‘True Detective’ Season 2: Great, Awful, or Something Else?

Posted in The Screening Room by - August 11, 2015

The first season of True Detective was a resounding success, both critically and commercially, being yet another piece of the incredible “McConaissance“. It was weird, it was different, it had a tight narrative, and it had Rust Cohle spouting nihilistic statements galore. However, Season 1 wrapped up its own self-contained story, giving us a seemingly more ambitious Season 2. Instead of McConaughey and Harrelson we had now Kitsch, McAdams, Farrell, and Vaughn.  Maybe not as talented individually, but together they are legion. At least on paper. 

The finale of Season 2 wrapped up most of the plot threads opened throughout the eight episodes, once again tackling the issue of corruption among societal elites that can only be acknowledged but not stopped. Why is it that despite Colin Farrell’s tour de force performance that rivaled Season 1’s Rust Cohle, I left the finale feeling somewhat empty? Nic Pizzolatto clearly wanted to show that True Detective’s success was due to his brilliance, rather than the vision of Cary Fukunuga (who directed all of Season 1). We’re given four incredibly damaged leads (seriously, we couldn’t get one well-adjusted character?) who are tangentially related as they become caught in a web of conspiracies wrought upon by one man’s death. A man who was dead since the beginning of the  show. Herein lies Season 2’s primary issue: it tries to do entirely too much.

Numerous plot threads are introduced solely through exposition, characters we barely or never see are given a false sense of importance, and we’re investigating a murder of a character we have no reason to care about. Stan was the best, right? Wait, which one was Stan again? There was too much telling, not enough showing, and when we were being told, it didn’t really make any sense. The show tried to do entirely too much. It wanted to be a character study on broken people, it wanted to expose corruption on a large level, and it wanted to be a tribute to noir and classic detective stories. 

A one-off character was revealed by the end of the show to be the mastermind behind conglomerating all the money for the railway that caused so much conflict in the show. While this sounds promising and interesting on paper, we had only seen that character in one scene all season. One! He appears as a weird goofball, and now you expect the audience to buy him as the one pulling the strings in the shadows? It’s sloppy writing. None of the villains are interesting. I don’t care about the Russians, the Mexicans just pop up randomly as plot devices, and the rest of the villains are just mentioned. The lingering scent of evil is constant throughout the show, but we’re rarely given more than a glimpse into the darkness that True Detective so desperately wants us to embrace. Our characters are broken, yet Kitsch’s character exists only to never get his issues resolved. What’s the deal with his relationship with his mother? How will he deal with his repressed homosexuality? The show skirts around resolving these issues by just killing him off.

Introducing several plot threads only to leave them unfulfilled is not enjoyable television. Two characters that are revealed at the 11th hour to have committed the initial murder  is one of the most mind-numbingly poor writing decisions in recent memory. I hope you remembered the set photographer that had a minute of screen time 6 episodes ago because for some odd reason, that is now a major plot point. True Detective wants to be the smartest guy in the room, but it ends up as a guy who knows a little bit about a lot of things.

I’m not trying to say True Detective Season 2 was an abject disaster because I was actually engaged in the show, and the performances were quite memorable. McAdam’s hardass who was unable to connect with others was a great juxtaposition to Farrell’s fading man who desired nothing but a connection. Even Vince Vaughn’s return to gangster storyline had its high points. Unfortunately, an overly dense narrative prevents Season 2 from reaching the soaring heights of the first season. Occasionally, the show felt more like homework than a one hour escape every week due to the constantly enlarging plot web that may have seemed like a good idea in theory. These narrative missteps prevent a potentially great idea from realizing itself on the screen. I hope Season 3 (if HBO greenlights it) will take a more back to basics approach that allows for a more digestible end product. 

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He's a native Texan (YEE-HAW) who loves everything Michael Bay has ever touched. When he's not blogging, he's working on his mobile app, BoxHopp, or tinkering with his fantasy football lineups.
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