In Case Anyone Cares
When 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.”
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
From the amputated Barbie doll in the milky substance found in murdered city manager Ben Casper’s house,
to the guy in the Raven mask who shot Ray (Colin Farrell) at the end of episode 2,
to the dreary soundtrack provided only by Lera Lynn for some inexplicable reason,
to 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
Let’s see: we had morally compromised and eventually unemployed Detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell),
knife-wielding Sheriff Ani (Rachel McAdams),
unemployed 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.
That 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),
and his lovely wife Jordan (Kelly Reilly),
along 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.
When 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,
Ray’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),
his mother (Lolita Davidovich).
one of Ray’s many corrupt superiors, played by James Frain,
and you begin to understand why True Detective 2 not only failed, but crashed and burned.
Most of whom had nothing to do with the ostensible main storyline: who killed Casper?
The 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,
where 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,
and 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.
As 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.
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.