Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Current Shortcomings of True Detective Season 2

Copyright: HBO
I was trying to figure out what feels less than right in the new True Detective season. Like practically everyone, I really loved the Season one. From the first moment, it had that synergy of place and characters that was just magnetic in a sweaty, sticky, wrong way, but didn’t leave me feeling uncomfortable for a long time (maybe this is its only shortfall from being a truly groundbreaking show like The Wire).

Of course, I had big expectations from Season Two, especially because Collin Farrell (ever since I saw Tigerland, I am certain that the man is a great but underappreciated actor). But, at the same time, I knew that replicating the formula from the first seasons would be impossible, so I was just hoping for something interesting. 

For the first couple of episodes, I wasn’t even sure that anything feels wrong or inadequate. After all, just a year later, I forgot what happened in the first season’s episodes (for example, what exactly takes place in episode 3 in the first season?), so I told myself that this is a normal buildup process of the Pizzolatto type.

But after the episode five, I think I finally managed to transform vague feelings into words. It turns out that Season Two of True Detective simply misses many key moments from Season One, but fails to add other elements that could replace them when it comes to the pure factor of engagement found in the show. On the other hand, its characters do not succeed in hooking the audience with one major hook but try throwing many smaller ones, which don’t connect that well. Here are some of the key points of the current Season Two lack of engagement:

Season One had the Yellow king, a ritualistic murder and creepy drawings which were all powerful but unclear symbols. Season Two has none of these and even the main murder mystery is easily forgettable.

Season One had that strong idea that something in the show might be supernatural. Rust Cohle had his visions, the Yellow King had its presence and these blended into an atmosphere of eerie, dark wonder. Season Two has highways and illegal immigrants looking sad.

Character relationships are deeply undeveloped because of lack of screen time and too many character threads. For example, why would Ray Velcoro and Paul Woodrugh care about each other? In the first 5 episodes, they had like 5 minutes of mutual conversations.

Season One used direct narration to foreshadow and intrigue, without giving anything away in any meaningful form. Granted, the same pattern was a one-time trick, but Season Two didn’t try to pull its own trick so far.

Finally, Season One didn’t have Vince Vaughn, which was, in retrospective, a huge plus. Let’s face it, the man is just saying his lines and there’s none of that “I’m changing my career here” fire. Imagine him smiling a lot more and he could walk right into the set of Wedding Crashers 2.

This all does not mean that True Detective Season Two cannot become something great. But the window of opportunity for that is becoming smaller and smaller, while at the same time, the narrative turn that might be coming has only to become bigger and bigger so that it could really impress us.