Season Two Of ‘True Detective’ Is Comically Dark (And Other First Impressions From Last Night’s Premiere)
Let’s meet this season’s crop of moody, demon-infested, super-serious white males!
This is a recap of the season two premiere of True Detective. Spoiler.
Okay, so the first thing that we have to make peace with is that there is no Yellow King.
True Detective was a phenomenon for many oft-cited reasons: it featured Hollywood actors and a Hollywood director slumming it for us on TV. (Despite the fact that TV has instigated more lively conversations than film in the last ten years, there’s still this idea that Hollywood big wigs ‘deign’ to appear on the small screen; never mind that it can literally revive careers.) It was also visually ambitious, pulled off shit that no other series had, and merged traditional crime tropes with freaky supernatural mysticism in a way that didn’t feel jarring. They didn’t really nail that last bit in the end, but it sure was fun guessing what it all meant – even if Marty’s daughter turned out to be just a moody teen who used to play with a crown.
Season two of True Detective doesn’t seem to have this same undercurrent of the surreal; creator Nic Pizzolatto said that the season would focus on “hard women, bad men, and the secret occult history of the United States transportation system”, but I think ‘occult’ means clandestine in this case. (Unless Rachel McAdams turns out to be a witch; fingers crossed.) Still, given the choice between a supernatural pie that was stuffed with so many red herrings that it wasn’t that tasty in the end, or a straight up tale of film noir and the politics of geography, I prefer the latter.
Reviewers are already comparing season two to Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, a film that on paper sounds mega bore-zo (a detective investigates disputes about water usage!), but which is actually a psychological thriller about corruption, greed and the decay hidden within sunny, perfect California. Basically, don’t be put off by the fact that True Detective is about public transport, because it’s nothing like your workmate complaining about his 45 minute commute.
For one thing, Colin Farrell wears a bolo tie.
So without further ado, let’s meet this season’s crop of moody, demon-infested, super serious white males!
Colin Farrell plays Ray Velcoro, a detective who, you guessed it, has a lot of demons! Oh boy, does he have demons. For a guy with such eccentric taste in novelty collar ornaments you would be surprised by how many demons he has.
Ray has an adorable son of whom he is trying to attain expanded custody, which is complicated by the fact that his then-wife was sexually assaulted nine months before giving birth and it’s unclear who the kid’s actual father is. When discussing this with a lawyer, Ray explains that her attacker was never found and also, Ray is a GREAT dad: he bought his son expensive sneakers, what more do you people want? “I welcome judgment,” he says, with a steely expression – you know, that totally normal thing for a completely innocent, relaxed guy to say. I’m sure you’ll nail that hearing, Ray!
Except of course, Ray is extremely shady. A flashback tells us that Ray knew exactly who attacked his wife, and where to find him. Now we know that his moustache is actually full of secrets, deception and probably a bit of bourbon from the night before. His intentions – avenging his wife, protecting his son – may be pure, but this guy needs to enrol in an art class or something because the way he expresses himself needs a bit of work. For example, if your son has just reluctantly admitted that his classmates stole his new sneakers and cut them up would you:
a) Hug his little body until you absorb all his sadness and then take him out for an ice cream soda;
b) Talk to the school principal about keeping an eye on the rat bags who break into people’s lockers and mess with their LeBrons, or;
c) Scream at him, threaten to spank him in front of his classmates, find out who the bully is and then force the bully to watch while you beat his father unconscious and suggest sodomising his father with his mother’s corpse in revenge?
Ray apologises straight away by telling his kid an anecdote about astronauts. “Astronauts don’t even go to the moon anymore,” he explains sadly on a dictaphone. There’s nothing like telling a kid a nonsensical story about space travel to win back their affections, huh? Also, do they not have texting in California?
Whatever, Ray has bigger fish to fry. The City Manager has been kidnapped and Ray is tasked with finding him. We are told that the City Manager is dodgy because his mansion is full of porn-themed art. “This is fucked,” says Ray. Woah, cool it with the judgment, Ray!
The City Manager bankrolls all new projects in the city of Vinci, so his disappearance is very suspicious. One guy who is invested in this horse race is Vince Vaughn’s Frank Seymon, a criminal-turned-suit(-but-still-sort-of-criminal) who is involved with a $68 billion plan to build a high speed railway through central California, and build a whole lot of commercial properties around the rail.
The only problem is that the local newspaper is running an eight part series uncovering the corruption of California’s local government. Ruh roh! The mayor is stressing out, but Frank is all, “It’s cool, I’m all over”, but is secretly freaking the fuck out too – particularly as the City Manager was the co-architect of the plan, and an investment he was counting on from some Russian gangster is going pear-shaped.
Like Ray, Frank paces his speech very slowly and often says things that sound deep, but actually make no sense. “A good women mitigates our basic desires,” he proclaims, cheers-ing Ray in the most depressing bar in the history of the planet. Oh, sure. Wait, I don’t get it.
Oh yeah, Frank and Ray are actually in cahoots. They’re the kind of friends who drink in bars, talk about IVF and occasionally do each other favours for money. Frank was the one who hooked Ray up with a custody lawyer, after all. Ray is grateful – unless you try to take his bottle, or his nachos.
Anyway, Frank doesn’t like being a suit that much (“Behold, what once was a man!” he says, while his wife fixes his cuff links. “Uh, okay,” says his wife), but he does seem to like fancy parties, baller houses and really committing to mid-century design. He explains to a former associate that this transport deal has the potential to make them one of those old California families, “where you don’t even know where the money comes from”. Of course the implication is that whatever he has planned has tinges of illegality about it – particularly when he has Ray go over to a journalist’s house to beat him up and scare him into not writing about his public transport plan.
Next up is, wait – Rachel McAdams isn’t a man! So women are allowed to be main characters in this season, not just wives, girlfriends, victims or male wish fulfillment boob mirages? Awesome!
Antigone/Ani is a tough, no-nonsense cop (SURPRISE!) who we’re told likes to get a little freaky in the bedroom (poor disoriented Steve), and is very judgemental of her little sister doing porn/performance art. “When you walk, it’s like erasers clapping!” her sister Athena says. It’s been a really long time since I thought about blackboards, so it took me a while to understand what that means. Actually, I still don’t really know what it means. Don’t mess with Regina George Ani, I guess!
While Ani investigates a missing persons case, we meet her father: a hippy dippy cult spiritual leader who tells her that her neg vibe is bringing everyone down (meanwhile, I’m trying to ignore the potential incest Easter egg). This would perhaps be a fair enough thing to say, if in the same conversation he didn’t claim that Ani and Athena’s mother wouldn’t have committed suicide if she’d poured more of her melancholy into her acting career. Perhaps this is why Ani seems to hate everyone she meets almost immediately.
Last but not least is Paul Woodrugh. Well, he is kind of the lesser of the four characters. Paul is a highway patrol police officer and a war veteran. He is covered in mysterious scars and is also grumpy about everything. In fact, he’s so incredibly humorless that I actually began laughing every time he came on the screen. He seems confused when an actress offers him sexual favours to get out of a ticket. He seems confused when his boss puts him on leave. He stares at himself in the mirror very seriously. He sits on the toilet in silence very seriously.
While his girlfriend gives him a blow job, he is silent and very serious.
Between The Americans and True Detective, it’s shaping up to be quite the year for Men Looking Sad While Getting Blown
— Abraham Riesman (@abrahamjoseph) June 22, 2015
The only time he breaks is when he starts swearing and crying on his suicide motorbike ride, driving faster and faster until he almost crashes. And what does he find when he picks himself up? The City Manager, wearing a pair of sunnies and reclining on a bench. Sound pretty leisure, except that it’s the middle of the night, his eyeballs are burned out and he is, well, dead. (Side note: the body was found near a sign that says ‘Catalyst Group’ — the same sign displayed at Frank’s party?)
Intense Paul calls it in and Ray and Ani are roused, one from napping in a bar, the other from getting kicked out of a casino. They gather around the corpse and stare at it intensely. Then they stare at each other intensely. Director Justin Lim pans out, framing these tiny intense people against the crashing California coastline, which looks a little more ominous than the postcards suggest. Nick Cave starts singing, because contractually he is the soundtrack to all nightmares.
True Detective is an almost comically grave show (shout out to the women Colin Farrell watches smoking crack in the middle of the day, while he slurps down another bourbon and puts on a balaclava) but for me, the melodramatic shots of people starring in the mirror/into a glass of whiskey and slurring Important — Dialogue — REALLY — slowly, will all be worth it, if the next few episodes really ramp up the murder mystery and corruption intrigue.
It’s almost impossible to invest in four main characters after only one hour of television, but I have a good feeling that I will over the next couple of weeks (or at least 3/4. Sorry, Paul!). But if the show teaches us anything, and this really is ‘the world we deserve’, maybe we shouldn’t ever hold out for hope of a pay off for True Detective, just in case it doesn’t come true. I mean, astronauts don’t even walk on the moon anymore.
True Detective airs on Foxtel’s Showcase every Monday at 3.30pm (express from the US), before being re-broadcast at 7.30pm.
Sinead Stubbins is a writer from Melbourne who’s been published in Yen, frankie, Smith Journal and Elle. She tweets from @sineadstubbins