What’s the best season of True Detective? You’re thinking Season One, aren’t you? Of course you are. Why wouldn’t you?
The first season of Nic Pizzolato’s anthology crime series was filled with two outstanding characters played by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, plenty of spiritual mysticism, dark forces of the occult and an unbelievable one-track shot. For a season that was near perfect, Season Two was caught between a rock and a hard place. Do you repeat what was done before or embrace the anthology premise and try new things?
Ultimately, Pizzolato went down a different route but despite its best efforts it suffered. It had too many characters, a convoluted plot despite a straightforward case, questionable dialogue and characters suffering the severe case of prolonged eye stares and mumbling-itis. No matter what Season Two delivered, it was going to be a disappointment against our heightened expectations. It was never going to eclipse what the first season accomplished.
But to give it the benefit of the doubt, what if we looked passed those obvious structural flaws? What if we were watching Season Two from the wrong angle?
True Detective in its second season ditches the supernatural element for an old-fashioned tale of corruption, murder, deceit and betrayal. Covered under the veil of a classic film noir, there is an unmistakable vibe of James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential. It has all the sleaze, sex, celebrity, bribes and conspiracies but delivers a dark, modernised disparity between the powerful rich and everyone else.
The city of L.A. ,which has its own notorious history, serves as a fictionalised and unforgiving reflection of personal struggles, self-destructive devices and damaged characters living in a broken society. The endless and metaphorical camera shots of American highways resemble a systemic and infectious flow of tainted morals and a connected journey amongst a city interested in wealth, reputation and industrial growth.
When the world creates an extensive network of villains more powerful than the police and the gangsters, the case of Caspere’s murder was always doomed to fail. Listen to Leonard Cohen’s haunting lyrics for ‘Nevermind’ (the theme song for the season) as they confirm the lost cause as if the crime became a living entity that taunts anyone searching for the truth.
Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) and Velcoro (Colin Farrell) are the modern-day interpretation of The Untouchables with a cowboy, a veteran soldier and a ‘no damsel in distress’ woman. But unlike De Palma’s classic, they are assigned together, representing the different interests of their police departments and a compromised trust that is ready to shape a convenient blame. In a parallel yet connected storyline, Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) represents the other side of the line, returning to his criminal ways after Caspere’s death ruined his opportunity for a legitimate legacy.
“Sometimes your worst self is your best self” and Season Two represents the evolving nature of crime and how it defines a hardened life choice for its characters. Like a fall from grace, they are lost outsiders in a system that exposes a dark and complicated nature which masks their own internal struggle for a better identity. Just like the short clip of Detective Story starring Kirk Douglas (another film noir classic), their problems magnify under the strain of the investigation.
The deeper the mystery, the more they are unable to decide where their moral compass lies. Subplots can be distracting when they lose focus but in True Detective’s case, they only serve to exemplify how an endless search for answers can cross a line and turn you into a villain. Frank and Velcoro (the best characters in the season, brilliantly performed by Farrell and Vaughn) are the clearest examples of that statement.
We deserve a better world and yet Season Two doesn’t provide one. Just like those highways, this world is an ongoing cycle of injustice without a satisfactory conclusion, sadly mirroring the real world. Narratives change to suit specific parties and a public who have already lost interest and moved onto the next story. Others are promoted amongst the chaos. Male characters succumb to their inescapable pride and painful grief in a Lynchian manner. The female characters are the survivors and keepers of the truth to hopefully fight another day. If Season Two illustrates anything, it is an eight-hour movie depicting a tragic human story and the acceptance of solemn loneliness.
Season Two wasn’t horrible, just drastically different. It is easier to believe in a supernatural element but True Detective’s second season reveals that the worst of humanity are the real-life horrors. The season retains the insightful trademarks of complicated souls but sadly isn’t executed with the finesse that the first season had in abundance.
What do you make of True Detective? Do you agree there is more to the second season than people give credit? Let us know!