The first season of True Detective seemed to be lightning in a bottle. It was a perfect combination of top notch directing, acting and writing that turned into one of the most visually striking and alluring shows in television history. After the show’s second season, in which stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson were traded in for Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Vince Vaughn and others, it has become even clearer that the first season really was lightning in a bottle. The second season is very much your typical crime drama of the last few years (one that struggles to latch onto the last dying embers of the tropes of the TV Golden Age) that is occasionally elevated by strong directing and a dependable performance from Colin Farrell.
Season two follows a police taskforce (Farrell, McAdams and Taylor Kitsch) and a gangster (Vaughn) trying to solve the murder of a prominent member of a local government that ran away with the gangster’s money. It’s a convoluted plotline that only gets more convoluted as it goes along. At first you have to at least admire how many characters and plot points showrunner Nic Pizzolatto forces you to remember, but when all of this leads to such a typical ending, it’s hard not to feel like you have been duped.
As a whole this season just isn’t very good and the problems are just all over the place. Whether it’s the dull direction from Justin Lin (who was billed as the big director that would help to replace Cary Fukunaga doing career best work in the first season) in the first couple of episodes or Vince Vaughn choking over dialogue that a much more capable actor would have used to create this season’s version of Rust Cohle (McConaughey’s iconic character of the first season) or a massive storyline being condensed into just eight hours there’s a lot not to like in this season.
However, there are moments of promise sprinkled throughout the season that will keep you watching. Colin Farrell has quietly been having a renaissance of his own ever since his career best performance in In Bruges, and his role, as Ray Velcoro, is just another cap in his feather. He’s stuck with some of the more ridiculous dialogue but makes it feel natural, and although his accent wavers in the early episodes a bit he is the actor that most settles into his role. It’s ultimately his performance that makes you believe in the rather predictable and disappointing finale. Additionally, the directing team does much better when Justin Lin leaves. Miguel Sapochnik’s direction of the season’s six episode (which featured the much talked about orgy sequence) is the closest any of the directors get to capturing Cary Fukunaga’s style, and John Crowley’s direction of two episodes features some top notch sequences (including a freaky and visually stunning walk through a desert in the season finale) that makes you wonder what he can do with his next feature film Brooklyn.
The second season of True Detective is a disappointment that has just enough moments of brilliance to keep you coming back for more.