Full spoilers for True Detective Season 2 below
Don’t ignore the quotation marks; I for one don’t think this season of True Detective needed saving. Sure, it was nowhere near the first as regards quality but that’s always going to be the case said first season turns out to be an absolute tour de force that threatens to shake up the very mold of anthology television. There’s another core issue with Season 2 – audiences were blown away by the performance of Matthew McConaughey in particular and his partnership with Woody Harrelson was just a privilege to watch. Creator Nic Pizzolatto had a huge hill to climb then and that he even had the balls to go for a follow up season was an achievement.
The first massive credit I will give Season 2 is that it turned as far and away from its predecessor as it possibly could. Whereas the first go around had given us McConaughey and Harrelson on the trail of a serial killer with branches into local conspiracy and bureaucratic audacity peppered throughout, Season 2 begins with a murder but quickly deviates into a much deeper story of corruption that runs rife through Los Angeles. Straight away the whodunnit aspect, though still present, isn’t as clear cut. This time around we were given more of howmanydunnit angle and to be fair, the story got too convoluted for its own good at times. A standout moment in this field came when Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) gave a touching eulogy to the son of one of his slain henchmen, Stan. Maybe it was some sort of a mass amnesia event experienced worldwide but viewers had developed so little of a connection or awareness of the character that web pages such as this sprung up left right and centre. The scene itself was a strong moment of both script and performance, no doubt about that, but it was telling of just how complicated the story was that most of us had to pause and Google. Still, we don’t come to True Detective for simplicity and the first season was filled with different twists and turns to ensure we were made to pay attention.
For those who need it, the simplest way to boil down the plot is like so: Highway Patrolman Paul Woodrough (Taylor Kitsch) comes across the abandoned corpse of City Manager Ben Caspere. As the body is discovered within the township of Vinci, Detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) of the Vinci Police Department is put on the case. Velcoro is a burnt out husk of a man and detective, in the pocket of Frank Semyon. For Vinci PD, Velcoro will be an easy way to make the Caspere homicide investigation a quick shut case. Also assigned to the case is Detective Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) of Ventura County PD, though her true purpose is more so to dig down to the bottom of Vinci’s corrupt core. And then a whole load of other stuff happens. See, building on Season One and what went down best last year, Nic Pizzolatto has once more crafted a two month television event wherein the viewers connection to and understanding of the characters is paramount and story – not that it takes second place – but it certainly takes a step back to a degree. Be it the tortured soul of Woodrough who is dealing with his repressed homosexuality in a world he feels he can’t be open or Semyon making genuine efforts to go straight from his life as a crime boss, only to be revealed as a fraud even in his sincerity. We had double the character load to follow here with four leads, maybe that was a little too much for eight episodes. Still, come the finale we cared enough to make it extremely impactful.
So what did the finale give us? Well from that shootout in episode four this season was only going one way. Last year, Marty and Rust brought down their killer but couldn’t touch the larger conspiracy. This time around, arguably even less was achieved. With the amount of crime procedurals and routine dramas we have been thrown through the decades on TV it is refreshing to have such a downbeat ending, in a weird way. It takes a little longer to satisfy, that’s for sure, but these people were even more broken than we had encountered last season. Redemption was a fair finale last time around, this time it was hard to find any of these four deserving of anything but demise. Except Ani of course. Her demons were not of her own doing. Frank could arguably slot in here too but his decision to corruptly move away from corruption was all his own actions. Ani is a woman who has suffered at the hands of another as a child and kept the secret with her through her life. Fitting then that she be the one to impart the paperwork onto the media in order to have the story of our fateful four be told. Performance-wise this finale was incredibly strong as Frank undertook a death march in the desert which was excellently conveyed by Vince Vaughn, Ani begrudgingly made good her escape, knowing well it had come at a cost in the death of Ray. And Ray. Biased or not, I cannot praise Colin Farrell highly enough for the work he has put into this show. Setting aside the fact that he effortlessly placed that gruff Yankee drawl over his native Dublin accent, there is a weight being carried by Velcoro that he conveys with some brilliantly nuanced moments. Some of the face to face moments with Vaughn were terrific and his reaction to the discovery that he had killed and “innocent” man was just note perfect.
Was Season 2 “saved” at the end then? Again, I don’t think it needed saving but if you do sit in that camp then yes, it all came good in the end. Not in a way you will feel universally happy about and not in a satisfying way you would be familiar with through conventional means but Nic Pizzolatto has knocked it out of the park again if you ask me, just in an entirely different way to his last outing. More and more these days we are seeing showrunners and creators conceiving their projects with binge viewing in mind and I have to say that Season 2 of True Detective fits this description more than any other show to date. It was a slow burn, even by True Detective standards but once it got there, the earlier lag was entirely justified. Though justified, you can certainly argue that the quality wasn’t entirely on par with what was expected, but can you remember the second time in your life you tasted chocolate? Probably not, but I can assure you it wasn’t nearly as delectable as the first. It was still chocolate though, and who doesn’t love chocolate?