TV Review: True Detective: Season 2: Episode 1
PLOT: The lives of a disturbed detective (Colin Farrell), a tough-as-nails deputy (Rachel McAdams) and a motorcycle cop (Taylor Kitsch) intersect with the machinations of a crime boss (Vince Vaughn) trying to go straight with a complicated Los Angeles land scheme.
REVIEW: Early reviews of True Detective Season 2 have expressed disappointment over the fact that season two can’t quite live up to the first. To a certain extent, that’s unavoidable. Nobody really saw True Detective coming, but Nic Pizzolatto’s neo-noir limited series took everyone by surprise. With film-level production values and taut, atmospheric direction by Cary Fukunaga, it only took the pilot for us all to realize we were seeing something radically different – even by HBO standards. Not only that, but it tied into a major comeback for star Matthew McConaughey, and his Rust Cohle quickly tapped into the pop culture – with his philosophical rants paving the way for all those Lincoln ads. And of course, there was the amazing, one-of-a-kind chemistry between him and Woody Harrelson, plus a crazy, layered mystery that became one of the hottest things on the small-screen since “who killed Laura Palmer?” It would have been all but impossible for season two to match up, and sure enough it doesn’t.
However, that’s not to say True Detective season two isn’t great in its own right. While I’ve only sampled the first episode so far, it’s a highly intriguing crime story that should add up to a great eight-episode season. Pizzolatto deserves credit in that he doesn’t copy himself, with great pains being extended throughout the first episode to establish an all-new style. There are no-more flash-forwards, with the mystery taking place in a contemporary setting. There’s also very little Rust Cohle-style dialogue, with none of the characters being cut of the same intellectual cloth, giving this a certain accessibility that maybe the first season didn’t have.
By that token, the direction is quite different. Unlike the Fukunega-helmed first season, this one has a mix of directors with FAST & FURIOUS’ Justin Lin having done the first two episodes. While the production values remain feature-level, Lin’s direction is far more conventional. Much of the central mystery (which is only revealed in the closing moments of the episode) revolves around the L.A highway system, and Lin seemingly cuts to helicopter shots of the roads over ten minutes or so. It’s slick and stylish, but not terribly atmospheric.
Perhaps this is a sign that Pizzolatto’s taking complete control this season, and with an expanded focus on four full-fledged leads rather than two, maybe there’s less time for the great set-pieces that distinguished Fukunega’s run. The marquee cast is uniformly excellent, although none of them get quite the same level of material to chew on that Harrelson and McConaughey did – at least not at this point. Like last season, everyone’s tortured (people don’t smile much on True Detective) and Pizzolatto’s stylized dialogue is an actor’s dream.
In the first hour, no one quite emerges as a full-lead, with the screen time being pretty evenly divided between Farrell, McAdams and Vaughn (Kitsch makes his entrance a little later than the others). Of all of them, Farrell’s arguably the most tortured, playing a dirty cop indebted to Vaughn’s mobster after he helped him find the man who raped (and possibly impregnated) his now-estranged wife. While the paternity of his son is at doubt, Farrell’s Ray Velcoro is depicted as a loving, if often misguided and dangerous father, with his shy, kindly son being the target of bullies leading to the episode’s most charged and violent moment. Constantly swilling whisky and doing bumps of coke, Farrell’s like Cohle without the intellect or nobility, and Farrell plays the hell out of him.
Of the trio of cops, Rachel McAdams’ Ani Bezzerides seems the most dedicated although typical of the show she has issues of her own, including alcoholism, an appetite for rough sex, a sister in porn and a Timothy Leary-esque guru (David Morse) for a father. This is radically different from anything McAdams has done before, but she seems a good fit for Pizzolatto’s world and it’ll be interesting to see how she develops. The much-maligned Taylor Kitsch as highway cop Paul Woodrugh feels like the most cliché character so far, being an ex-mercenary turned suicidal highway cop who relaxes by racing his motorcycle down the highway minus a helmet and headlights. While it’s totally out of the LETHAL WEAPON-Riggs playbook, Kitsch is still just as effective as anyone else is but needs to be developed more (bear in mind it’s still only the first episode).
The guy everyone’s no doubt the most curious about is Vince Vaughn, who plays crime boss Frank Semyon. Anyone who knows Vaughn from his nineties indie work like THE PRIME GIG and RETURN TO PARADISE can vouch for the guy’s chops and he doesn’t let the ensemble down at all. Of everyone, he’s actually my favorite so far; with his plot being the most interesting in that it almost feels like a riff on THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY, with his well-intentioned plan to go straight going down in flames. Kelly Reilly is also really good as his quick-witted wife, who’s clearly the power being the throne, and their dynamic is superb. Of everyone, I’m most anxious to see how their story pans out.
Hopefully audiences will be able to accept the fact that season two’s so radically different, with T.Bone Burnett’s music being the only real crossover (with Leonard Cohen’s ‘Nevermind’ being the theme song). While this first installment of the second season isn’t as immediately brilliant as season one, it’s early yet and at the very least it’s still a highly intriguing, gripping hour of television. I can’t imagine anyone having watched this and not immediately wanting to see the next episode. I’m definitely on board for the ride.