Spoilers lurk within.
Alright – it’s a provocative post title. But what the hell is happening with True Detective’s second season?
I’m confused, intrigued, amused – hi, Vince Vaughn and your ‘here I am, acting’ face – a little annoyed, but overall hopeful that the season will a) improve and b) give me something to be excited about each week.
Right now, I approach watching every episode like I would a conversation with someone who I suspect is a bit of a gobshite, but who’s interesting on the outside. They intrigue me to the point that I’m happy to chat with them. But after each one of our conversations I’m left with the uneasy feeling that they’re having me on in some way.
That’s why I have four questions about True Detective season two (some of them are, admittedly, rhetorical questions, as is my wont).
1. Will Colin Farrell continue being the best thing in the show?
If so, hurrah. As each episode has revealed itself, Ireland’s Farrell has settled more and more into the skin of the rumpled and alcohol-marinated cop Ray Velcoro.
His furrowed brow goes some way to giving us a hint to his predicament (that he has Done Bad Things in the past and not-so-distant past), but without over-playing his dirty cop role.
If at first it seemed Farrell was erring on the side of cliché, as time has gone on he’s become the series’ heart. A bruised, bloody heart, but a heart nonetheless. His resurrection after episode two’s cliffhanger teetered on a tightrope between being ‘ah here’ unbelievable and ‘I’ll buy it’ believable, but the series would be missing so much without him and his hangdog moustache.
Even if he is an intolerable brute at the worst of times.
2. Will Ani Bezzerides ever be allowed watch porn without it being sinister?
Or, will your ‘woman problem’ continue to be as glaringly obvious as Vince Vaughn’s miscasting? (I feel bad for being a downer about Vaughn – but honestly, like).
So far, we’ve seen the knife-carrying Bezzerides trade pithy remarks with Velcoro in the car (how I actually long for the days of Marty and Rust’s extreme spiritual lad bantz during these moments); be called a ‘c**t’ by the Mayor of Vinci; look a little too interested in online porn (ah here); and generally show one side to her personality: the pissed off side.
Admittedly, if I was a divorced cop whose father was a weird spiritual guru; if my own boss was telling me to sleep with someone for my job; and if I was sent to a dead-end town like Vinci with a guy like Velcoro, I’d probably be in a bit of a fouler too.
But throw us a lady-bone, and show us another side to Ani.
In addition, will the other female characters be given a little more to do? In episode three, the most prominent female roles included: the police officer who encouraged Ani to have sex with Velcoro in exchange for information; a ‘foreign’ (ie stereotypically Eastern European) bride on drugs who likes cutting out pages from fashion magazines (what COULD that mean); sex workers in Semyon’s club, who weren’t given much to say (my point isn’t that the women were sex workers or strippers, but their lack of presence); and Jordan Semyon, played by Kelly Reilly, who was finally, finally given some juicy lines when she stormed out on Semyon in the fertility clinic.
3. Is this series all about the penis?
Velcoro has questions over his son’s paternity; Semyon struggles with infertility in his marriage, to the point that he can’t physically produce a semen sample (and then, in case we don’t grasp exactly why he can’t get it up, he tells us how awful and unnatural it is to be in that situation); Paul Woodrugh is fighting a battle with his sexuality, and there were heavy Oedipal hints dropped about his relationship with his mother.
If this is about the role of men in contemporary America, that’s not a bad thing. The complexities of Western society and the changing role of men in marriage, relationships, the workplace, politics, etc, are ripe for exploring.
That’s why we’ve seen this explored in various ways in hit shows already, from Sopranos to Breaking Bad, The Wire to Mad Men… so many shows that someone has already written the book about these difficult men. So, if this is the raison d’etre of True Detective, it positions it within a long line of similarly-focused shows. But this is ground that’s already being trod, which is why it feels a little too familiar (though I welcome the frequent nods to Twin Peaks thus far).
One of the draws of season one was its supernatural side: its talk of yellow kings, Carcosa, and time being a flat circle. For all of Rust Cohle’s ‘stoner who has stumbled into a philosophy class’ ramblings, it felt different, dark, and fresh, rather than mundane. It posed questions we wanted to know the answers to.
The obsession with difficult men is a large part of why series like Girls and Broad City were immediately grabbed and clutched tightly to the bosom of predominantly female audiences. At last, we could whisper under our collective female breath, a show for us.
4. Will Frank Semyon continue being embarrassing?
I’m looking forward to seeing more of the underworld in Vinci, the gloomy industrial town at the centre of True Detective’s new mystery. But one of the links to this grimy world is Semyon, and Vince Vaughn has unfortunately brought too little heft to the role.
He’s trying, yes, and it’s refreshing to see Vaughn play anything other than a wisecracking child trapped in an overgrown man’s body, but unlike Farrell he just hasn’t settled in enough. We did see glimpses of the true darkness to Semyon when he removed an associate’s teeth with a pliers, but he has never really plumbed the depths of menace that a former gangster needs to sink to.
The opening scenes in episode two, where he recounted an abusive childhood, should have been chilling. His description of bashing a rodent to death should have been appalling, and given an insight into Semyon’s secret motivation for a career in crime. Instead, it was cringe-makingly clichéd and utterly unconvincing.
He’s not undergoing a McConaughey-style renaissance yet, but there’s still time for Vaughn to show us what he’s made of.
What do you think of Season 2 so far?