“True Detective: Season 2”: A rough yet entertaining spiral of detective noir

In 2014, an extraordinary show by the name of “True Detective” stormed the golden beaches of television in a tsunami of nihilistic and complex writing, depressingly powerful performances from actors like Matthew McConaughey and a taut, thrilling tale of Lovecraftian horror combined with gritty detective work. It was a wonder to behold and is one of the finest seasons in television history. With this, people wondered: “Could season two be able to surpass such a season? Can the magic be recreated again?”

This was the first mistake on the people’s side. Granted, season two must compete with season one’s spectacularly high quality, but constant comparison to the first when both seasons are utterly different from one another undermines season two’s potential. There is certainly a bit of a dip in quality in parts of the writing and with the overall story. Following a different cast of characters, setting and overall tone of story, the story presented in season two is more akin to film noir rather than season one’s cosmic horror.

The main story this time follows a quartet of conflicted individuals: burnt-out detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell); highway patrol officer Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), who is burdened by heavy secrets and trauma; a ferocious, no-nonsense investigator named Antigone “Ani” Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) with some secrets of her own; and a cold, calculating mobster known as Frank Semyon, (Vince Vaughn) who is trying to legitimize a land development deal with the help of his loyal wife, Jordan (Kelly Reilly).

The main plot follows these characters as they become entwined into a convoluted investigation of corruption, backroom dealings and brutal murders following the discovery of the body of a city planning manager who had his hands in many pockets—business wise and otherwise—especially with the development of an environmentally and economically dubious rail corridor for a high-speed monorail plan.

Now, to start with the positives: The casting was well done, and all the actors portray their characters well, especially Farrell and Vaughn. The touches and themes of film noir are impeccably done here, from the gritty feel of the writing to the essence of lighting and shadows combined with the cinematography of the show. Action sequences are exciting and tense, the direction for this and other parts of the series is excellent.

However, there are negative aspects to this season, unfortunately. The overall plot as described above becomes a convoluted affair, with a plethora of character names and characters themselves flashing back and forth onto the screen without much impact or understanding as to how they fit into the big picture until the second half of the season. The writing is not wholly awe-inspiring, with some lines even being downright cringe-worthy. (“Like blue balls…in your heart.”) Some character and action beats are woefully misguided during the homestretch of the season, leading to the downfall of several characters, although they become understandable after closer analysis.

Overall, the season was a mixture of good direction and character development but poorly constructed story ideas that do not necessarily sink the season—but don’t help, either. This was an entertaining venture this season, but let’s be optimistic for a stronger follow-up season.

Series: “True Detective” Season Two
Directors: Justin Lin, Janus Metz Pedersen, Jeremy Podeswa, John Crowley, Miguel Sapochnik and Daniel Attias
Original Release: June 21, 2015-Aug. 9, 2015
Rating: ★★★★☆