True Detective is one of my favourite TV shows of all time. I loved Season 1 and now, halfway through Season 2, I’m badly addicted.
Undeniably, it was tough to follow the critical acclaim of Season 1, especially considering that Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, whom we’d become so invested in, wouldn’t be the leads of the new season. But in a mix of surprising and exciting news leading up the latest season, we learned that our new leads had the potential to carry the momentum that the series had begun to build with fans. Now that we’re halfway through, let’s talk about how much that potential has been reached.
Season 2 begins with a murder in the small town of Vinci, California. Patrol officer Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) is the first on the scene, soon followed by detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) and investigator Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams). The three are assigned to work the case together and find out why Ben Caspere, a city manager, was killed, by whom and what else is at work. Along the way, we also learn that Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn), a business owner whose success is based on dirty high-stakes deals, was in the midst of a project with Caspere and fell on hard times after the murder when his deal fell through.
What’s interesting about this season is that we’re going from two leads (both male) to four (three male and one female). Season 1 was so involved in Rust (McConaughey) and Marty’s (Harrelson) lives that it was more about character development than anything else. Four episodes in, it’s clear that the series is continuing on that route, and with the increase in main characters, there’s even less time to devote to the actual crime at hand (and let’s be honest, how many of us really know what’s going on there?).
Another element that the series has been able to carry forward is how it builds character identity through relationships. In Season 1, so much of the focus was on Marty’s strained relationship with his wife (as well as his affair) and Rust’s inability to make new relationships as a result of a tragic past. This season, we delve into Ray’s relationship with his ex-wife, but more importantly, his relationship with his son, who was born after his wife was raped; Frank’s tense relationship with his wife, Jordan (Kelly Reilly), and their presumed infertility; Paul’s struggle with his sexuality and his attempts to force what he believes to be a normal relationship with his girlfriend; and Ani’s broken relationship with her father, who is more focused on running his spiritual commune than on his daughter, as well as Ani’s relationship with her sister, who is dabbling in adult entertainment against Ani’s wishes.
What’s interesting this season is that we now have a female lead and she’s being painted as the toughest of the four. While we see Ray struggle with his alcoholism, Frank with his financial problems and Paul with his sexuality, we see Ani as a strong, independent woman who grew up with contrasting characters (a negligent father, an absent mother who later committed suicide, along with siblings who have committed suicide or ended up in jail). Her strength is hyperbolic. On the one hand, we see that her only real weakness as that fact that she is too hard and refuses to let others in. On the other hand, she’s built up to the point of no true weakness so that we’re expecting a huge blow to her character any episode now that will either lead to her demise or a breakdown and recovery (her character’s named after Antigone, for anyone who’s aware of the tragic Greek myth). She’s almost too “perfect” in a world in shambles.
Another interesting arc is Paul’s. His true feelings—the fact that he feels strongly for a man he served with in the war—are buried so deep, that it’s not a matter of when he will come out to the world, but when he will be able to come out to himself and stop forcing his idea of normalcy on his life, and in turn, ruining the life of his now pregnant girlfriend who he doesn’t actually love (despite saying so and proposing). If it were portrayed just a little bit more convincingly, it would be painful to watch him, not judged by the eyes of the world, but by himself for feeling so wrong about who he really is.
While we are seeing some great character arcs forming this season, like I mentioned, with four leads, it’s challenging to find time to focus on the crime itself, which was partly what made Season 1 so strong. Although the crime (in both seasons) in secondary to the characters, it needs to be compelling because it’s the thread that brings these four lives together. Not only do we get a very choppy mystery to follow (which we also did in Season 1, but more intriguingly so), but when these four interesting people come together, we see next to nothing come from their relationships to each other. Season 1 was about Rust and Marty’s personal lives, but it was also largely about their dynamic of working together. This season, there are walls built between all main characters that are hardly nudged (there’s attempt to connect Frank and Ray, but it feels weak and forced).
That said, I still have hope that the season can pull through. There have been moments during the first season where I felt kind of set back, but staying invested paid off. This season, although we’re missing elements in some places, there’s a lot to enjoy: character arcs, cinematography, writing style. And in the end, even if this season doesn’t hold up to Season 1, we can be okay with that because even with its shortcomings, it’s still some of the best drama on TV today.
True Detective Season 2 airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Canada.
What do you think of TD S2? Are you digging Ani and Rachel McAdams in the role? Share your thoughts below!