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Review – True Detective: How season two crashed, burned and then narrowly recovered

Hell hath no fury like that of the Internet’s scorn, and Lord didn’t the new season of True Detective learn that the hard way. Launched with new characters, location and plot away from the Louisiana Gothic of season one, season two unfortunately failed to transpose the praise and acclaim afforded to the previous season, carrying-over only the mumbling and bad facial hair. This season’s incomprehensible initial episodes saw the series’ trademark stylized moodiness go into overdrive and shunt toward sheer tedium. After this point, Twitter blew-up, everyone went ‘cray’ and True Detective was pronounced dead not even halfway through its eight-episode run. One can’t help but feel True Detective was prematurely bumped-off by the offhandedness of a minority of viewers.

It’s true, the situation halfway through the season wasn’t great. Essentially, the problem was overkill. Season 1 succeeded on a match of bleak intensity and charged character dynamics, elevated by striking visuals and pseudo-intellectual philosophising. It seems, however, that Nic Pizzolatto, the series’ creator, was all too aware of this, and consequently turned everything up to eleven in the sophomore season. Instead of two leads, we now had four. Instead of McConnaughey mumbling about Nietzsche, we now had Vaughn tripping over awkward lines, such as, “Never do anything out of hunger, not even eating”. What does that even mean Vince?! In season one, Harrelson had family troubles and McConnaughey had self-destructive tendencies. In this season everyone had everything. PTSD? Yep. Hidden and illicit sexual activity? Gotcha. Alcoholism and drug addiction? For sure. Dad issues? Where to start. Mum issues? See before. An out of control pet iguana collection? Not seen, but equally likely.

This overwrought and clumsy approach caused the narrative to paralyze and collapse under the weight of its’ own faux-profundity, and nosedived into a hollow mid-season shoot-out, which ought to have been the season highlight.
However, while flippant viewers took to their smartphones and decried the fall of a show that was probably eight episodes too long for them anyway, the series appeared to become aware of its own stagnation. The narrative shifted to a few months later, Farrell ditched the moustache, and everything, to quote Ron Burgundy, “jumped up a notch”. Vince Vaughn, who had yet to deliver a performance in anyway deserving of the term ‘revelatory’, suddenly developed an edge and became bad-ass, eventually smashing a glass over his associate’s smug, ginger face. There were some sharp set pieces, such as Farrell and Vaughn enjoying breakfast á la gun, and Rachel McAdams going full Sarah Connor at a party, all of which led to a tense 90 minute finale full of deceit, powerlessness, and betrayal.

For many, the series’ latter half won’t be enough to make up for the lost-time of the first episodes, but the way I see it, is that after a false start the second season of True Detective evened out and became much like its central characters: troubled, flawed, but ultimately good.

George Pundek

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