True Detective Season 2 ran out of track at the “Omega Station” and most reports are bemoaning how it paled in comparison to season one. To hear the critics tell it, Nic Pizzolato heard all the complaints that were leveled at the first season of True Detective and put them all together to create the second season. Reports say fans found that the story moved too slowly and was a clusterfuck of complications and characters.
In the absence of the occult theme that initially drew me to the show, this is what I liked about this season and I hope Pizzolato doesn’t change a damned thing for True Detective season 3. I want him to double down, make it darker, and maybe throw in more of that “cosmic horror” he promised us before this season started.
I admit that the LA fog was very bright after coming up from the shadows of the Bayou backwoods, and Pizzolato hid his skeletons on a highway this season. I kept waiting for the horror, but it was too clear in the bright sunlight. True Detective is an anthology series and everything from the first season disappeared. The show only kept to the promise of presenting a true detective story, where the cops are flawed and one collar doesn’t fit all.
Every show competes with itself. This is especially true of anthologies. American Horror Story afficionados prefer certain seasons over others. Some rabid followers of the show itself loathe entire seasons but are still happy to proclaim themselves fans. Of course, this spans genres, even situation comedies. There are some soup Nazis who still haven’t forgiven Seinfeld for its series finale.
Like all anthologies, True Detective is only as good as its latest story. While it began with the promise of a cop show set in The Twilight Zone or American Horror Story with badges, the second season veered more into Fargo territory, only warmer.
So where might it go from here?
True Detective set season 1 in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz and the crossroads of dark hoodoo. Season 2 was set near Hollywood and explored an Eyes Wide Shut-style conspiracy that ruled local government. True Detective season 3 could be set in New York and go after the deep, dark undercurrent of the worlds of finance. The geography can be the dangerous alleys on Wall Street and murky waters of the East River.
True Detective season 2 was a police procedural. It was intelligent, nuanced and dense, but it’s a procedural nonetheless. The difference was that the procedures happened off the grid. Season 1 was a worthy entry into the Satanic detective subgenre of cinema, which is underserved and rife with possibilities. The genre includes such movies as Angel Heart, Fallen, The Ninth Gate, and to a lesser extent Constantine. The second season explored political conspiracies, underground sex and drug parties, borderless crime lords and the family dynamics of dynasties. Moving forward, there are too many terrorist procedurals, so True Detective season 3 can deal with the universal fear and loathing of the insular world of finance and those who police it.
The first season referenced Robert W. Chambers’ mystic epic The King in Yellow and works by H.P. Lovecraft and the M-Theory. Carcosa was set in the heart of the darkness of Louisiana’s impenetrable woods. The second season followed the influx of eastern European sex slaves and subtly referenced the Bohemian Grove rich-man’s playground. Conspiracy theorists believe the wealthy sacrifice hope itself to the devil there during weekend-long orgies. True Detective season 3 can explain all that weird shit on the dollar bill and how the Illuminati might not be what it seems.
At the end of True Detective’s debut season, Nic Pizzolato promised us more cosmic horror and weird fiction. Sex parties have taken on a kind of mythological terror since Stanley Kubrick nakedly masked them in Eyes Wide Shut. The rich and powerful are scary in that movie, and as we looked on the big bulge of Tony Chissani as he casually throws hookers out of second floor windows in the mayor’s mansion, we see how scary the privileged class can be.
That is, until Pizzolato subverted it.
When the woman resurfaced in the pool, she came up flirting. The sex parties got less scary. Some of the drugged erotic entertainers were doing it for the thrill as well as the cash and the free MDMA Binaca spray. There was probably more sex in the first season. A crime set in the high-stakes world of private finance will have their share of parties and New York is a sex-friendly town.
More Damaged Characters
Season 1 set a high bar. Its scope was cinematic and lead actors Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey brought big screen characters to the intimacy of the small screen. A lot of fans were disappointed by the casting at the onset of season 2, but the story itself was more of a character study than a fingerprint file. It was structured like a novel, which wore out its welcome for a lot of TV viewers. A novel can progress as slowly and methodically as a sleuth with OCD.
At its heart, True Detective is a study into the true character of detectives. The cops are all damaged. Ray Velcoro sold his soul in a buyer’s market to be duped into killing some innocent crankhead whose only crime was crime. When the detective got the name, it was supposed to have been the man who killed his wife. Velcoro’s entire life went to shit soon after. The former superman cop became a thug for hire in the debt of gangster Frank Semyon.
Colin Farrell is an immensely watchable actor. I first noticed him as the damaged hitman in the film In Bruges and then watched him steal Hart’s War from Bruce Willis. He was the best thing in the Disney movie about the Mary Poppins writer, Saving Mr. Banks. I also admit it took me two episodes to realize he wasn’t playing the Irish fixer Owen Slater on Boardwalk Empire’s third season. It was Charlie Cox who got sent back to Nucky in a crate COD.
Ani Bezziredes was one of the most complicated characters on television. She hid layers of repressed memories in her shoes next to her knife. She wore her rings like they were brass knuckles. She let no one close until she found the best bad man she could, Ray Velcoro. Rachel McAdams brought a wry wit to her dry eyes and a wary distance to any conscious or unconscious coupling. McAdams was forever coiled and ready to spring but watched everything with the kind of amusement that comes from witnessing too many aspects of the human condition.
Taylor Kitsch played a gay man so full of self-loathing, he’d rather be killed in a Black Mountain security operation underground than come out of the closet. Paul Woodrugh is a guy who did some very bad things while in Afghanistan, including coming away with a major $20,000 haul, which his mom spent at the tracks. We never quite find out the full story of what went down in the Middle East war zone, but we know Woodrugh never quite left it behind.
Should we get a True Detective season 3, Pizzolato will continue to explore the darker hues of the thin blue line. He could go much darker if the cop and the criminal are one and the same. Maybe not unlike the craigslist cannibal cop we had in New York a few years ago. The two other detectives who were interviewing Rust and Marty were phantoms. The State Police investigating Velcoro and the city of Vinci were pawns. In season 3, they should be collaborators.
More Characters, More Humor
Last year, there were only two detectives on True Detective and there was no specific villain who rose to the stature of Frank Semyon. The gangster with the exit strategy was as much of a detective as the trio of troubled cops and he had better inside information. Vince Vaughn cut his menace with impeccable and subtle comic timing. This season didn’t set itself up for the kind of internal humor that the first season brought, but Vaughn found light moments that darkened tense situations even further.
If this weren’t an anthology I would continue watching this cast and I haven’t followed a police procedural since Paul Sorvino was on Law and Order, which I started watching for George Dzundza, the bartender who could play a surprisingly wrenching piano in the Vietnam War film The Deer Hunter. I don’t want to hazard a guess at who might be cast in True Detective season 3, because the casting has so far been very surprising. But I do predict that Pizzolato will allow himself more whimsy.
Denser Plots and More Controversy
There were a lot of complaints that this season was too complicated, that there were too many characters and too many threads to follow. The season was laid out like a novel, each episode a chapter, as opposed to a long-form film, like the first season. I don’t mind being a little confused. I like shows that make me have to think. I’m a sucker for convoluted plots, but not so much for shows that introduce characters and twists toward the end to give a false surprise.
Detective Ani Bezzerides was named after the screenwriter and novelist A.I. Bezzerides, who wrote the classic noir film Kiss Me Deadly, a movie that was complex to the point of being maddening. Kiss Me Deadly, which marked the film debut of actresses Cloris Leachman and Maxine Cooper, was set in Los Angeles, not far from the city of Vinci.
Kiss Me Deadly was about greed, corruption and nuclear nightmares and it oozed sex. The film was investigated by the congressional Kefauver Commission, who called it the number one thing contributing to the ruination of youth in the year 1955, even after it was cut for appease the Legion of Decency. The director, Robert Aldrich, protested the Commission’s conclusions, conducting a writing campaign for the free speech rights of independent filmmakers. The film didn’t do that well at the box office at the time, the complicated plot kept away the very audience who might have been drawn by the titillating taboos.
Some of the great detective films of all time defy easy synopses. There is a myth about the Humphrey Bogart classic noir The Big Sleep that says he and the director Howard Hawks sent a telegram to Raymond Chandler, who wrote the novel, asking if one of the characters was murdered or committed suicide. According to legend, Chandler told the Hollywood duo “dammit I didn’t know either.” It later came out that Chandler was just being cavalier because he thought the question was stupid.
The director Hawkes admitted that the screenwriters lost track of the clues, but who cared? The movie worked because of the atmosphere and the commitment to that casual suspension of loose ends. True Detective ties those ends up, usually in a kind of Gordian knot that can only be hacked free in the last chapter.
I predict True Detective will continue to be densely plotted. I also predict that the third time will be a charm and True Detective season 3 will be a superior offering. I hope Pizzolato plays with the cosmic forces of weird literature with more abandon than he’s done so far.