So, it’s finally over. True Detective’s tremendously anticipated, and very, very much criticized second season came to an end last Sunday. There’s no excuses, no ‘you can’t judge it before you’ve seen the whole thing’. Because I have seen the whole thing, and the thread of doubt that’s been haunting my mind for the past 2 months is finally gone. There’s no room for interpretations or matter-of-tastes. And no, I’m not talking about the perennial question of who the hell Stan was. I’m talking about whether the season was any good or not.
CREATOR: Nic Pizzolatto
The answer, of course, is a gigantic NO. But let me make something very clear before I continue. I absolutely loved True Detective’s first season. I recommended it to everybody, and anyone who still hasn’t seen it, please, go ahead and binge it next weekend. That said, I’m gonna write about Season 2 as if it was the first season of another show. I’m saying this because one of the top excuses of the moment is that Season 1 was so good Season 2 didn’t stand a chance. Or that Season 1 had the same issues Season 2 had, but Matthew McConaughey’s Rust saved the day. Let’s cut the bullshit and be honest here for a second. Season 2 was not good by itself alone, no help needed from Season 1. Comparisons and references can be made, but I’ll leave that to you. So let’s go ahead and call Season 2 ‘Real Investigator’ and judge it on its own.
One of Real Investigator’s main issues was the unsuccessful set-ups, the lack of character and relationship building. By the time we got to the end, the show relied on us giving a crap about Ray and his son, or Ray and Ani as a couple. But we had left Ray’s parenting troubles behind over the last episodes, and the hook-up with Ani seemed like a random cabin fling more than a consequential romance. These are examples from the finale, but there were lots of events during the show when you could sense that The Piz envisioned a bigger impact than the actual delivery ended up carrying. That time the black lady got the team back together off the record comes to mind. I bet it was supposed to get us really hyped, but instead we were just starting to remember everybody’s names because we never cared for them.
A strong feeling of deja vu suddenly hit me as Burris and the Merryweather group, or whoever those guys were, were chasing Ray through those woods. Lots of mini-mysteries and touches of enigmatic weirdness were just forgotten or given a disappointing explanation. This was Lost all over again, police genre Lost. The bird mask? Woodrugh’s black-ops past? the ‘creative’, as Dr. Pitlor put it, Chessani family? Wait, that guy too, Dr. Pitlor! And he was part of those free-spirit communities too, altogether with Ani’s father. Ani’s father, there you go, another poorly explored relationship. I mean, you get David Morse with that kick ass long hair and you only use him, what, 5 minutes of screentime? None of that really mattered in the end.
The End dragged for 20 minutes because there wasn’t much story left to tell after Ray’s magical epiphany about the set photographer (!?) looking just like the other orphan kid all grown up. I mean, come on Real Investigator… Back in the middle of the season, you could think the plotting seemed too complex because the 8 episodes forced its hand. But the result was just the opposite, the show cornered itself against the ropes. Eventually, who killed Casper didn’t matter either (again, the set photographer we saw in literally one scene), we were left up against Burris and Holloway. Two characters with less than 5 minutes of screentime (the Stan thing seems to be a constant here). Oh and how well did we know Casper? I’ll tell you how well, not even close enough to care.
It’s even more evident that the plotting was a disaster because of the great performances the cast gave. The internet went crazy last year about who was gonna star in Real Investigator. We finally got the 3 big names, and Taylor Kitsch (who did an OK job with what was given to him, which was of course horseshit).
Rachel McAdams’ Ani was probably the most well-rounded character of the show and she played the highs and lows with master subtlety. The escape from the orgy was a highlight I enjoyed. I’m not counting the very end when she was supposed to suddenly be a softy and in love.
Colin Farrell gave, during the first half or first 2/3s of the season, a performance to shut his haters up forever. The man can handle top level acting, and I’ll say more, had that part went to a lesser actor and Ray Velcoro would’ve been remembered as one of the most ridiculous characters of TV history. But he’s wild rants got suppressed by the end and his character lost purpose and drive, nothing Colin could do against that. His shadow boxing will be remembered as one of Real Investigator’s best scenes.
Finally, the most discussed and disapproved casting of this era: Vince Vaughn. Vince’s Frank started out sloppy, with complex vocabulary and awkward silences. His only good scenes were across Colin Farrell in that awesome shady bar. At that point, you could say he was miscast, you could also say he wasn’t being very good himself, or that it was all Pizzolatto’s dialogue’s fault. But since his character became Nothing to Lose Frank, everything changed. The fancy words were gone, the silences gave way to arson, and Vince found his groove. He ended up being the most interesting part of Real Investigator and he even made that ludicrous memory lane desert walk work! That’s a win on its own right there. Bravo, Vince.
The True Detective we deserve?
Real Investigator tricked us all. It tried too hard, wanting to be too deep for its own good. It asked for a lot of attention and investment from the audience, and when it thought it was paying off, the prize wasn’t nearly as compelling enough. Some of you may enjoy the aesthetics, the performances, even the tone. But one thing is certain: no matter what your cup of tea is when it comes to TV shows, no one can say you’re missing out if you pass on Real Investigator.
Here’s to a better Season 3. Cheers.