In these days of Marvel Movies and the undying trend of Connected Universes (forced or otherwise), someone has to give it to the HBO Neo Noir series TRUE DETECTIVE for not giving a shit about continuity nods and the like. Rather than build up on the Southern Noir that Season 1 established with its Satanic Rednecks and uppity Nihilistic Rambling, Season 2 of TRUE DETECTIVE relocates all the way to the sunny Concrete Jungles of Los Angeles for another dosage of Grrritty Neo Noir but with a lot of changes implemented.
TRUE DETECTIVE’s second season does all it can to differentiate itself from its previous run and it does that job so well that not only did it change its appearance, style and narrative but it also lost the fucking cohesion that made TRUE DETECTIVE’s flawed first season work as an effective televised version of the Neo Noir story.
If TRUE DETECTIVE Season 1 was akin to an old-school Noir movie but located in a modern farmland setting, Season 2 has more in common with the Mob Crime Movies that were prevalent in the 80’s and 90’s and where every one of those movies starred Al Pacino and/or Robert De Niro. To do this, Season 2 ditches the cults and rednecks in favor of a Generic Mafia Copy along with every Crime Movie cliche you could imagine like foreign criminals such as the ever present Mexican Gangbangers or classy European Mobsters, perverted BDSM loving elite members of society and a power struggle that’s way too big for the protagonists along with classic Noir mainstays such as the extensive use of nightclubs, alcohol, smoking, tragic backstories and more thrown in for good measure. On their own, none of these elements are bad even if they tend to be overused but TRUE DETECTIVE Season 2 uses them way too fucking often that once again (and unlike Season 1), it feels more like a self-parody than a homage with all the exaggerated Grrrit that shoots subtlety in the fucking face. Things get so fucking Grrritty here that TRUE DETECTIVE Season 2 achieves the impossible and make Season 1 and its neo philosopher Rust look like a recurring character from MY LITTLE PONY in terms of tone and mood.
Case in point, Colin Farrel’s Grrritty detective Ray Velcoro has an establishing scene in the first episode’s end where he’s shown moping, drinking and smoking all at the same time in a dimly lit nightclub while a female musician sings a song literally titled “My Least Favorite Life.” How’s that for subtlety.
Following the trend of a good number of post-PULP FICTION Crime Movies in the 90’s, TRUE DETECTIVE Season 2 decides to cram in as much story yarns and protagonists as humanly possible, creating a convoluted mess of wasted potential and plot twists. From the amount of Character Arcs to the number of Colliding Criminal Conspiracies to the amount of shit going on, TRUE DETECTIVE Season 2 has a fuckton of crap happening over the course of an eight episode run that sadly repeats the mistake of its predecessor by simply incorporating a shitload of mainstay elements from its chosen genre without improving or updating any of them.
As mentioned earlier, TRUE DETECTIVE Season 2 has a lot of protagonists and here you have not one, not two but a grand total of four Main Characters (three Lawmen and a Mob Boss to be exact) divide the focus of the story. While this does prove to be an interesting idea that helped the overall story gain more characterization and while it also allowed each of its cast to shine and show off surprising acting caliber from unexpected sources such as raunchy Dude-Bro movie star Vince Vaughn and Taylor Kitsch of BATTLESHIP infamy, giving four protagonists with their own distinct character arcs only eight episodes to develop was a bad fucking idea. Compared to GAME OF THRONES and its multiple seasons, TRUE DETECTIVE Season 2 doesn’t have the luxury of extra episodes to help its cast grow, leading to uneven exposure for each character arc and a bunch of rushed conclusions for each of the Protagonist’s stories. This was a bitch because as mentioned earlier, the cast is without a doubt stellar but their talent was completely wasted on character arcs that didn’t let them grow as human beings but rather left them as walking talking 90’s Crime Movie Stereotypes and nothing more. From the Struggling Parent to the Action Chick to the Well-Meaning Mafia Boss, these characters are nothing you haven’t seen before if you watched a bunch of Crime Movies with Al Pacino’s face and the 90’s slobbered all over them. Minus some really well acted scenes that helped define them and their motives, hardly any of the Main Characters in TRUE DETECTIVE Season 2 are memorable.
The central case itself doesn’t fare any better, with the amount of shit going on hitting fucking crazy levels to the point where I needed some Wikipedia just to double check on what the flying fuck happened by the time the finale rolled in. Again, there’s an interesting idea behind this major clusterfuck of a narrative where a couple of seemingly unrelated cases are actually connected to another, forming a massive conspiracy of corruption but the way Season 2 handles this comes out as messy and disorganized. From the get-go and by genre standards, it’s obvious that the misleadingly isolated (and fucking brutal) murder is part of an even bigger problem and seeing how the dots connect is part of the Noir genre’s appeal but TRUE DETECTIVE Season 2 tries too hard to play with this conspiracy angle that it ends up forcing every possible fucking case into one big spiderweb of nonsense, where the gang war between Vince Vaughn’s character and an encroaching Euro based enemy is actually a part of a massive plot to establish a new political power in the region using a bunch of government machinations, shady deals, lies and a fuckton of dead bodies. Seriously, his character may be one of the more interesting of the four protagonists but Vince Vaughn’s entire character arc in Season 2 feels unnecessary at points and it would’ve been a lot better if it were relegated to a cameo kind of thing instead of being one of the main cast. Add in the fact that a majority of the yarns are haphazardly concluded with gunfights and action scenes that felt more at home in a Grrritty 90’s Action Movie and not a Noir story involving the mob and you get the picture as to how much of a mess TRUE DETECTIVE Season 2 is, which is coincidentally the exact same problem of another Colin Farrel Neo-Noir story, DEAD MAN DOWN (which is a good Noir story undone by a misplaced action-packed finale).
On paper, adding all the elements that make Noir and Crime Fiction great in one place may sound cool to fans of the genre but in execution it actually ends up cluttered and confusing as fuck. This crazy amount of shit going on also led to the aforementioned rushed endings and some occasional emotional moments in between stereotypes, all caused by the misguided focus and severe lack of cohesion between plot points that come to a crashing end with a predictable finale that amps the Grrrit levels to the logical extreme where Christopher Nolan movies now looks like a Saturday Morning Cartoon.
That being said, TRUE DETECTIVE Season 2 isn’t the complete piece of shit that I may have accidentally implied it to be. I for one found its pacing and use of plot twists to be a lot better and more manageable compared to a predecessor that prioritized Nihilistic speeches over the fucking case and (again), the cast and technical elements are all great and do the job of making a Noir come to life on the TV but the overall narrative that unites all these elements is nowhere near as nice as one may hope for. It may act all Grrritty and shit but in the end, TRUE DETECTIVE Season 2 is just another try-hard wearing the fatally attractive Big Boy Pants that gets the better of most men instead of turning them into pure badasses.