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Why TRUE DETECTIVE 2 Failed

Warning: Spoilers,
In Case Anyone Cares

images-9When Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson hit HBO last year as the mismatched detectives Rustin Cole and Martin Hart, investigating the ritualistic serial killing of a missing prostitute, creator-writer Nic Pizzolatto’s show became a minor cult classic. The nihilistic Rustin Cole, modeled almost exactly after the protagonist of Nic’s novel Gavelston, was a perfect foil for good ol’ boy Marty, who didn’t take anything seriously unless it was a new piece of ass and it wasn’t his wife’s.

Critics and viewers alike have complained that season 2 of True Detective, despite some of its fine actors, simply didn’t live up to the expectations generated by season 1. Todd VanDerWerff, writing for Vox, said,

After seeing all eight and a half hours of True Detective, season two, I think it’s fair to peg the entirety of the story somewhere between “massively disappointing” and “unmitigated disaster.”

adding,

I accept that part of the crime thriller genre will involve delving into the criminal underworld, into the darkest heart of what humans are capable of. It goes with the territory, and this kind of storytelling can be a safe way to exorcise those demons. But season two of True Detective was often oddly hilarious in what it considered transgressive. Everything from women performing oral sex on men to the drug Molly to Ani’s love of seemingly rough sex was considered, at one point or another, super “edgy,” even though all of these elements have ceased to carry much ability to shock in decades.

Meanwhile, over at Variety, Matthew Chernov was equally succinct about True Detective 2‘s failure:

Ultimately, this season of True Detective barely seemed concerned with who murdered Ben Caspere, or why. The mystery and the crime itself were never more important than the atmosphere of dread and corruption that permeated those early episodes. If only that was enough to hold more interest.

With all the promise of season 1, why, exactly, did season 2 of HBO’s True Detective, once again penned only by creator Nic Pizzolatto, fail so miserably?


Insulting Its Viewers

imagesFrom the amputated Barbie doll in the milky substance found in murdered city manager Ben Casper’s house,

images-22to the guy in the Raven mask who shot Ray (Colin Farrell) at the end of episode 2,

images-3to the dreary soundtrack provided only by Lera Lynn for some inexplicable reason,

images-4to the virtually ignored death of the mysterious Pantsuit Woman, who had the power to invest law enforcement officers without jobs with the authority to continue investigating Casper’s death and some missing girls (just for the hell of it), the show’s writer seemed to mock viewer complaints about any misogyny, child abuse, plot-holes, story-line inconsistencies, or “red herrings” that had appeared in season 1.

Viewers sophisticated, intelligent, and articulate enough to have enjoyed True Detective 1 most assuredly know when the very same writer is mocking them in season 2.

They didn’t like it.

And the plummeting ratings confirmed it: 3.17M for this season’s premiere down to 2.18M for episode 7, the penultimate episode.


Too Many Characters

images-7Let’s see: we had morally compromised and eventually unemployed Detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell),

images-8knife-wielding Sheriff Ani (Rachel McAdams),

images-5unemployed from the first episode CHiP Paul (Taylor Kitsch), all from different jurisdictions, playing the “detectives” attempting to work together to discover who had murdered Vinci City Manager Casper.

images-11That should have been enough for 8 episodes, even if one of them was 90 minutes long (which was about 75 minutes longer than it needed to be).

But wait: there’s more.

We also got Gangsta-Frank (Vince Vaughn),

images-9and his lovely wife Jordan (Kelly Reilly),

images-1along with so many henchmen that when one of them — Stan — got killed, none of the viewers even knew who Stan was, let alone why somebody would kill Stan, leaving his grieving widow, Joyce, and their son devastated.

UnknownWhen you devote an entire, rather lengthy scene to a dead guy named Stan, whom none of the viewers know, the waters are getting too deep and some of the characters need to be pulled out.

Instead, Nic gave us even more.

Let’s not forget the Mayor of Vinci,

images-19Ray’s son Chad,

images-18Ray’s ex-wife, who was fighting for custody, maybe because of Ray’s cocaine- and alcohol-fueled rages, maybe just because she was tired of Ray’s scenes at the school,

and her new husband, whose name isn’t important.

Pantsuit Woman (above), the bar singer (above), the mysteriously scarred bar owner (below),

UnknownPaul’s pregnant girlfriend,

images-14his mother (Lolita Davidovich).

imagesone of Ray’s many corrupt superiors, played by James Frain,

Unknownand you begin to understand why True Detective 2 not only failed, but crashed and burned.

Way

Too

Many

Characters.

Most of whom had nothing to do with the ostensible main storyline: who killed Casper?


Convoluted Plot

images-11The crime supposedly being solved this season was who killed Vinci city Manager Casper.

The fact that he was dead in episode one and none of the viewers cared about him didn’t help the plot.

Now, throw in a few blue diamonds from a heist in 1992,

images-6where the owners of the jewelry store were killed but their two little kids survived by hiding in a display case, and were unnoticed by police.

Note to Nic: Virtually all jewelry store display cases are almost entirely glass — even the shelves — except for the locked backs and the bottoms, so you might want to re-think two kids hiding from police-thieves in glass jewelry display cases. You know, if you ever want to use that kind of thing again…

Casper turned out to be the father of not one, but both of those children, because he was having an adulterous affair with the wife of the owner, and the orphaned kids were fostered out and had super-bad experiences, mostly with rape, sodomy, and prostitution. So the son-now-grown-up is the one who killed Casper and then shot Ray at the end of episode 2 while wearing a Raven-head mask.

So, let’s recap: some dirty cops stole blue diamonds — because, you know, they’re so unremarkable that when you take them to the neighborhood Vinci pawnshop, no one will remember them — and City Manager Casper, who likes undefined kinky sex acts, had the blue diamonds, or the surviving son thought he had them, so he tortured and killed Casper trying to get him to reveal their location.

What happened to the blue diamonds?

I do not know.

Throw in lots of prostitutes at silly parties which are about as orgiastic and wicked as the one from Stanley Kubrick’s uninspired Eyes Wide Shut,

imagesand make the prostitutes completely unimportant except for the fact that one of them — Tasha, whom we never even saw — was a fave of Casper’s and he mentioned the blue diamonds to her, and she talked about them to some of her girlfriends who opened their silly, drugged mouths before they intentionally disappeared or got butchered in that cabin in the woods…

Wait: I think I lost the plot line again…

Let’s throw in another aerial freeway shot while I try to regroup.

images-24As if all that weren’t complicated enough and more than enough material for 8 episodes of a show, you can throw in some railway corridor that’s going to be built through central California and have all these Gangstas trying to buy the land around it, including Gangsta-Frank, who gave City Manager Casper $10M when the price was really only $7M, and the Russian-Gangstas buy all the land around the railway corridor as well as all the the liens on Grangsta-Frank’s casinos, and he has no more money, so he blows his casinos up since no one would ever suspect him…

Add some Mexican-Gangstas who think they have a right to the proceeds of Gangsta-Frank’s casinos, and then let Gangsta-Frank make a stupid deal with them, before he blows up his own casinos, not realizing, I guess, that they were going to be really mad about their loss of earning potential and take him off into the desert where a grave was already very neatly dug…

And most of this information was thrown in to the last two episodes.

The TD2 plot was more twisted and complex than all the freeways in Cal-i-for-ni-a after a major earthquake.

No wonder viewers couldn’t figure out what was going on.

images-4

Why TD2 Failed

Because nobody — not even the actors themselves — could figure out what was going on.

From far too many characters, most of whom were irrelevant, to a plot so convoluted that Alexander the Great’s Gordian Knot seems like an untied shoe-string.

From endless aerial freeway shots (over 90% of which were in the Finale) to custody battles (Ray and his ex-wife) and IVF attempts (Grangsta-Frank and his wife Jordan) that had nothing to do with anything else.

From a dead man that nobody cared about (Casper) to a dead man that nobody knew (Stan).

From Gangstas who make huge cash transactions and carry tons of money around in humongous black duffel bags (because they never heard of wire transfers, I guess) to corrupt police who “confess” to the very detective they set up to take the fall (Ray), in a crowded public place, no less, after 23 years of silence and without having the blue diamonds in their possession.

From improbable action scenes and shootouts that rival the tripe Hollywood churns out for teenagers every summer to even more unrealistic shootouts in heavily wooded and isolated areas where most all the stars got killed.

The show failed because nothing in the show worked.

Its dialogue, its plot, its acting, its cinematography, its soundtrack, its writing were all so contrived, heavy-handed, and poorly executed that if one of my University students had turned it in for his final Creative Writing assignment, I would have handed it back to him with this advice:

Pick the one character that you like the most, throw out all the others, and pick the one event that has completely disrupted this character’s world, and see where you go from there.

Then I would have crossed my fingers and hoped he didn’t sign up for my Advanced Creative Writing class the subsequent year.

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Answers to Your Questions about HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE season 2

UnknownDespite the fact that True Detective season 1 quickly developed cult status and a large fan-base, season 2 is floundering in the ratings.

It’s also confusing fans.

Now, none of us who admired creator-writer Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective season 1, starring Matthew McConaughey as nihilistic but doggedly efficient Rustin Cole, and Woody Harrelson as his “good ol’ boy” partner Martin Hart, will say that the initial season was perfect: there were too many plot-holes that were never answered and far too many “red herrings” for the show to be considered stellar.

Not even Pizzolatto’s post-Finale interviews satisfied viewers (in fact, in those interviews, Pizzolatto seemed disdainful of the questions and appeared to mock fans).

The acting of the two principals, as well as an edgy serial killer plot, seems to be what made True Detective so fascinating during its initial season. It would be a shame to lose all its fans during season 2.

In an effort to help viewers enjoy the final two episodes of True Detective season 2, I decided to find answers to some of the questions that seem to be troubling fans the most.


Why three detectives?

images-2Because 3 is one more than 2.

Don’t worry about the fact that none of them, technically, is really a detective anymore, and most of them don’t have jobs. Just enjoy the fact that there are three of them: Ray (Colin Farrell, above R), Ani (Rachel McAdams, above L), and Paul (Taylor Kitsch, below).images-5If two were good, then three is better.


Who is the mysteriously
scarred woman in the bar?

UnknownShe’s the daughter of the villainous pedophile and serial killer Scarred Errol (from True Detective season 1)

images-14and his biological sister, who “planted flowers” together.

imagesBetween the finale of season 1 and the premier of season 2, the mysteriously scarred woman was rescued from Carcosa.

Who did Rachel McAdams hair?

She did it herself.

Blindfolded.

You couldn’t tell?

Who is Pantsuit-Woman
and how did she get so powerful?

images-4I don’t know, but when she bosses people around, they listen.

Besides, she represents two minorities in one character, even if she’s not a major player in the show: an African-American, and a female, so just thank Affirmative Action.

Is Pudgy Ginger really Ray’s son?images-23

Eleven years ago, Ray and his wife were trying to have a baby but nothing was happening. Then she got raped and got pregnant.

Look at Ray (above).

Look at his wife (below).

BN-JD454_tdspen_G_20150629082903Next question.

Will Gangsta-Frank and his wife Jordan
ever be able to have a child of their own?
images-1

Just as soon as Gangsta-Frank (Vince Vaughn) can relax enough to do it in a cup for IVF since his lovely wife Jordan (Kelly Reilly) has admitted that she had 3 — not 1 — legal abortions, which everyone knows — except, apparently, writer Pizzolatto — do not affect your ability to get pregnant in the future.

Chubby Ginger will play gangsta-son, in a dual role.

images-20


What’s on the missing hard-drive
that everyone’s searching for?

Unknown-1All the deleted scenes from True Detective season 2 that were considered “too slow,” or “less interesting,” or which had “more senseless, meandering dialogue” than the others.


Who are these missing women
everyone’s mentioning?

imagesThey’re female crew-members who got left behind in the Louisiana bayous from True Detective s1.

They got walk-on roles — one dead at the dumpster, one stoned at the Kubick-Eyes Wide Shut-inspired orgy — as part of their settlements.


Is Gangsta-Frank ever going to go legit?

Yes, it’s already been revealed that Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell will play the detective partners in season 3.


Who the hell is Stan?

UnknownLast week, Gangsta-Frank and wife Jordan were seen comforting Joyce, who was weeping over the death of her husband Stan as Jordan handed her an envelope stuffed with mucho bundles of cash-o-la.

Twitter feeds lit up over the death of Stan.

stan-tweetsPajiba was nice enough to interview the always-in-the-background character actor who played Stan for a few minutes in a couple of early episodes: Ronnie Gene Blevins.

Who was Stan in True Detective?

One of Frank’s bad boys.

He dead.


What’s with all the aerial freeway shots?

images-24So viewers remember what California looks like before the San Andreas fault goes berserkers and Beach-Boy-Land falls into the Pacific Ocean.


What’s with Ani and the knives?

images-8Ask the boyfriend from episode 1 who “went limp” when she asked for something special while they were having sex.


Why is Lera Lynn always singing
those depressing songs in the bar
where Gangsta-Frank and Ray meet?

images-3Because the ratings keep going down.


What’s with all these tagged sticks in a field?

images-21That is a very good question.


How does a “town” the size of Vinci (pop. 94)
have both a Mayor and a City Manager?

images-19Excellent question.


What’s creator-writer Nic Pizzolatto’s
obsession with masks?

images-2Ask Nic.


What’s with creator-writer Nic Pizzolatto’s
gang-raped or mutilated Barbie doll fetish?

imagesAsk Nic.


Who shot Ray?

images-22The same guy who killed Casper.


Who killed Casper?

images-11Who cares?


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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.

Pantsuit-Woman

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.

TD
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).

a67041d56abe975b8c1c228f89687434

Instead, look at the good in the show this season.

More detectives. Fewer victims. A Gangsta.

Free grammar lessons.

true-detective-meme

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