True Detective Season 2 Review
Synopsis: True Detective season 2, is a crime anthology series written by Nick Pizzolatto. It takes place in California and follows the interweaving tale of 3 police officers and a former crime boss. When highway patrolman, Paul Woodrugh (played by Taylor Kitsch), finds the body of the city manager, Ben Caspere, on the side of the road, the state calls for the assistance of Detective Ray Velcoro(played by Colin Farrell) of the Vinci county police department, and Ventura County’s Officer CID Ani Bezzerides(played by Rachel Mcadams). The former mob boss, Frank Seymon (played by Vince Vaughn), who attempts to legitimize his business, loses his investment money after Caspere’s death and thus, launches an investigation of his own. Little do they know that what lies beyond Ben Caspere’s death, is a web of corruption, lies, manipulation, and betrayal.
Title: True Detective Season 2 (2015)
Episode Count: 8
Original Language: English
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: 6/10- Fair
Going into season 2 of True Detective, I had lofty expectations. Season 1 of True Detective was phenomenal in every capacity. From the interweaving of plot and characterization to the tension and build up, True Detective was a verifiable masterpiece. Rarely, have I seen such a dynamic set of characters as Rustin Cohle(played by Matthew McConaughey), pessimist turned detective, and Marty Hart(played by Woody Harrelson), a Southern-bred family man/detective. McConaughey arguably gave the performance of his career as Rustin Cohle with Harrelson also giving an equally strong performance. True Detective represents the golden age of television.
When season 2 was announced, I was excited and at the same time, scared of what might happen. All it takes is one bad season to tarnish the legacy that True Detective made for itself. And seeing actors like Vince Vaughn and Rachel McAdams playing integral characters, only served to heighten my anxiety. What was the result? The story of season 2 is bloated and confusing, with its characters being dull. True Detective season 2 is the perfect example of “Sometimes less is more.”
Firstly, the story is bloated. What I mean by bloated, is that there are so many subplots that interweave into one another, that it becomes are to keep track. The show has a difficult time juggling so many sub plots. Since the show only runs for eight episodes, and there are four principal characters, everything seems very crammed together. The show often jumps from the backstory of one of the characters to a new plot development. There are no transitions between the backstory and plot, so what we are left with is a bunch of disjointed developments and moments of light characterization. This is especially true for the characters of Frank, Ani and Paul where we are forced to listen to a backstory that has no relevance to present happenings. While I would love to watch Vince Vaughn get berated by his wife for not being able to get “It” up, it has no bearing on the narrative.
These problems are especially prominent in the first four episodes of the show. The episodes lack a sense of focus or direction. After Caspere’s murder, the show spends a lot of time on exposition. All the major players were introduced very quickly and superficially. We get an idea of their importance due to their social and political standing, but other than that, they are uninteresting. The show doesn’t delve any deeper into these supporting characters. All of this exposition is incredibly boring for the most part, and I found it hard to stay focused. The dialogue wasn’t gripping. It doesn’t hold your attention.
After a pivotal moment that occurs in episode 5 which changes the trajectory of the show, things begin to pick up. However, this happens much too late. The pacing becomes much faster with a major plot revelation occurring every episode. But the show doesn’t give the viewer enough to time to let these revelations have any real impact. You learn something new, but it doesn’t linger. Being bombarded with so many plot points in such quick succession, only nullifies the impact of the preceding one.
The finale is probably the strongest and most confident episode of the season. After the death of one of the principal characters, things become much more focused. Relationships between characters begin to mold and take shape. Events in the story suddenly become clearer thanks that character no long obfuscating them. There are emotional and poignant moments where brilliance shines through. However, due to the mess that was the rest of the season, a lot of the potential impact is gone.
The show also squanders the potential of most of its characters. Take for example Vince Vaughn’s character, Frank. Although his character is the most effected by Caspere’s death, the show does a poor job of depicting its impact. Instead of looking at the financial repercussions of Caspere’s death and how it truly affects Vaughn, the show would rather have him force out quotables like, “Just because you are bleeding doesn’t mean you are on the ropes.” Yes, as a result, Vaughn begins to spiral back into his old gangster ways but it isn’t a gradual decline as much as it is an abrupt one. Personally, it would’ve been interesting seeing him grapple with these two sides of him: the honest businessman who wants to stay clean, and the gangster who wants to coerce and intimidate others to get his way. Then again, that would’ve required more episodes and a tighter focus, both of which the season lacked. Vaughn’s acting wasn’t amazing, but it was serviceable. He didn’t lose himself in the role, but he strayed away from that lumbering, sarcastic, oaf archetype that he typically plays in all his movies. Still, they could’ve hired someone with more talent like Oscar Issac.
Taylor Kitsch’s character, Paul Woodrugh, is by far the most uninteresting character on the show. He is a painted as someone who struggles with his sexuality but the “struggle,” is virtually non-existent. Aside from a couple gay moments, we don’t see any sign of internal conflict outside of the first episode. His main purpose is to relay information to the more interesting detectives, Velcoro, and Bezzerides. Outside of that, he is essentially an unnecessary character who serves no other purpose than to be a messenger. His military past has no bearing on his personality or how he behaves in the story. Kitsch’s acting was tolerable but not amazing.
Rachel McAdams’s character, Ani, is probably the biggest example of the show’s squandered potential. Her personality is interesting as Ani comes off as tomboyish, cold and distant. She is a heavy drinker who has no problems picking fights with women or men if need be. If her backstory was handled better and she received more focus, she probably would have been on par with Colin Farrell’s character. The problem with Ani is that the moments where we do learn more about her life, it has little to no bearing on the show. Yes, it is important to establish a backstory but hers isn’t well defined as Velcoro’s for example. Her tattered relationship with her father had no effect on her relationships with the other officers, Velcoro and Woodrugh. You can tell she had a hard life from how she behaves but it never really hits you. You don’t develop a strong sense of empathy for her which hurts her character.
Last but not least, we have Colin Farrell’s character, Ray Velcoro. The show perfectly portrays him as a man who has lost everything. He is vulgar, impulsive, crass and short-tempered. There is a lingering feeling of him being lost whenever he appears on the screen. By far, Velcoro is the most fleshed out character in the show. His backstory detailed and expansive, but it also relates to why he gets so thoroughly involved in the case. His relationship with his son is probably the most tragic relationship in the show. Velcoro has a deep love for his, but there is a void between them that prevents them from being close. It becomes saddening to watch him struggle. His character arc is probably the only one that gets a satisfying conclusion out of the main cast. Colin Farrell gives an amazing performance as Velcoro. Rarely, does an actor immerse themselves in a role to the degree that Farrell does.
“We get the world we deserve,” is a quote uttered by Velcoro in the first episode. I can’t but feel that this season of True Detective is what we as fans, deserve. Although there are glimpses of something special, the show has too many problems that cannot be ignored. From the meandering plot to the flat characterization of the main characters, this season of True Detective is vastly inferior when compared to its predecessor. As a standalone show, it is much better than the latest derivatives of CSI or Law and Order. I would even go as far to say this show is probably one of the better shows released this year. But that still isn’t an excuse for its crippling problems. If the show were longer and much more concise in its execution, it would’ve been worthy of the title “True Detective”. Alas, what we end up with is something that is merely above average. Hopefully, Nick Pizzolatto learns from the blunders of this season and if he decides to write a 3rd, it will be more like the first in terms of its quality.