“True Detective” kicked off its second season with an almost impossible task: How do you successfully follow up a first season that mystified and enraptured audience with an original, gordian-knot of a story, lush scenery and a score that translated onto the screen as visual poetry, and actors playing at the top of their game, bringing characters that still resonate a year later. The short answer is, ‘you don’t.’ Find out why after the break.
Sorry, that may have come across as harsh. Because it’s obvious, they’re trying. Trying very hard to recapture some of the magic of that first season. It’s an uphill battle, having to establish new characters, new plot lines, and new reasons to care, and having a very short time to do it. And aside for a few missteps, they do a fine job of setting up an interesting police drama, one that you can find on any other channel, including characters such as:
Ray Velcoro, (the hard-bitten cop who does bad things). Colin Farrell does good work with the role. The constant simmering anger, just percolating below the surface. The hatred he feels for himself, his desire to do the ‘right’ thing, especially for his son, and the knowledge that he knows ultimately he is fatally flawed. His treatment of his son’s bully, the savage way he beat the father, and his behavior afterwards, working hard towards obliterating it under an ocean of drink were spot on. Unfortunately, the sudden flashback to Ray’s initial meeting with crime boss Frank Semyon was a little bit disconcerting. This was good knowledge to have, but did they need to let us how Ray came to be a bought man within the first ten minutes of the episode? Like a lot of the episode, it seemed forced.
Frank Semyon, (the crime boss who just wants to go legit). Vince Vaughn did just fine with this, and any concerns I had about him playing a serious role were wiped out very quickly. I thought Vaughn’s portrayal ended up very similar to Vincent D’onofrio’s portrayal of Wilson Fisk in “Daredevil.” That sense of melancholy is there in both, the feeling that this isn’t just a criminal with a keen sense of self-interest, but rather a man who wants a new path quite badly. The difference is where each man stands, and while D’onofrio’s Kingpin seems to be someone who wears his destiny like paladins armor, and is willing to burn cities to achieve it; Vaughn’s Semyon seems lost, a man who knows he’s still at the mercy of forces and people beyond his control (Casper, Osip). It will be interesting to see how this plays out, whether Semyon will take a more active role or merely be a pawn in another man’s game.
Ani Bezzerides, (the tough girl cop who is mad at the world). I love Rachel McAdams, let’s get this right up front. Loved her in Mean Girls, loved her in Wedding Crashers, loved her in The Time Traveler’s Wife. And I confess, the only actor who worried me more than Vaughn coming in was Ms. McAdams, simply because I thought I’d have a hard time seeing her in this role. I was wrong, she handles it. That said, I hope they give her more to do than be pissed, and apparently request sex acts that make her lover uncomfortable. I also hope there is some reason to include the scenes with both sister and father, because – as much as I loved David Morse as a transcendental, part-time hippie – they did nothing except establish Ani as uptight and judgmental. I hope there is more to her than that and an apparent drinking problem.
Paul Woodrugh, (the former soldier with a ton of issues) I don’t really know what to make of this one. Again, Taylor Kitsch was fine, but this character had me a little lost. Straight-edged boy scout by day, suicidal bike rider with the mutant ability to not blink while riding a motorcycle at 100 MPH without goggles. He has scars he doesn’t want to talk about and requires some pharmaceutical enhancement to keep his sex-starved girlfriend happy, there’s simply not a lot of there there. Let’s hope we get some answers and character arc as the season progresses.
The plot itself is a little jumbled, but that may be more a function of trying to get as many elements in play as early as possible (see impossible task comments above). It leaned a little too heavily on coincidence (Ana conveniently running into her sister and her father on two separate calls, Paul managing to pull into the one rest stop that just happened to have Casper’s body), and as I mentioned earlier, seemed a little forced, like they’re purposefully trying to evoke last season with the moody lyrics, murmured dialogue, and broken people with shattered pasts. These are all good elements, but the beauty of the anthology format is you start with a clean slate each year. We’ll see how the rest of the season plays out, but one episode in we’re really only watching the shadows of season one.