Reactions to Season 2 of True Detective have been filled with snark and contempt. Fans of last year can’t shake their Carcosa hangover despite some phenomenal performances, cinematography, and writing. In this author’s humble opinion this season of True Detective is the show of the Summer, but it can’t seem to escape the Yellow King’s shadow. The constant comparisons between seasons isn’t fair or justified, it’s a completely different show.
Season 1 of True Detective was a game changer, much like Lost at its peak, it sent fans down a myriad of internet k-holes as they tried to piece together the puzzle before Rust or Marty. The acting was stupendous and the storyline was mythic and creepy. Cary Joji Fukunaga (Season 1 Director) artistically shot the Louisiana Bayou making it an additional character in the show, much like Woody Allen’s done throughout his career with NYC – and Matthew McConaughey played the absolute shit out of Detective Rust Cohle, in a role that will define his career many, many years from now.
I was most excited with Season 1 when I thought the forth wall was boldly being broken with Cohle’s now famous philosophical quips, “This place is like somebody’s memory of a town…”. That’s why I was so disappointed in the last couple of episodes, the show was able to flirt with mysticism but never truly crossed the event horizon. It devolved into what felt like just another Cop Drama as the Yellow King materialized into just an obese incestual serial killer, and let’s not forget a certain Detective’s miraculous recovery so he and his partner could have one last chat under the stars…ugh, that last Episode still makes me shake my head.
This all said, it was great TV, and one of my favorite seasons of all time, but it wasn’t perfect, and they did NOT stick the landing, much like the previously mentioned Lost. Season 2 is a lot more complex because they’ve stayed away from mysticism which can easily fill voids without real answers – everything’s instead based in a stark, and often, depressing reality. Season 1 threw a lot of red herring’s with the mystical that had absolutely nothing to do with the end game, which was a cheap trick.
How the Bayou was shot was gorgeous no doubt, but it also was a blank canvas to work from (if you don’t count Beasts of the Southern Wild), as it’s a section of America not often filmed, therefore expectations were zero. Meanwhile, Season 2 was tasked with LA, the most filmed city in the history of the medium, and thus far, I’ve been thrilled with how they’ve thrown a Bukoskian broken dream light on the region through the Vinci lens. The criticized highway shots have served as a complimentary scene setter as well as a realistic transition trick, for getting anywhere in that region a car is needed, and the twisted roads show how interconnected the worlds of a Migrant Worker, Prostitute, Senator, Guru Hippie, and Real Estate Developer may be. All roads lead to more roads.
The other piece of difficulty Season 2 is navigating is they’ve doubled the number of leads from season 1 from two to four. And those actors have to contend with the ghosts of Harrelson and McConaughey, I think each of the four is more than holding their own weight. I like that the tone often takes a pulpy noir feel, especially Vaughn as Frank Semyon. The humor’s as dry as a good Californian Cabernet Sauvignon (“Is that a fucking e-cigarette?” “You’re a mood ring maybe?”) – which gets me to my favorite part of the show, the dialog. I love the layered pulp with Frank and grizzled burnt-out mentorship of Detective Ray Velcoro – my favorite Tarantino flick is Jackie Brown because of the dialog – and the complex story that’s being pieced together here, from the hooking, to gangsters, to senators, to land developers, is admirable – all while keeping and merging four separate character arcs. It’s impressive, that’s a hell of a lot of juggling, even if life isn’t a flat circle.
Sure, there’s no Yellow King, and nothing to research on Monday morning like dark French children’s literature from the 1890’s, but that’s what makes Season 2 stand alone on it’s own as a great season, they rely on none of the tricks from the previous season, but for some, despite what’s in Detective Velcor’s cure-all glove compartment, some will never be able to get over their Carcosa hangover, and that’s too bad, because they’re missing out on a pretty damn good show.