“You could almost call what he feels a kind of jolly calm” (610).
When Fuller and I begrudgingly made our way through True Detective‘s disappointingly flat Season 2 (which likely has the type of hidden artistry of Lucas’ prequel trilogy and which definitely shares its conspicuous failure to express that artistry), I remember us discussing the shootout scene at the end of episode 4. Fuller joked that they’d have a lot of goddamn paperwork to do in episode 5, and sadly, this presented itself as a more intriguing scenario than whatever Pizzalatte would likely cook up in its place. We also noted that the scene showcased Paul in his element. It awakened in him something essential and instinctive, an unshielded self he had no choice but to embody. This provided an interesting contrast to the shielded social persona he was trying to convince everyone, himself included, was really him. It was a coming-out party, without the social stigma Paul associated with the sexuality version of coming-out.
That’s an elaborate set-up to explain my response to Gately saving Lenz from the Nucks (who were perhaps rightly seeking retribution for Lenz’ heartless dog murder, which Green had witnessed). First of all, the whole parked car on the wrong side of the street shenanigans in an absurdly short window of time that establishes a bizarre mood before the fight is brilliantly conceived (and, of course, exquisitely written). We’re with Gately throughout the entire thing, and it is thrilling. His anxieties about his Live-in Staffer responsibilities, and then the complete surrender of his Live-in Staffer persona, necessitated by the fight-or-flight mode brought on by the cartoonishly villainous Nucks and their beef with Lenz, who had “that Nietzschean supercharged aura of a wired individual” (605). Although “you have to let them [the residents] learn for themselves,” when something clicks inside of you, it clicks, and there was no going back for Gately once his neural wiring started firing on all fronts (e.g. “his subdural hardware clicks deeper into a worn familiar long-past track”) to get him ready for a battle (604, 612). Remember, 99.9% of what we do is completely beyond our control. We can’t help our programming.
And oh man but the paperwork that might follow…and that fucking Log…
Anyway, time slows down, and we’re in the middle of all the action happening at once. We’re seeing the idiosyncratic, totally believable and convincing in-character responses of all Ennet House residents; we’re appraising the environment (“stars hanging in a kind of lacteal goo”); we’re seeing Joelle’s mad scramble to take control of the scene and Gately’s revelation about Madame Psychosis; we’re seeing Lenz “pouring a diarrheatic spatter of disclaimers and exhortations into Gately’s right ear”; we’re seeing the awkwardness of a real fight “outside choreographed entertainment”; we’re seeing Gately “SHOT IN SOBRIETY“; we’re seeing “Erdedy staring Copernicanly up [Joelle’s] flapping robe” and thinking, before the peeping thing, “that this deformed girl likes Don Gately in an extracurricular way,” which is then how we, the readers, read the rest of the scene, through this Joelle-likes-Gately lens (606, 611, 613, 614, 615). It’s all nice and exciting and “the night’s so clear the stars shine right through people’s heads” (617). It’s weirdly serene and gorgeous, this fatal fight.
And before it all, there’s this wonderfully true bit: “Gately’s snapped to the fact that people of a certain age and level of like life-experience believe they’re immortal: college students and alcoholics/addicts are the worst: they deep-down believe they’re exempt from the laws of physics and statistics that ironly govern everybody else” (604). Feel that? A faint glimmer of recognition? Or is it startling, blinding revelation? Oh wait, that’s you. You’re still no better than a college student or an alcoholic/addict. You’re no better than Orin. It’s all quite “picayune and, over time, as it accretes, unpleasant” (596).