First Impressions: True Detective Season 2

by: Douglas Grant and Michael Shields

Two of Across the Margin’s editors go head-to-head and discuss the second installment of HBO’s True Detective…

TrueDetective2“Everyone gets touched…”

DG: To commence, I must say that the original series premiere had to hook people right off the bat, and had a lot to do in a very short amount of time. Sunday’s episode, the first of this second season, premiered after True Detective had established itself as a cultural phenomenon. That being said, I see a lot of people online attacked it for flat performances and lack of character development, but what I saw was just the opposite. Nic Pizzolatto, the showrunner and head writer, now has the credibility to roll out the story at his own pace, and I was pleased with all four of the integral performances. Furthermore, I loved Ray’s (Colin Farrell) reckoning with the bully, and through this brutal act it was clear we are not dealing with a situation involving moral ambiguity, he seems like a generally bad guy. And I appreciated that Frank (Vince Vaughn) sincerely felt bad for him and wanted to help him. Having lost some of last year’s talent, I found the cinematography to be on point. Same goes for the score. I am curious, you broke down every episode during the first season, do you have any plans on doing a True Detective: Deconstructed series?

MCS: I stand shoulder to shoulder with you on so much of what you have said. I cannot understand how people would knock the initial episode of True Detective’s second season for flat performances (well, with the exception of one – but I will get to that), and for a lack of character development. In fact, last night’s premiere was almost entirely character development. We were given an opportunity to get to know the main characters right off the bat through a series of very telling scenes outside of the principle storyline. But, I will say, this initial episode, entitled “The Western Book of the Dead,” didn’t particularly blow me away, and I think much of that has to do with the fact that Season 1 casts a loooonnnng shadow, one that I can’t seem to get out from under as of yet, but so far I am extremely intrigued. My curiosity is piqued, and much of this has to do with the fact that there are so many missing pieces to the tale yet to be revealed, and so many questions that need answering. But also because I need to see what happens to these troubled characters. No lack of tortured souls in this one, the crew assembled at the end of the episode was as battered as they come.

And as of now, I am not planning on commencing with the True Detective Deconstructions (although I am confident we will be talking about the episodes often in some fashion!). I was going back and forth about the idea as I tuned into the episode – even had a cup of coffee before the episode to fuel myself for some writing post-show –  but I can tell you the point when I decided I couldn’t do them. It was when Vince Vaughn melodramatically stated, “Never do anything out of hunger, not even eat.” You see, I really don’t want to spend time writing about things I have issues with. I hate picking things apart, and whining about what could be an excellent television show, but one with flaws. It was with that line and Vaughn’s later one about a “codependency of interest” where it’s clear that in some way True Detective has become conscious, and completely aware of itself. Vaughn’s delivery of those lines is – in my estimation – a deliberate attempt to articulate the way in which someone on True Detective is supposed to deliver their lines. Something felt off about that to me, and I took Vaughn’s muted performance as a bit like a red flag. But while I have my concerns, I am more than hopeful for this series. The episode felt loaded with distressing backstories of its many characters, including an introduction to Ani’s (short for Antigone, which is an allude to Sophocle’s tragedy about family and duty) father and her sister, Athena. And I think this bevy of discontent is going to make for some compelling television which will incorporate some pretty dark, and startlingly authentic, takes on existence.

DG: One thing I truly loved is how they did for southern California what they did for the Louisiana bayou – by making it seem like a dark and menacing place, particularly with the overhead shots and the score. I love when that one cop asks Ray where the fuck Vinci is, because it’s like he’s asking for the viewer as well, and I’m interested to see where the Vinci aspect of the story goes. And what do you do when some punk kid bullies your son? Beat the shit out of his dad right in front of him.

MCS: That was such an intense scene. As far as the direction and cinematography, Cary Joji Fukunaga’s skills are certainly missed (I am ashamed to admit how often I have watched the six minute tracking shot from “Who Goes There” last season), but Justin Lin looks to pick off right where he left off. All those moody shots of refineries and freeway exchanges certainly set the tone – and invoke the true spirit of a California Noir. The freeway shots, in particular, affect me as they seem to highlight the interconnectedness of the whole tale, leading up to that point where the lead characters are finally brought together at Casper’s disfigured body.

I apologize, as I am going to nit-pick again, and also be blunt. But, was Vince Vaughn a case of bad casting (“Big day….all the marbles”), or will it just take time for me to get used to the minimalistic, nuanced performance that he is going for? McAdams, Kitsch, and Farrell on the other hand – I think they have a chance to be brilliant in this series!

DG: Not to answer your question with a question, but have you ever seen any of Vaughn’s more serious roles, like in the Psycho remake or Return to Paradise? Depending on your reaction to those types of performances, I can better answer your question. I believe that he’s been untested up until this point.

MCS: I love answering questions with questions. That’s my move. But, I love – love, love, love – Vaughn in Clay Pigeons, and the memories of this non-comedic and very impressive turn as a perverse serial killer in that film had me eager to to see him in this role. But, although I haven’t been impressed with his performance thus far, moving forward I am going to try to put aside my negative knee-jerk reaction to this first episode and go into ensuing episodes with an open heart and mind.

So, I’m wondering – and I apologize about topic jumping – but is there a possibility we can ever like a man who is capable of calling his son a “fat pussy?” I have no doubt Velcoro loves his son, as we have seen the lengths he will go for him, but does the viewer stand a chance to garner any affinity or respect for him? Root for him, especially after seeing the demons he is troubled by, I can see that happening. Everybody loves an underdog, even one who talks in such harsh ways to their kid. But like him….I’m not so sure.

DG: Initially, as I alluded to before, I was amused with Ray beating up that kid’s dad. But the truth is that I also found the scene disgusting, and it made me realize that I don’t like Ray. Which is funny considering how much we take out of a trailer. For some reason the limited footage I took in from the trailer had me believing that he would be a sympathetic character. This is a new idea for us to contemplate, this idea of a truly dirty cop in one of the leads, because even though Rust and Marty had their demons, they were both ultimately good guys.

MCS: Velcoro is a despicable human being it appears, and Pizzolatto did everything in his power to paint him as such at the beginning of this series. I can’t get that picture of him sitting at the bar, drunk and taking bumps out of my head. What a mess. On that note, is “This is my Least Favorite Life” by Lera Lynn, who was singing in the bar while Frank and Ray discussed the “meeting” with the reporter, the most True Detective song of all time?1. I also loved the closing moments of this season’s premiere, when Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s “All the Gold in California”2 fittingly played as the camera swept up into the early morning sky to juxtapose the illuminated crime scene surrounded by darkness with the glowing California coastline. Truly a stunning fade out.

DG: Yes! That song was perfect for a show starting off with a clean slate while still trying to capture last year’s feel. Same goes for “All the Gold in California.” I feel like the producers really did their homework in the interim. Any thoughts on the new intro? I was as enthusiastic to see it as if a new season of The Wire was being rolled out, where each season we were given a different version of Tom Waits’ “Way Down in the Hole.”

MCS: I am not sure about the new intro, and again, this has to do with my unreasonably strong affinity to the first season’s opening sequence. Although I love Leonard Cohen and this track “Nevermind,” I need time with this one, and I need to keep working on separating the two seasons as this detachment is essential to fully giving this second installment a chance. But, is it too early to begin speculating? Isn’t that half of the fun with True Detective?! Because if it’s not too soon, I believe we are going to have to start talking about what might really be going down at the Panticapaeum Institute3. I don’t believe for a second that its importance lies only with the fact that Ani’s father works there. Remember, Ani was lead there in her hunt for a missing girl.

DG: I look forward to watching this episode again, to get a firmer grip on what’s going on at the Institute, and Frank’s overall plan for Vinci City in relation to his high-speed railway project, to focus in on the details that may become applicable to the case.

MCS: Yeah, I am curious to know more about the transportation corridor and the train that seems to me reminiscent of the Accela that runs from Boston to Washington D.C. here on the East Coast. I also want to know more about the role Ben Casper (the recently, deceased corrupt City Manager with no eyes and no manhood) had to do with with its development. What was that bird’s head next to him in the car? He is, after all, at the center of this tale, a man whose murder is what has brought these tormented souls together.

DG: That bullet train is something the state of California has been grumbling about for a decade now, a high speed train running from SF to LA. It’s almost become the stuff of urban myth, which is appropriate considering the show we’re talking about.

MCS: It’s like the 2nd Avenue Subway here in New York. I will believe it when I see it! But we are off and running, and Season Two’s first episode’s title, it is certainly worth noting, is either a reference to this PDF that can be found online (likely!) or to that of an actual book entitled, “The Western Book of the Dead” written by Alfred Schmielewski, who went by the name “Yogi A.S. Narayana.” Narayana was an alleged psychic and a mid-twentieth century mystic and his book has more to do with immortality than death as its title implies. The book talks about yogis, or enlightened people, and specifically their ability to leave their physical bodies when they desire. The introduction of these references means two things to me. Firstly, that my speculation about the Panticapaeum Institute, in this light, seems on point and it is likely that this spiritual center, or the ideas considered within its walls, will be omnipresent in the series. And second, things are bound to get really fucking weird. Colin Farrell’s character, Ray Velcoro spoke of judgement, and how he welcomes it. Well, all eyes are on True Detective this time around, and judgement will be laid upon it in spades. There are some mighty big shoes to be filled here and I’m looking forward to seeing if this next installment of True Detective can live up to the hype!

  1. Lera Lynn’s song “The Only Thing Worth Fighting For” is featured in the first trailer for Season Two. []
  2. A cover of a 1979 hit by the Gatlin Brothers, and one of two original songs crafted for the premiere. []
  3. The Panticapaeum Institute is a reference to an ancient Greek colony on what is now known as Crimea. I don’t know much about it yet – but I am working on changing that! []

2 Comments

  • The Vince Vaughn hunger line also killed me. I’m not sure anyone could have pulled it off though. At the end of the day I just really dislike the line or completely just don’t get it.

    • I am with you Tom. I am not sure anyone – regardless of ability – could have pulled off the hunger line. It’s a fault whose origin lies in the writer’s room. -MCS

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