Judging from the critical acclaim and the massive number of fans HBO’s True Detective s1 garnered, the show was virtually an instant hit. Starring Woody Harrelson as good ol’ boy Martin (Marty) Hart, paired with Matthew McConaughey as the nihilist detective Rustin (Rust) Cole, the first season threw its viewers into a maelstrom of corruption, kidnappings, and serial murders from the start, with Hart and Cole investigating a ritually murdered prostitute, bound as if she were praying to a tree, wearing a “crown” of antlers, with a spiral “tattoo” on her back. It was spooky. It was gripping. It was intense.
Given the tremendously fierce storyline from season 1 — despite its manifest plot holes — it’s no wonder fans and critics alike are more than a bit bewildered by TD s2.
As Sydney Bucksbaum tearfully wrote for E! Online, “[F]ive hours in, we still have no idea what’s happening.” Grabbing another tissue from the box on his desk, he added,
With only three episodes left in season two, you’d think True Detective would have picked up some steam by now. But instead, HBO’s critically-acclaimed drama served up another hour filled with nothing but long-winded conversations about…well, we’re still not sure!
Tyler Johnson of Hollywood Gossip, attempted to hide his bewilderment by quipping that
Maybe [creator-writer] Pizzolatto will not only deliver a satisfying conclusion, but also (as some fans are hoping) connect this season’s massive conspiracy to the one that was never unraveled last season.
Meanwhile, a sincerely disappointed Chris Mandle of The Independent wrote that True Detective s2 is
a show that’s flailing about without the big stars from last season, trying to make sense among a heap of convoluted plotlines, hammy dialogue and slack narrative.
And Huffington Post tweeted this meme for True Detective s2, starring Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan as the “true detectives”:
Come on, everybody: let’s stop being such Negative Nellies. We all knew that there was no possible way for season 2 of True Detective to be as good as season 1. Anyone who’d read creator-writer Nic Pizzolatto’s novel Galveston — as I had — could have told you that Pizzolatto’s talent is obviously extremely limited.
Even Rust Cole, as brilliant as he seemed in TD s1, was just a slight variation of Pizzolatto’s protagonist in Gavelston. The only difference between the novel and the HBO series was that the nihilistic protagonist had his “good ol’ boy” buddy Marty off which to bounce his “time is a flat circle” Weltanschauung.
So, let’s stop whining about how this year’s show is nothing like last year’s show, and look at the bright spots in True Detective s2.
Last season, we only got two detectives. Two. That’s it. And they did everything. This year, we have three. For the same price of admission. To make it even better, only one of the three is a real detective, and as of last night’s episode, most of them weren’t even law-enforcement officers any longer, having been demoted, suspended, or having quit. (It seems that Ray, played by a continuously stunned-looking Colin Farrell, quit his job between the end of last week’s shoot-out and this week’s opening credits.)
How cool is that?
Three cops of some sort, now three former or otherwise disgraced cops of some sort, playing “detective” to figure out the murder of some city manager.
If two is good, then three is better, right?
Of course, right.
Forget the fact that when Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ani (Rachel McAdams) saw all these sticks in the ground, one of them said, “Maybe that’s where all the bodies are buried.” We know there are no bodies this season except for one.
And let’s be honest about last season’s dead: there were too many of them. From missing children who were ritually raped and murdered, to missing and murdered prostitutes, to molested and raped young boys, there were just too many victims to keep track of. We didn’t even get all of their names. They were just gone. But we knew that they’d suffered hideously before they died. We knew that their families still suffered, never knowing what had happened to their children, sisters, and other family members. That’s really traumatizing for viewers.
This year, we only have one dead guy: a corrupt city manager named Casper. And nobody really cares about him. The reviewers and critics care so little, they spell his name about a dozen ways: Caspere, Caspar, Caspare, and Casper, among them. And the viewers never got to know him since he was dead in the first episode.
Yes, the prostitute with the stag-horn-crown was dead in the first episode last year, too, but we got enough of her story through the season to care about her and her degrading fate. Besides, her death was clearly the work of a serial killer. A serial killer the detectives thought they’d caught, but who was still active.
Casper wasn’t the victim of a serial killer. Casper’s just a dead minor criminal. And Casper’s “life,” which is being sporadically investigated, is, at best, uninteresting, and, at worst, a pulp crime fiction cliché.
It’s so much easier for viewers to be emotionally dis-engaged when there’s only one victim.
Especially when nobody cares about him.
Forget last year’s villain, the serial killing pedophile Scarred Errol. The creepy guy whose brutality drove one of his child-victims into catatonia, until she was reminded of him by Detective Cole, when she went into a screaming fit. Forget how Scarred Errol “planted flowers” with his own sister in that creepy house down in the bayou (below).
This year we have a real Gangsta, played to cadaver-ish perfection by Vince Vaughn.
comedic actor Vaughn is cleverly using only one facial expression for the entire season, no doubt saving directors tons of money because they never have to re-shoot his scenes. Frank (Vaughn) is such a bad Gangsta that when City Manager Casper disappeared with $10M of Frank’s money for a land deal, Frank couldn’t replace it. Ostensibly because he’d already mortgaged his house and business for (at least) a second time each.
Frank doesn’t even carry a weapon.
Instead, when confronted by other criminals, Frank head-butts the big fat gangsta-leader and then pulls out Fat-Gangsta’s gold teeth with a pair of needle-nosed pliers Frank just happened to have on him.
It is such a relief to have a completely innocuous Gangsta once in a while.
Gangsta-Frank has a beautiful wife, Jordan, played by Kelly Reilly. When she’s not calling him a “gangsta” — which he tells her he doesn’t like by repeating it about a half-dozen times himself — or calling him a “pimp,” she’s giving him English lessons. Like he’s Scarface or Don Corleone or some other gangsta who wasn’t born in this country and doesn’t know English as his native language.
Last night, some of her dialogue went something like this: “I’m me, you’re you, and we’re us.”
The only one she forgot was “they’re them.”
Let’s hope that one’s not on the test.
Last year, the “Yellow King” was on everybody’s lips. Nobody knew who or what it meant, but it seemed to connect some of the victims. After the finale last year, reviewers and critics had to interview Pizzolatto, crew members, and others to determine who, exactly, the “Yellow King” was.
Someone from the crew said that the skeleton in Scarred Errol’s maze was the Yellow King (above).
I missed that completely when I was watching the finale last year because I was paying attention to Detective Cole chase Scarred Errol through that maze down in the bayou.
We don’t need any Yellow King this season.
We got Pantsuit-Woman.
I can’t find her in the show’s credits, so I don’t know what her character’s name is, or the name of the actor playing her. But I do know that she has the power to give all three of the no-longer-cops-let-alone-detectives the “under the radar” authority to continue investigating Casper’s murder. Despite Ray’s, Ani’s, and Paul’s (Taylor Kitsch) participation in the big, bad, this-should-qualify-as-enough-action shoot-out which ended last week’s episode.
She also has the authority to help Ray get custody of his son, although she didn’t say how.
Pantsuit-Woman, she must be bigger than the NSA.
Last season, Marty’s wife Maggie (Michelle Monaghan), though she played the betrayed wife almost to perfection, was actually a frightening Femme Fatale, right out of the best 40’s noir fiction. If viewers thought she was nothing but a victim, they got their heads straightened out when Maggie intentionally and cruelly seduced her husband’s partner Rust by making him believe she cared about him. Then she told her husband Marty that she’d had sex with Rust, and that it was the best sex she’d had since before their two children were born. She claimed she wanted to “make Marty leave.” She couldn’t do it herself, she insisted. But she could seduce his partner and tell her husband about it afterward, intentionally hurting the two of them and destroying their relationship forever.
That was last year’s femme fatale.
This year’s villainous female is also posing as a loving and devoted mother: Ray’s ex-wife Alicia (Abigail Spencer), but she’s much more vicious.
I don’t know if she’s going to have sex with either of the other two “detectives” that Ray’s working with, because none of them are really partners. What I do know is that she’s going to do something much worse.
Not to her ex-husband Ray.
To her son.
She’s going to tell her eight-year-old son — after the paternity test confirms it — that the man who’s raised him, the man he knows as his father, is not really his father at all.
Nope, his real father is the guy who brutally raped and assaulted her.
Gee, thanks, Mom.
Love the full-disclosure-routine.
So, come on, you viewers. Stop complaining that you can’t understand what’s going on because, basically, there’s no plot to speak of. Stop whining that there are too many characters, none of whom are very interesting. Stop insulting the dialogue. Stop yawning during all the fly-over shots of the freeways.
If you don’t stop complaining, you’re going to make the ratings go down even faster than they already are: from 3.17M for the premiere, down to 2.36M for episode 4 (red = TD s1, green = TD s2).
Instead, look at the good in the show this season.
More detectives. Fewer victims. A Gangsta.
Free grammar lessons.