True Detective Season 2 Review by Robert Carieri
Very rarely does a show’s second season outshine the first, though there are some exceptions. To the dismay of many, the first episode of the returning HBO series True Detective has hinted that it might not be one of those exceptions. However, fear not: there is still hope for redemption in later episodes. The pilot, “The Western Book of the Dead,” introduced four diverse and complex protagonists (that’s twice as many as last season!): Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), the depressed, angry alcoholic/part time dad/full time detective, Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), the angsty detective, Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), the troubled, ostracized highway patrolman wrapped up in a TMZ scandal, and Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn), the tough criminal-turned-businessman (who, unfortunately, won’t be crashing any weddings with his BFF Owen Wilson any time soon). Each character struggles with inner personal conflicts in addition to the external conflicts that the city of Los Angeles throws their way. Moreover, each character is somehow tied to the others, and though the “how” has yet to be revealed, it is clear so far that their stories revolve around solving the murder of an important individual.
Most of the season relies on the four main characters to move the plot forward unlike last season—which relied on the murder case to move the plot forward. While the relationships between each character are eventually established more clearly in the second episode, the pilot does a solid job of demonstrating that the stories revolve around the murder case. The confusion between character’s exact relationships to one another is a bit frustrating, though—of course, more will be revealed as the season progresses.
The season premiere is somewhat frustrating to sit through, as the viewer is left with too many crucial questions to be answered. While it’s a given that cliffhangers are a pretty good way of keeping view counts high and getting people to talk, there are too many knots left untied for the viewer (unlike the first season’s pilot). In addition, there are now no longer two protagonists to focus on like the previous season—Rustin Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson)—but instead four protagonists, each with a different storyline that leaves even more questions to be answered.
Despite these faults, the performances by the four leads were both riveting and authentic. Once again, Pizzolato has shocked viewers with a risky cast lineup that has proven to surprise those who expected much worse (which was slightly short of the entirety of the fan base). Though, don’t get me wrong, the performances weren’t fully immaculate, they undoubtedly managed to alleviate some of the compromising aspects of the season premiere. The lack of fulfillment in the episode is countered not only by the astounding performances but also the tones established by the dark and treacherous setting of the gilded city of Los Angeles. In addition, many costume and lighting choices give the show a visually darker tone, which assists in instituting an element of mystery and danger.
“The Western Book of the Dead” by no means surpasses the first season premiere of True Detective as many hoped it would, primarily due to the frustration brought about by the episode’s vagueness in establishing a plotline. Season one’s pilot of True Detective clearly established the journey of the two protagonists and effectively set the tone of the show almost immediately. The first episode of season one, unlike season two’s premiere, leaves us wanting to watch even more of the story, rather than wanting information about said story. In time, however, the season’s genius will hopefully reveal itself.