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Pizzolatto Goes Down in Flames: TRUE DETECTIVE season 2


No Spoilers
No Plot

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.

images-2Given 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”:

nancy-kerrigan-and-tonya-harding-on-true-detective-season-2Come 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.

images-12Even 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.

Tres Amigos

UnknownLast 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.

The Dead

images-11Forget 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.

images-2And 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.

images-8This 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.

Gangsta Rap

images-3Forget 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).

imagesThis year we have a real Gangsta, played to cadaver-ish perfection by Vince Vaughn.

images-7Veteran 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.

Pronouns 101

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.


UnknownLast 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.

Femme Fatale

images-3Last 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.

BN-JD454_tdspen_G_20150629082903I 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.

Season 2

images-4So, 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.

images-6If 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.




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Why HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE is not Shallow


Boy, does Emily Nussbaum of the New Yorker dislike the female characters in the first season of HBO’s hit series True Detective. In her article “The Shallowness of True Detective,” (dated 3 March 2014 but already available online), she says the female characters are “paper-thin,” though she doesn’t insult the actors playing them, and that “none” has “any interior life.” She then compares them to female characters in shows we should like better, none of which I like at all. The problem with Ms. Nussbaum’s view of the show’s portrayal women seems to be her apparent lack of literary background — like classic noir-crime fiction and Southern Gothic — which is what the show (and its creator’s novel & stories) most resemble.

First of all, let me state most emphatically, that I am a feminist, though I’ve never been to see sexual harassment around every corner. That said, I adore classic and neo-noir-crime fiction, where the emphasis is virtually always on the male protagonists, usually narrated by them, and involves their getting involved with attractive women who are liars, whores, adulterers, predators, murderers, or all of the aforementioned, while said femme fatales maintain innocent exteriors. Don’t get me wrong: the males in noir-crime fiction aren’t angels, by any means, and that’s part of what I like about them: they’re interesting. But so are the women.

Think James Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice or Double Indemnity. Think Cornell Woolrich’s I Married a Dead Man, where the heroine is a liar, a murderer, a conspirator in a murder, and an unreliable narrator, to boot. Think anything by Jim Thompson, from The Killer Inside Me to The Grifters, from Pop. 1280 to A Hell of a Woman. Creator and writer Nic Pizzolatto’s novel Galveston has the same kind of characters, though they’re more mature in True Detective. So do his short stories. Pizzolatto doesn’t seem interested in women unless they’re classic noir-crime fiction women, and that means they’re going to be badder than they initially seem.

So, calling Marty’s wife, Maggie — played well by Michelle Monaghan, “the only prominent female character on the show … an utter nothing-burger, all fuming prettiness with zero insides” and “an outline” is ignoring the fact that no other character in the entire show, besides Detectives Martin Hart and Rustin Cohle (Harrelson and McConaughey, respectively) is developed (though Nussbaum does say that the show is only about those two characters, and I agree wholeheartedly with her on that, and she praises the actors’ performances). I didn’t even realize that the two black detectives interrogating/interviewing Hart & Cohle 17 years after their first investigation of the murdered Dora Lang even had names until my boyfriend, reading the credits one night, said, “Who are X and Y?” I had to look them up. They’re those detectives.  Tuttle, Ledoux, Charlie Lange, the other detectives — all male characters — are so cardboard, most of them don’t have names.

In fact, however, Maggie is developed, and not just a cardboard outline. She’s developed along the lines of the females in classic noir-crime fiction. And along the lines of Southern Gothic fiction, like William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, where sister Caddie, who’s not actually in the novel, has her story told by everyone but her: her retarded brother Benji who views her as a  mother figure, her older brother Quentin who views her as a love-worship object, and her younger brother Jason who views her as a whore (even while he wants to sleep with her himself). In True Detective — no spoilers here — what Maggie did to Rust Cohle in episode 6, and what she did to her husband Marty in the same episode, was calculated, cruel, and vicious. It’s also exactly what a noir-crime fiction femme fatale would do. Then she’d maintain her innocent façade. Ditto Maggie and other women in that genre of fiction.

Hart and Cohle are homicide detectives. They constantly see the bodies of dead victims, investigate the DBs (Dead Bodies), as they’re referred to in the show, and so the women and children in the show are objects to these detectives.  It’s a short step from seeing their victims and DBs as objects, to seeing all the women in their lives as objects. That includes Marty’s daughters, who, as teenagers, are clearly separated into the age-old, mutually exclusive Madonna/Whore categories. In classic noir-crime fiction, the woman is usually something to be won or possessed: she, too, is an object, even if she plays the villainous game better than most of the male protagonists in this genre do.

I love the show. Except for the convoluted Ginger-Cohle-Hart combo kidnappping & shoot-em-up scene in episode 4, which detracted from the show’s main forward drive, I think it’s some of the finest writing and acting since the first season of Damages or of American Horror Story. I gotta admit, though, that I also love FX’s Justified, where the women also take a backseat to the male protagonists. (Actually, this season, the female characters of Justified don’t even seem to be in the same car as most of the male characters, but that’s another post for another day.) I like intellectually and artistically challenging drama, and True Detective seems to be delivering that so far (except for the above-mentioned shoot-em-up, which bored me silly, but excited quite a few of the male fans, I hear).

Maggie’s not a “nothing-burger… with zero insides.” She’s just as calculating, deceptive, predatory, vicious, and morally shallow as Harrelson’s Martin Hart and McConaughey’s Rustin Cohle characters are. Maggie, her daughters, and the dead Dora Lange are also a lot more developed than the two African-American detectives re-investigating the original 1975 fetish-murder of Dora Lange, though every female except Maggie is quite a bit less well-developed, even if we’re comparing them to the females in classic noir-crime fiction.

And, I admit it, after all the bare behinds of the women in the show, I did appreciate the chance to get a good look at Matthew McConaughey’s well-developed glutes.

I’ll leave you with the opening credits of True Detective, about which Ms. Nussbaum claims this:

On the other hand, you might take a close look at the show’s opening credits, which suggest a simpler tale: one about heroic male outlines and closeups of female asses. The more episodes that go by, the more I’m starting to suspect that those asses tell the real story.

The opening credits are accompanied by the show’s theme song, “Far from Any Road” by The Handsome Family.

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HBO’s True Detective is the Best MiniSeries on TV


Wow. If you aren’t watching HBO’s new miniseries True Detective, you’re not living. This anthology miniseries — which means each year will feature new actors, characters, and story lines, though all will undoubtedly be written by the series creator and award-winning writer Nic Pizzolatto — is a riveting and fascinating neo-noir crime thriller. Its unusual style, flashing back and forth between 2012 and 1995, combined with its other fine qualities make it more than worth watching. More than the  drop everything right now because True Detective is on watching.

It makes True Detective worth talking about.

True Detective is, without a doubt, the most amazing miniseries HBO has aired since Deadwood, and the most stunning storytelling since ShowTime’s miniseries about Henry VIII and his family: The Tudors. These are the things that make True Detective worth watching — over and over — and worth talking about:

  • its flashing back and forth between two time periods
  • the chemistry between the main protagonists, brilliantly acted by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey
  • it’s about life, religion, choices, and the meaning of it all
  • it’s about a whole lot more than mowing the lawn
  • it’s got a kick-ass neo-noir theme song

I won’t spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but this week, starting Saturday night before the Super Bowl, HBO is airing the first three episodes again, so now is your chance to catch up. Because if you don’t watch True Detective from the first scene, you will never be able to follow anything.

The Story Is Set in 2 Time Periods
The premise of this first season of True Detective is that two homicide detectives, Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) are being questioned, in 2012, by two other detectives about the bizarre, ritualistic murder that took place in 1995, which Hart and Cohle supposedly solved. The show moves flawlessly between 2012, during the interviews, and 1995, when the detectives are working on the crime. Not only is the setting changed, but the characters dress differently and have completely different hairstyles, so the viewer always knows exactly which of the two time periods is being shown.

And it’s these two different time periods that make the show so fascinating because, while we know they’re discussing a murder that they supposedly solved almost 20 years previously, we don’t know why they’re being interviewed about it in 2012, and what’s happened between the two characters since then. That’s the first thing that makes this show intriguing.

The Chemistry Between the Protagonists
The chemistry between the protagonists, Cohle and Hart, goes far beyond the writing: McConaughey as Cohle, and Harrelson as Hart, also have incredible energy and chemistry that makes the characters come alive on a deeper level than some people ever attain in real relationships. In one of their many car scenes, while they’re investigating the murder in 1995, while they’re discussing life demonstrates this. Warning: Language

It’s About Life, Religion, and the Meaning of it All
Many of the scenes taking place in 2012 allow the individual protagonists to convey their opinions on life, religion, family, and the meaning of it all. But when the detectives Hart and Cohle are actually investigating the homicide in 1995, they get to interact in a way that reveals their individual flaws, which seem to be exacerbated yet simultaneously calmed by their professional pairing. When the two investigate an old-time-religion tent revival, their fascinating flaws and the bigger meaning of True Detective and what its writer is exploring is revealed. Warning: Language

It’s About More than Mowing the Lawn
So many books and movies and TV shows just slam you in the head with what they want you to know that it’s intellectually and artistically refreshing to find a show where mowing the lawn is about way more than mowing the lawn. Warning: Language

So, beyond the brilliant writing and story telling, the chemistry between the actors and protagonists, its exploration of life and its ultimate meaning, and the fact that even mowing the lawn is about way more than mowing the lawn — as if all that weren’t enough to make True Detective worth watching, it has a kick-ass theme song by The Handsome Family: “Far From Any Road,” that fits the show perfectly.

As I said earlier, there’s no new episode on this week since the show’s regular slot is Sundays at 9 EST, and this Sunday is the Super Bowl. Rather than competing for the audience, HBO is showing the first 3 episodes again, in a row, starting Saturday 1 Feb at 8 EST.

If I were you, I’d watch.

If you don’t, you’ll regret it.

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