Finally caught up with the sophomore effort of HBO's Nick Pizzolatto anthology crime series True Detective. Coming on the heels of the cultural juggernaut that the first season proved to be there was a lot to live up to and the consensus I picked up on whilst avoiding spoilery territory was that it had not. Worse, that it was just embarrassingly bad. Awful. Stupid. Cringe-inducing. Doubling down on the rip-off thing season one had been accused of. Off-balance on many a politically correct posture. Disappeared up its own asshole and unable to be heard over the feedback loop the characters generated.
This all made me very eager to see it. First - I root for success always. I want the film makers to make something I'll enjoy. I rarely hate-watch anything. And I may have a bit of a contrarian streak in me - so when the overwhelmingly bad reviews were hittin the Twitters, I burrowed in to my non-cable-having cave to hibernate and rest up for a DVD appraisal several months later.
And oh the dreams I had during my sleep. All that delicious hate nourished my anticipation so that I was primed for either a sly and subversive success or a colossal failure of legendary proportions.
I began my watch early in January and finished a week later, dazed, but not confused and pretty certain I'd seen something special that will be the subject of critical reexamination a few years down the road. Give it a third season and I think season two will be reconciled to the first more clearly. The through-lines obvious.
In fact... I may even prefer season two to season one. May. Might. We'll see, but it's a possibility.
Those through lines for one.
Both seasons are about little folks getting ground up in the big machinery, fed to the gods of (capital-P pejorative) progress, suicidal social stability and filthy fortunes. The difference - season one featured a couple of detectives attempting to nail the smallest, but only vulnerable, perp part of that establishment. In the end they succeed and live and the corruption roles on unabated and sure to crush more innocents along the way.
In season two the concerned parties chose a suicidal take-the-fight-to-them, burn-it-all-down strategy unsatisfied to let some low-level creeps get thrown under the bus on behalf of their overlords. In the end they die disgraced, and the corruption roles on unabated and sure to crush more innocents along the way.
Through line number two - locale as character. Dude. Dude. Yeah, season two proved that the show's run was not going to be focused on the South, but it confirmed that locale was muy importante to the whole affair and that for all the dirt beneath its fingernails, the feel of the show was going to be decidedly otherworldly and ethereal whether set in the lush and spooky, swampy rural south or the glitter-gritted, So-Cal, tin-machine urban sprawl.
And those ridiculous rap sessions - they point to another through line...
Beside the point anyway. Because all of this is simply character and not worthy of nor, I believe, intended to be invested in by the audience. Rust Cohle's first season soliloquies were simply more costume that described the character and helped set a tone - it's always a character's action or inaction that defines them - don't be distracted. Easy to be, sure, because it's well-written and performed - no Deadwood-level shit here, but c'mon it sounds nice and maybe familiar...
Be like me, or don't.
But let's contrast the two seasons. Here are some reasons I dig S2 apart from S1.
Season one was a standout for many reasons -consistency in Pizzolatto's writing and the singular vision of director Cary Joji Fukunaga for fucking starters- and I, for one was pleased with its version of the rough south, but there's another element that it succeeded in spite of and not because of, and it's the essence of my potential preference to season two...
Season one: Serial killer.
Season two: No fucking serial killers.
Wha? A major crime teevees production not about a serial killer? In what universe? In this one, motherfuckers. The gods smiled and delivered us from that cheapest of used up conventions. Y'know what? This one doesn't even have a hacker or tech genius in the story. None of those magic devices. What we're left with is bad shit going down all around and through the agency of our cast of characters.
Those things include brass knuckle beatdowns, lots of drugs, gangster shit - like running errands for gangsters... actually that's all Colin Farrell.
Who and what else has S2 got going for it?
Of course he reaches the terminus of the range of his ability to back down by season's end and the fight that's left in him is something to see, but it's that slow, measured descent that I found so compelling and unique.
I'd love to watch both seasons again, but I feel S2 will reward second viewing far more than S1's "mystery" storyline. Sorry, America. You got it wrong. True Detective Season 2 was good.