One of the best adult thrillers, TRUE DETECTIVE, returns for a second season. NIC PIZZOLATTO is the creator, once again writing every episode providing a powerful solitary voice for this impressive series.
Season 2 shifts out of the Occult murder scenery, focusing on corruption instead. The complex story simply boils down to a murder and land development. A developer hopes to make highways insignificant with the creation of a rail system.
Meanwhile, three different branches of authority seek the same murderer. This simple plot is anything but simple. It’s the foundation for exploring a city’s corruption and fractured characters.
Let’s briefly get into the impressive cast of characters first and then deconstruct the episode with nerdy analysis.
COLIN FARRELL leads the way as our protagonist, a detective with complicated murky ethics. He battles his inner demons while trying to maintain some semblance of a normal life.
He’s not a squeaky clean Boy Scout of a cop either. Farrell bends the law until he breaks it.
VINCE VAUGHN steps back into acting with a daring role as the series’ antagonist. Vaughn’s manipulative character is trying to change the Californian landscape to his benefit by constructing a rail system.
He shares a history with Farrell. The kind of history that involves the exchange of money.
RACHEL McADAMS gets down to earth and grimy as a member of the Sheriff’s Tactical Unit. McAdams transforms in this role.
And it isn’t simply down to aesthetics (like no make-up). Her character seems to have a complicated and tortured past herself.
TAYLOR KITSCH rounds out the amazing ensemble cast. Known for his tortured soul characters, Kitsch’s role in TRUE DETECTIVE isn’t a revelation. However, he nails this sort of broken and troubled character.
Kitsch is a highway patrol officer, literally scarred by the past. It wasn’t during war, or as a Blackwater merc, it was before all that. This compelling mystery will be revealed later.
Now onto the episode itself…
JUSTIN LIN directed the Season Premiere. He’s known for his work in the FAST & FURIOUS franchise. Along with the DP, Lin beautifully frames this world utilizing a David Fincher-esque palette. The lighting during some sequences contrasts starkly with vibrant edges and neon glows.
A real standout was the bar scene at the end where Farell stares into oblivion (a.k.a. right at us). Another highlight was Kitch racing on his motorcycle against solid darkness.
There is some powerful suggestive imagery and excellent metaphorical set design. The opening shot is a field of flagged markers. They mark construction of the rail system, I suppose. But they also made me think of graves or evidence flags of a crime scene.
The twisted and tangled highway encircles in on itself, perhaps paralleling our characters and their involvement with one another.
Other imagery, like the painting of snake battling a two headed creature suggest the same. In this instance, perhaps symbolizing Vaughn and Farrell.
Butterflies on the wall of Kitsch’s girlfriend’s suggest transformation and metamorphosis. Making me wonder: How have these characters changed? Will each of their pasts get flashbacks continuing the stylistic structure of Season 1?
Okay, let’s dig into some specifics. TRUE DETECTIVE is intelligent entertainment ripe for analysis. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of clues have already been revealed.
I’ll get into some theories later on. But first…
We meet Colin Farrell’s detective as he drops of his heavy-set son for summer camp. Soon after, we learn that his wife was raped and beaten when she was pregnant. I’m assuming she died. The killer was never caught.
I wonder if it was Farrell? Did he loose his temper one night? Or did his involvement with crime lead to her murder? Farell plays it so well, begging for our suspicion, as he says, “I welcome judgement.” We’re meant to believe this refers to the true culprit, but what if it’s himself? This could be a reason why he’s so tortured.
During a flashback years ago, the uniformed Farrell receives a payment from Vince Vaughn’s character, a club owner(?) at the time. Jump to the present, to a white collar Vaughn. Looks like he’s been busy movin’ on up, while Farrell’s been busy slippin’.
Vaughn has some great dialogue to establish his motives and modus operandi, “Never do anything out of hunger… That includes eating.” I wonder if this character is like a master chess player planning several moves ahead?
Vaughn’s girlfriend is played by KELLY REILLY (EDEN LAKE). I’m already suspicious of her. TRUE DETECTIVE gives off some Film Noir vibes and Reilly could be the femme fatale manipulating Vaughn.
We’ll have to wait and see how she develops, but I don’t think an actress of this caliber would play a minor role without something meaty to sink her teeth into.
A transitioning scene after the Vaughn / Riley introduction was rather mysterious. We see a decrepit man traveling down the highway in a Bro-ham. For some reason there is a crow’s head riding shotgun.
Later on, we’ll find out this guy is dead. The earlier scene pulled a WEEKEND AT BERNIES on us. Turns out this is CASPER (no really, that’s not a ghost joke), a missing man involved in the construction and development plans for Vaughn’s rail system.
So… I’m saying it right away, Vaughn did it. I can’t tell if this is too obvious or a Red Herring meant to trick the audience. I feel like Vaughn feigns concern when others wonder where Casper is. All signs seem to point to Vaughn either murdering the man or ordering his death.
This introduces a level of dramatic irony as our three cops find Casper at the end. What I mean is Farrell seeks the killer, while he unknowingly works with the killer.
Next up, we meet Rachel McAdams as she rolls out of bed. In a nice role reversal, before this cop heads off for work she has to deal with her annoying and clingy girlfriend (in this case, needy boyfriend) who wants to move in and not just roll in the hay. It’s a nice spin on the cliche we’ve seen in countless cop shows or movies.
Cue the Raid… McAdams, as part of the Sheriff Department Tactical Unit, storms an apartment / what appears to be a brothel. Turns out it’s a legal webcam stripshow with numerous cameras and models.
It gets a little more complicated when we learn McAdam’s sister is in there. Seems like she has a troubled history with drugs and McAdams is trying to look out for her. But it’s not that simple.
The tables get turned as its suggested McAdams had a troubled past too. Was she involved with illegal drugs or something like prostitution?
We next meet Taylor Kitsch working the beat as Highway Patrol. He pulls over an attractive woman with a lowjack on her ankle.
She’s actually a famous actress with troubles (think Lohan or Hilton). She tries to get out of the ticket offering some oral pleasure back at her house.
Kitsch is one of the few honourable cops around. He turns her in, and gets an extended leave as his reward. Kitsch tries to defend himself, “We work for America, sir.” It doesn’t help. Now, he’s off duty for a while.
I like how this comments on law and celebrity.
Farrell’s detective works for the City of Vinci (their slogan: “Towards Tomorrow”). He’s assigned to investigate the missing Casper. While checking the victim’s apartment he curiously looks into a bowl of milk. A nude woman floats in the white liquid. WTF? Farrell’s thinking the same, asking “You see that, right?” Hahhaa.
That was great. But seriously, does Farrell have a history with hallucinations? That would parallel Season One’s Rusty Cole (Matthew McCounaghey) and provide a connection across the series. For now, I’m thinking this is simply a laugh (maybe a naked doll?), and perhaps a wink to the aforementioned.
Meanwhile… McAdams checks on the Institute, a spritual group lead by a philosophical guru. She questions the man, played by character actor David Morse looking like his shady villain from 12 MONKEYS. It’s good to know this season will continue to explore philosophy.
We learn that this is McAdams’ father. They have differing opinions about her sister and her webcam show. Morse gets all philosophical trying to help his daughter. He says McAdams is always in a “state of resistance.”
Back to pseudo-McNulty… Farrell downs some whiskey during a stakeout. Wait a sec. This isn’t a stakeout. Farrell pulls down a balaclava over his face and hauntingly shushes a crack addict.
He proceeds to the target’s house and enters as the camera stays outside. We watch the blinds move during a violent attack. I loved this subtle approach. If we watch him beat up this guy for cash or blackmail or whatever, it’ll be hard to accept Farrell when he eventually shifts into a more honourable role in later episodes. Or so I assume.
Farrell is a most complicated hero. We watch him talk aggressively with his child. A bully ruined the kid’s LeBron’s. I’m guessing these shoes were paid for with that earlier masked shakedown. Farrell is so upset with his son he lashes out and calls him a “fat pussy”.
It was hard to watch. I know he loves his son, but I think he’s going about it the wrong way. This challenges us to accept our hero’s actions and struggle to justify them.
We can tell our hero has been disillusioned with some more excellent and suggestive dialogue as he says, “I used to wanna be an astronaut. But astronauts don’t even go to the Moon anymore.”
Later, Farrell seeks out the bully’s father. He tricks him into talking to the boy. The dad goes inside and Farrell slinks on some brass knuckles.
He strikes the father hard and continues to beat him senseless, telling the boy this is his fault, he shouldn’t have bullied Farrell’s son.
Meanwhile… Taylor Kitsch arrives at his girlfriend’s place. He’s already said he needs to work and be on the road, but we don’t know why. This sequence provides some clues. His smoking hot girlfriend wants to get into it right away, but Kitsch insists on a shower first. Okay?
He turns on the water, pops a Viagra(?!) and waits for it to kick in. We see his scarred body and wonder what happened. He can’t connect with people anymore. He can’t enjoy life. He can’t be himself. It’s heartbreaking.
Meanwhile… Farrell smokes at a bar, deep in thought, framed by the camera like Scorsese would.
It’s the same bar as Vaughn. A haunting gypsy-like song is performed on stage.
Next thing you know, Vaughn and Farrell are seated across from another. Ready for an exchange. Looks like Vaughn is trying to help with Farrell’s custody case. The boy might have been fathered by someone else, so the results need to be doctored. It may not seem like it but Farrell really loves his son.
Cut to… Kitsch speeding down the long dark highway on his motorcycle. Faster and faster. With no helmet. At 100mph, he turns off his lights. He stares into the void. And the void stares back.
It seems like Kitsch’s character wants to die. We just don’t know why. We know something happened when he was younger, before he went to war. We just don’t know what.
Each and every character in TRUE DETECTIVE has a sad song driving their life.
Kitsch swerves, as if by the hand of Fate. He wipes out on his bike and discovers a crime scene. The body of Casper sits BERNIE-style at a rest stop table. It’s like the Universe is telling him, “If you wanna die. Die doing something important. Like solving this case.”
Kitsch reacts perfectly to the discovery… “Fuck.” He’ll have some explaining to do, without revealing his personal tragedy. But the noble and honourable cop still calls it in.
Now, the paths of our heroes intersect. Farrell steps away from a drug and alcohol binge to attend to his missing person’s case. McAdams is called in as part of the Sheriff Unit. And Kitsch remains, ready to help solve this mysterious and tangled case.
They wonder why this guy is involved in the case. Since Casper went missing from Vinci this is his gig. McAdams asks, “What the hell is Vinci?” Farrell brilliantly replies, “A city. Supposedly.” And so the case begins. Our trio is united over the corpse of Casper.
How long before they connect it to Vaughn and he becomes the prime suspect? Will Colin Farrell help his long time friend? Will he be black-mailed into it? Will he have to turn against McAdams and Kitsch? Will Kitsch always do the right thing?
TRUE DETECTIVE is one of the best shows on TV. It respects its audience.
A dense and complex mystery combines with complicated and ethically challenging characters making for must watch summer television.
The series doesn’t flinch from exploring dark territory and introducing philosophy into entertainment.
If you’re in the mood for a good story that requires some participation, then you’re in luck – TRUE DETECTIVE has it all.
Stay tuned for more reviews.
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