Why this season of True Detective is such a bummer

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Colin Farrell as a true detective - HBO
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  • Colin Farrell as a true detective

A tagline on one of the promotional posters for the new (as of last month) season of HBO's True Detective says, "We get the world we deserve." Season two is set primarily in Vinci, a fictional armpit of southern California where the industrial waste flows like wine and every person in power has his slimy fingers in one criminal conspiracy or another. They’re scummy people, and Vinci is the scummy world they deserve. I wonder if by the same token this incarnation of True D, which so far has been an exhausting slog through a convoluted, uninteresting story, isn't the show we deserve.

When the first season of True Detective premiered last year, I waited exactly one episode to declare that it was one of the more excellent things that had been on TV in recent history. (I did so in a blog post called "True Detective is criminally great," which in hindsight is a pretty uninspired headline—apologies.) That premiere was moody, funny, and visually stunning, and the rest of the season lived up to that standard, except when it was exceeding it. I wasn't alone in my enthusiasm—almost everyone lost their shit.

Maybe if we'd cooled our jets a little and tempered our expectations a lot, this season wouldn't feel like such a massive disappointment. Creator-writer Nic Pizzolatto managed yet again to assemble an incredible cast, especially for TV—Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Vince Vaughn—so what's the problem? I have a couple ideas. For one thing, there's too much going on and the stakes are way too low. The event that set the story into motion was the murder of Vinci city manager Ben Casper, who we can assume wasn't a great guy since literally no one else on the show is. That's not to say he deserves to be murdered, but finding his killer seems less consequential than finding, say, a prolific killer of women and girls who fancies himself the Yellow King of Carcosa. There are also threads that involve stolen diamonds, a missing woman, a religious commune, a custody battle—and several other things we'll struggle to care about.

Another of season two's shortcomings is that it's so self-serious. In season one, the Matthew McConaughey character Rust Cohle's nihilistic ramblings usually came off as inspired, but when they were overtly maudlin or melodramatic, his partner Martin Hart was there to roll his eyes with us. This season lacks the same sort of self-awareness, not to mention the emotional center created by the relationship between two officers. Detectives Bezzerides (McAdams), Velcoro (Farrell), and Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) are practically strangers to one another, and so far not one of the characters' presence in another's life has yielded anything that's significant to the story's development.

The most recent episode, the season’s fifth, is the first to even vaguely resemble a watchable, well-made show, although my viewing companion and I still found ourselves pausing and rewinding to google characters we’d been introduced to too briefly to remember by name and to redigest clunky bits of dialogue. I think at this point, I deserve to change the channel.


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