Reviews: True Detective - Season Two - Episode One

What did Beth think of the first episode of this year's True Detective?

"Respect the porn 'stache."
What do three troubled law enforcement officers and one gangster trying to go straight have in common?  Lots of pensive stares and some topical dialog courtesy of True Detective’s creator and writer, Nic Pizzolatto.  The much anticipated second season of HBO’s critically acclaimed True Detective has begun by missing the menacing mark entirely.

It’s impossible not to compare this first installment with the first season of TD.  Even while knowing full well that Marty and Rust were long gone and that we would not be returning to the strange and terrible bayous of Louisiana- the hope was that the captivating violent darkness could once again be rendered by the show’s creator Pizzolatto. As an anthology, we expected many things to change; new story line, new characters, new setting.  But really the basics remain – there is still a murder to solve and some terribly flawed investigators to solve it.

TD’s season two is set in the mostly industrial fictional town of Vinci, CA just south of downtown Los Angeles which is reportedly based on the very real town of Vernon, CA (note the last name of this reviewer?  Serendipitous?).  In 2012, Vernon’s former city administrator’s body was found on the rocky shore of the Bay Area.  This particular municipal employee made $1.6 million in 2008 and died suspiciously shortly after a state audit released the news of his finances.  The almost 100 years of corruption in the city of Vernon is mirrored closely in the fictional town of Vinci in TD.  Bad guys are abound and naturally someone turns up dead. So begins the story that shall unfold in season two.
Sounds like a promising premise.  The industrial wasteland that is Vinci provides a brilliant contrast to the glitz and glamour and saccharine sun we could expect from a show set in California. Musical direction by T Bone Burnett ads the necessary layer to the mood.  If film noir was what Pizzolatto was going for, then he definitely achieved it.  But that’s not what viewers loved about the first season of TD

There was something very real and relatable to Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey’s characters in the first season. They were flawed in ways we could understand…adulterous and spiritually challenged. They explored their flaws together in often poetic and charming if sometimes rambling and harsh dialog.  Not so with the four main characters introduced in Season Two.  Are they flawed?  Hell yes!  Can we related to them?  Eh. Are they even remotely charming? Nope; though we should be willing to let them grow on us.

First up is Colin Farrell as Detective Ray Velcoro whose backstory is unoriginal at best.  In one violent and troubling scene in the latter part of the show, Farrell manages to deliver a line that is so unbelievably silly, it could have been written by any high school jock with a penchant for bullying. Velcoro is an utter shell of a man just barely hanging on and instead of eliciting sympathy, he’s just plain unlikeable.

"The next person that makes a Psycho remake
joke will pay dearly. This forehead is fatal."
Vince Vaughn as gangster and businessman Frank Semyon is far too serious.  We know he can play a dramatic roll if we harken back to his work in movies like Return to Paradise and A Cool Dry Place.  Perhaps he’s out of practice now what with all the dumb comedies of the last 15 years. His entire performance in TD consisted of one look…the serious face.  Even the slightly humorous lines were delivered deadpan. Much has been made of the meteoric rise of Matthew McConaughey’s career post-TD and many have speculated about a similar fate for Vaughn.  If Vaughn has any hope, he’ll need some better direction and dialog- maybe some not fraught with the notion that gangsters use poor English.

Rachel McAdams as Sheriff’s Detective Antigone Bezzerides may be Pizzolatto’s response to the criticism of season one- the lack of interesting and compelling female characters.  So he answered that criticism by creating a female lead who is really more stereotypical dude than any of the other male characters.  Perhaps Pizzolatto could have just admitted his inability to write women and apologized instead.

Taylor Kitsch plays Paul Woodrugh, the war damaged highway patrol motorcycle officer with a need for speed. Now that’s just funny.  At least he looks good…even all scarred up and troubled in the bedroom.

Beyond the poor character development and dialog left wanting, what may be missing is the beautiful direction of season one’s Cary Fukunaga.  Season two will see multiple directors.  This may be TD’s ultimate downfall or its one ray of hope.  In the right hands, these characters and this story could be magnificent. Let’s keep watching and see.

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-Beth Vernon