True Detective’s two central characters, Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) and Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), return to their true selves for the sake of survival in Episode 3, “Maybe Tomorrow.” And boy is the series better for the much needed character shift.

Semyon’s slow eruption begins at a fertility clinic when he rails against what he perceives as an “unnatural process.” His plot thickens when yet another dead body points to sabotage– someone is out to replace Semyon as Vinci’s head thug. This is when the episode gets interesting.

Semyon reverts to true thug when a mouthy degenerate challenges his virility. Semyon, who has been reverting to his mafioso persona by calling in old favors (Godfather style) throughout the episode, reclaims his kingpin status when he tears a vulgar grill from the ne’er do wells defiant mouth after a very short, but brutal fist fight.

Semyon leaves unscathed and makes clear to the others that he is the head thug. Previews for True Detective’s fourth episode indicate Mrs. Semyon is far from pleased about her husband’s return to the streets…and the plot thickens. Semyon isn’t the only character reverting to a more genuine version of himself in an effort to protect what’s his.

Velcoro, after surviving episode two’s much buzzed about attack, takes stock of his life. Contrary to previous criminal meetings with Semyon, his post attack encounter with Semyon is wrought with anger and tension,– both men feel threatened. Velcoro’s physical life is in jeopardy, but it’s the peril of his personal life that makes him behave like an actual officer of the law.

With the state digging around his past and his wife seeking full custody, Velcoro must earn his partner’s, Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), trust to 1) keep her from helping the state’s crusade against him (2) encourage her to share what the state has on him. The softer, vulnerable, lucid Velcoro is more interesting to watch– knowing he has something to lose helps the audience root for him. Now we are invested in a character, a trait the first two episodes of True Detective’s second season lacked.

Also noteworthy is Paul Woodrugh’s (Taylor Kitsch) movement towards his true self. There have been hints about Woodrugh’s sexuality in the first two episodes. Among the encounters that confirm his latent homosexuality are a fight with an old military buddy/lover and the comments of a male (homosexual) prostitute who laughs about using medication to satisfy female clients.

In the first episode, Woodrugh takes a blue pill that helps him have an intimate relationship with his girlfriend. While Woodrugh does not engage sexually with the male prostitutes, his tension and inability to look at them when they talk to him show his resistance is wearing thin, or his denial is at least taking a serious toll on him.

The primary driving force of True Detective’s (Season 2) characters is the conflict between  private self and public self in the context of sex and violence, which makes a statement about power that steers the plot. There are five episodes left to the second season, so I’m willing to bet the action will continue to intensify and the statement will become clearer with each turn.

True Detective airs Sundays at 9 PM on HBO. You can share your insights, reactions, and predictions in the comment section.