo such a revitalization in an eight-episode series, but Velcoro continues to be a character that you pay attention to on-screen. Ray also seems to somehow be the officer with the most job security, and my guess is that he’ll find his redemption at the expense of his life later in the season.

    Ani Bezzerides was beside herself at the end of the gunfight, but who would blame her as the lead officer in what was essentially the Bay of Pigs: Los Angeles. While she is in therapy for extreme PTSD, she can also discuss the blatant office sexism that has landed her on suspension, along with her gambling debts and extracurricular sexual activities with coworkers. Bezzerides has been relied upon to move things along all season, and I think that was the goal last night when she spoke with her father about the goings on at the Chessani house growing up. Pizzolatto seems destined to once again provide an extremely vague antagonist in the form of wealthy men bound by occult brotherhood to perform sexual crimes in animal masks. If you blinked, however, you missed that line about the Chessani family, and frankly the first 35 minutes of the episode were boring enough that you were probably blinking.

    Frank (Vaughn) is once again using his word of the day calendar in a way that makes him less believable by the minute. I mentioned earlier the quality of Velcoro’s scenes with the other characters, and this would have qualified had Vaughn not struggled to deliver the lines believably. None of this to say that Frank isn’t an entertaining character, his freak out over the avocado trees was a comical reminder of the way we mortals find something to control when life offers chaos. Frank moves around the city strong-arming and making deals to keep his cash flow alive, in the process completely re-submerging himself into the life of crime he worked so hard to get out of. In other words Frank has now crossed the point of no return, and may find himself friendless in a dangerous town if he continues on his current path.

    True Detective fans are rightly underwhelmed with this second season, it lacks the structural integrity of the first season, not to mention the quality of script and acting. I don’t believe for a second, however, that anyone will truly stop watching. If there’s anything society loves more than the birth of something beautiful, it’s watching that beautiful thing wilt into a joke. Unless Pizzolatto pulls off an amazing comeback, we’re probably headed towards an ending that will leave us confused and frustrated. My suggestion: Let’s stay louche about it.

    Ballers

    There’s no better way to ease the tension of a 10-minute murder spree at the conclusion of True Detective than to roll right into Ballers right? Wrong! Well, wrong this week because the show finally got around to dealing with Spencer’s CTE (chronic brain trauma caused by concussions suffered playing football) and more importantly his denial of it. The shows co-producer Pete Berg (Friday Night Lights) was inevitably going to take control from his partner Mark Wahlberg when it came to topics like this because it is his wheelhouse. Spencer’s girlfriend insists that he see a neurologist, even leveraging her knowledge that Spencer’s client, Ricky, has been sleeping with his teammates mother. We also see the well worn plot line of Spencer trying to handle his client Vernon, or more specifically Vernon’s cousin Reggie.

    With the CTE portion of this show, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson finally reaches the limits of his ability as an actor. Johnson made a career of being cartoonish in size but he also found some comedy chops and became an A-list entertainer in the process. What Johnson hasn’t ever been asked to do is show the kind of emotion that Pete Berg demands from his actors. While Johnson hasn’t quite nailed it yet, working with Berg may end up having the same impact on his career that it did for Taylor Kitsch in Friday Night Lights. Spencer at first feigns bravado but ultimately opens up to his doctor that he is experiencing serious symptoms of concussion-related trauma, not to mention an addiction to pain pills. Johnson does an enormously effective job of getting us (or me, at least) to care for him as a character. Because football fans have seen some of their favorite players suffer the consequences of professional football, this story becomes real very quickly. I tend to doubt that Ballers will stick around with Spencer’s medical problems as a plot point, but this episode was interesting toe in the water for a topic that should get way more attention. (Quick note here: how upset is the NFL that this show is using their real team logos and diving into issues like concussions and pill addiction? Probably really upset.)

    Vernon and Reggie are dead set on a 100 million dollar contract, and this is fascinating because of the way current NFL contracts are structured. A rookie like Russell Wilson, making less money than his backup while leading his team to back-to-back Superbowls is going to be set on receiving a huge second contract. Vernon is feeling that pressure now, particularly in light of his buddy Reggie helping him blow his rookie deal. Spencer is trying to navigate around Reggie to convince Vernon that the 70 million dollar deal (40 guaranteed) he secured for Vernon with Cowboys is the best possible offer. Vernon once again declines and Spencer lets him know that he will no longer be his agent. A show exclusively about contract negotiations in the NFL would be worth watching. I’m curious to see how this plays out.

    Joe (Rob Cordry) hijacks his bosses yacht for a second, unsanctioned day to try and woo Victor Cruz. Cordry is finally given a few lines that aren’t mean to be comedy, and he delivers a convincing sales pitch to Cruz. Cordry continues to be a fun dynamic within the show, mostly comedic relief but he’s made a career out of that so he does it well. Ballers has mostly painted athletes as idiots, which may be fair but I suspect a decent portion of them are smarter than they come off. Cruz delivered one of the better athlete came’s in recent television history because he had a conversation with Joe that wasn’t pure nonsense. Ballers continues to be a fun second course behind a struggling True Detective.

    Kevin Hughes comes to Rocky Top Insider by way of WNML where in addition to serving as an Account Executive, he also created the station's first original content podcast, Hughes It or Lose It. A graduate of the University of Tennessee, Kevin has lived in Knoxville since 2006 and enjoys everything East Tennessee has to offer. You'll find him walking his dog, or potentially frequenting a variety of dimly lit bars mingling with his people.