True Detective: Season 2 – Review (halfway home)

Long before I was a published author I wrote reviews for film. My love for all things film (and television) rivals my love for writing and literature. Show me a movie title and I’m likely to name off the director, producer, cinematographer, and RT score. My Blu-Ray collection is, if you ask my wife, overboard.

Anyway, since I’ve got a website and a blog, I figured I may as well jot a few thoughts down on select pieces of film and TV. I may not be pursuing it as a career anymore, but I still love talking about it.

So, let’s get to it.

True Detective was one of my favorite shows last year. There was a very short list that also included Fargo, Hannibal, and Banshee. True Detective came in and took the television world by storm with its incredible performances (this was the pinnacle of the McConaissance), its sharp writing (Nic Pizzolatto is a master with a pen), and a story that flipped the TV police procedural on its head. Yeah, some may argue that the finale was a little too neat and conventional, especially considering what came before, but I was left fully engaged right up until the credits on the last episode rolled.

Folks are still discussing that incredible 6 minute, one take action sequence from episode 4 and are still quoting Rust lines (‘Time is a flat circle…’) to this day, so that says something about the quality, if you ask me.

But while pretty much everyone was taken in by season 1, season 2 has been divisive to say the least. You’ve got a new cast, new location, and new directors rotating the chair every week (unlike the first season where every episode was masterfully directed by Cary Fukunaga). Some say the plot is convoluted, that it’s too dreary, that the acting is all wrong, that the writing is pretentious, that it just doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

My thoughts?

I’m somewhere in the middle.

Let’s take it step by step.

First, the directing is still spot on. Cary Fukunaga turned Louisiana into a character that was just as important to the proceedings on screen as Cole and Rust and the killer at large. It was a living, breathing entity; a vampire black one at that. California, oddly, feels just as menacing. This isn’t the glitz and glamour of Hollywood that we’re seeing, it’s the underbelly that the glitz and glamour submerges with its bullshit.

And can we just talk about the big shootout we just got in episode 4?

Holy shit!

One of the most well choreographed action sequences we’ve EVER gotten on television. No hyperbole. This was just as masterfully done as the tracking shot from last season. This was some Michael Mann, Heat level, ultra realistic bad assery. 9 minutes of bullets flying and bodies dropping, seriously, that scene alone was worth the price of admission.

But what else does season 2 have going besides great direction and a slam bang action sequence? Well, the writing is as sharp as ever. Nic Pizzolatto is on point. I’m not really getting why people are complaining that the writing doesn’t sound realistic. It didn’t sound realistic last season either, who says “Time is a flat circle” in regular conversation?

That’s right, no one.

Writing in film and literature is often meant to explore and express ideas, it’s not always meant to sound like real conversation. Chances are that most of your favorite films don’t sound like real life. Writing in film and tv is usually an exaggerated version of the real thing. Nothing has changed in season 2 in regards to the writing.

Acting? Well, I’m happy with the acting situation. Rachel Mcadams is the real surprise in this season. She is a great bad ass. She can run and shoot and quip with as much conviction as anyone else on screen. I went into this excited to see Colin Farrell and, instead, find myself looking for to Mcadams’ scenes every week.

Speaking of Farrell, he’s great here. He’s really perfected his American accent in this role (which I have found distracting in certain films he’s done in the past where’s he’s had a hard time holding it together). There are shades from his performance as Crockett in Miami Vice (a film I adore). He plays a truly broken character that delves into some extremely dark places, especially in the first episode. During the first episode I found myself having a hard time rooting for him. By the fourth episode I found myself back on his side, which speaks volumes to the nuance he brings to this character and the masterful writing of Pizzolatto.

Vince Vaughn and Taylor Kitsch both carry themselves well.

Kitsch isn’t really breaking any boundaries here. He’s the guy from Lone Survivor, except he has a badge now. He’s likable enough.

Vaughn has played some dramatic roles in the past and he has done well with them. I wasn’t convinced he could do the bad boy thing, but there’s a scene in episode three involving a fist fight and a pair pliers that really changed my mind.

So what’s the problem with this season?

Well, first, let me be clear. I really like this season. Not as much as the first, it has its problems, but I’m still on board.

The biggest issue is that it’s still not totally clear what the fuck is going on. We are at the half way point (this is an 8 episode series) and I’m still not sure who or what I’m supposed to be caring about. There are a lot of questions, but we really haven’t moved towards answering any of them. By this point in season 1 we knew what was going on. We knew the stakes. Sure, characters were still being built, but the central plot was clear, we were heading actively towards our destination. This time out, well, I feel like we are drifting down a river, there are a lot of cool sites along the way, but that’s all we are doing. We aren’t really stopping to explore any of them. We don’t know where we are going. We’re just sort of drifting. There’s no immediacy to our journey.

That’s my biggest complaint.

Now, after that kick ass wrap up last episode, I’m hoping that we will go into episode 5 with some urgency.

You still have my attention True Detective, don’t let me down.

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