True Detective: Season Two - TV Review

There are copious and frequent SPOILERS in the below article. It is recommended that you watch True Detective: Season Two before reading it.

'Vaughn, the target of a lot of ire, is impressive in Episode One and Two, before he is forced to regurgitate the season's worst scripting, which he can't sell (could anyone?)'

The much-maligned True Detective: Season Two is not a terrible show, but based on the series' high standards to date and HBO's wider mini-series standards, it is a disappointing one. If that was the end of the criticism then perhaps its failings would be easier to forgive, but the background, the why and the how of Season Two's disappointments, are particularly disheartening.

The first comes during the bridge between Episode Two and Episode Three. The former ends with Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) lying prostrate on the ground, having been shot at point blank range with a shotgun by a man in a crow mask. The latter begins with him waking up. Had Farrell, apparently one of this season's main stars, stayed dead then not only would this have been a different show altogether, it would have been one signalling its intent not to conform to genre, or cliché; to look at most past cop shows and reject them out of hand. Instead, it dives in, rescues Velcoro from an early death and plods on with its plot, which is admittedly more ambitious than the standard police narrative. The rejection of Velcoro's early death though, and the cliffhanger presentation, is endemic of this season: True Detective has become, in some ways, less daring, happier to occupy a middle ground.

The ambitious plot too, has its own problems. The fact that True Detective: Season Two has a convoluted plot, or that it pads out its convoluted plot with superfluous detail, or even that it has to constantly explain all of the above in awkward exposition, isn't the problem. The problem with it is that it does nothing with the ideas it spends so long introducing.

Take the idea of sex and sexuality for example, introduced over the course of Episodes One to Three. Nearly every character has a problem of this nature. Velcoro is essentially abstaining (something confirmed in the final episodes), whilst he deals with the uncertain nature of whether he fathered his ex-wife's child. Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) is recovering from a childhood incident with a sexual predator and is introduced to us dashing out of a room where some apparently kinky sex has been attempted. Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) is gay, but is struggling to reconcile that fact with his macho personality and current female squeeze. Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn), true to his name, is in a cycle with wife Jordan (Kelly Reilly) where sex seems uninteresting and each is concerned they may be unable to have children.

'Pizzolatto deserves some sort of book to be thrown at him, possibly his own'

All of those strands, some of which (Frank and Jordan) take up obscene amounts of screen time, offer nothing to the plot. It doesn't matter that Paul is gay, or that Velcoro is revealed, finally, to be his child's father. Neither matters to how you feel or react to the characters or the storytelling. Frank, for example, is a failure of writing. By the finale he is meant to be this anti-hero avenger, out to do some level of good. We've been given no reason to see him as such, and his constant discussions around conception have contributed nothing to helping us to do so. Similarly, Velcoro's finale matters because his journey has been from one of corruption to one where he attempts to do the right thing. Whether he is his son's father or not feeds into that picture not a jot.

There are worse elements. There are inherent dangers with discussing the behind-the-scenes goings on between personalities in film and TV, as recent discussions around Josh Trank and his Fantastic Four film have shown. When the behind-the-scenes leaks onto the screen, however, as has plausibly been suggested for True Detective: Season Two then showrunner Nic Pizzolatto deserves some sort of book to be thrown at him, possibly his own. TV, in this sort of HBO-sponsored format at least, can be art, but great art never came from artificially inserting your hissy fit into the narrative. At best, Pizzolatto is guilty of ungraciousness and pre-Maddonaism. At worst, it's a creatively bankrupt move that shows a talented creative force throwing away the opportunity afforded him. Either way, I'd challenge anyone to find a positive reading of what is, admittedly, a very small part of this season.

What of the good? The cast are as great a choice as they were ever going to be. Vaughn, the target of a lot of ire, is impressive in Episode One and Two, before he is forced to regurgitate the season's worst scripting, which he can't sell (could anyone?). Kitsch and McAdams are perfectly fine, the former doing 'black ops bad ass' in his sleep, the latter convincingly treading a line between concern, brittle outrage and personal anger. Farrell is probably the best he has been, although for me that is still a distance from the rave reviews he has been given in some quarters.

Like all tragedies, which is what Season Two is, the finale has an air of inevitability about it that extends further than just the conclusions for the main characters. Frank and Jordan devolving even further into bizarre Noir fantasy cliche ('you wear a white suit, with a red rose in your pocket'), was inevitable. The reveal of minor characters (Nails and the bartender Felicia) back stories in overplayed, over-talked exposition, that tried far too late to have an impact on the lead's characterisation was inevitable. The fact that there's something going on with fatherless children around every corner was inevitable. The fact that Ray and Frank meet their deaths along roads they set out on long ago, that they do not get to have happy endings was, yes, inevitable.

When I turned on the finale of Season One - which I've been desperately trying not to mention here - there was not one single thing which I thought was inevitable. True Detective: Season Two is fine, it's not a terrible show. But it is a long way from the genre-busting outing that it could have been, a long way from Season One, a long way from brilliance. Perhaps even, you could say, inevitably so.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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