True Detective Season Two Review
Moody and convoluted: two words to sum up season two of HBO’s True Detective. Failing to meet the expectations set by the brilliant first season, the second offering of True Detective had plenty of style, but suffered from too much substance.
Straight off the bat it was clear that the second season of True Detective would have a very different tone to the southern gothic horror that was season one. Set in the fictional Californian city of Vinci, season two swept through the seedy underground and smokey backrooms of a corrupt metropolis.
Aesthetically, season two was a treat. From the artful opening credits sequence against a backdrop of a growling Leonard Cohen, to the constant overhead shots of the stretching Vinci streets – cars flowing in different directions like capillaries in veins; the cinematography played an essential role is setting a moody, palatable atmosphere reminiscent of 40’s noir – detective fiction.
Of course the biggest difference of season two was opting out of the ‘buddy-cop’ dynamic set by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey and throwing in three true detectives (Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch) and one gangster-turned legitimate businessman-turned gangster again (Vince Vaughn).
Immediately season two made a point of knocking it over our heads that all our main characters are damaged and have issues. Farrell’s character Ray Velcoro is a high functioning alcoholic, bitter at the world and overly protective a son who he knows probably isn’t his (although was in the end, despite looking nothing like him); McAdams’ Ani Bezzeridies was abused as a child and now has an unhealthy relationship with pornography and knives; Kitsch’s Paul Woodrugh is a war veteran and closeted homosexual, ashamed of his true self; and Vaughn’s Frank Seymyon was locked in a room as a child and nibbled at by rats, apparently causing him to grow up to utter some of the most terrible dialogue imaginable.
The problem with four unhinged main characters is a lack of balance. What worked well for the first season was that Harrelson’s straight shooting, good ‘o boy Marty, balanced out and played off McConaughey’s pessimistic and destructive Cole, however in season two, it was all doom and gloom from beginning to end. It was as if with the success of McConaughey’s Rust Cole, writer Nic Pizzolatto decided to create four Rust Cole’s for season two. However, as it turns out, too many damaged and nihilistic detectives spoils the soup.
However by far the biggest problem with season two was the plot – it was complicated to say the least. I’m usually reluctant to complain about a complicated plot as I enjoy a story that you have to play close attention to, however True Detective’s narrative devolved into a dense and murky mess. In season one, no matter how convoluted the plot became about the occult, the Yellow King remained as an always present anchor to hold viewer intrigue. In season two, the mysterious ‘Birdman’ was swallowed by the dense spiderweb of Vinci city corruption making his eventual reveal anti-climatic. Ultimately, this season’s mystery just wasn’t that mysterious.
At least the acting was top notch, as expected. Farrell was the standout, with many highly intense scenes and the most complete character arc. Both McAdams and Kitsch were the best I had ever seen of them. Although Paul Woodrugh’s demise without any sort of resolution made Kitsch’s character feel ultimately redundant. Vaughn got off to a shaky start, unfortunately left to battle with some god-awful dialogue. I have no doubt that Nic Pizzolato is a brilliant writer, but for some reason he forced Frank Seymyon to sprout cringe-worthy lines throughout the entire season. Here are a few of my favorite ‘Frank-isms’:
- “Sometimes your worst self, is your best self”
- “Never do anything out of hunger. Not even eating.”
- “Spare me the sententious talk. It’s picayune and unctious.”
- “The world needs bad men – we keep the other bad men from the door”.
Despite being plagued with lines like the above, Vaughn’s character really came into his own towards the end of the season and was perhaps the most intriguing of the four leads. Seymyon’s concluding death march through the desert was nailed perfectly by Vaughn and was easily the most memorable scene of the season.
The finale was harsh, cruel but not out of place in a series which emphasized that justice rarely prevails. There were at least a few small victories to hold on to: Ani escaped with enough evidence to clear Velcoro’s name and expose the truth, Jordan was finally pregnant, and Velcoro turned out to be the father his chubby red haired son Chad (unfortunately Velcoro was gunned down before he could find out this information). Ultimately however, it was a somber ending and not at all cathartic. Velcoro’s final message to his son failing to send was a sadistic final blow.
Season two of True Detective was enjoyable, if only for its cool and moody style, some great action scenes and engaging performances. However, it suffered from a relentless array of damaged characters and a dense, at times unfollowable plot that became so intricate there was no hook for the viewer to seek their teeth into.
You can purchase season two here.
Or pick up the superior first season here.