Dumbed down, padded out, and less thoughtful. There's hope for improvement still, but by this point, it may be too late.
Episode Four marks the halfway point for True Detective 2, subtitle ‘It’s not as good as the original’.
If you want to catch up with the series just follow this handy guide for each episode. First we learn a tiny bit about each of the characters’ lives, you know how they’re struggling with sexuality/sex/children (recurring themes are intelligent), then we get a bit of actual case work, maybe following up that one thing they learnt at the end of last week, mixed in with segments of Frank’s criminal exploits. Then we go back to their struggle for a bit, Ray drinks at the bar, we listen to a depressing song, and then get a shock ending that leaves you wanting just one more episode.
So let’s see how this guide works this week. First, the inconsequential events, aka, Frank and Paul’s storylines. Frank continues to be increasingly agitated with his wife and the prospect of kids, while pushing and shoving business deals and muttering about how stressful it is, all of this communicated through semi-intellectual monologues that generally don’t make sense. Continuing this theme is Paul’s existence. Every action by his character is seemingly designed to make you hate him. This week he decided to further prove his manliness by rejecting waffles from his gay lover and accepting a baby instead.
As for the case, there were a few small advancements. They further investigated into the Mayor’s past, revealing that he committed his prior wife and that all the higher-ups of the Vinci “community” were part of the same commune. This, alongside Ami’s previous talk of communes, definitely sets a tone that’s going to continue into the second half of the series. They also track Caspere’s GPS co-ordinates to Fresco, the fields seen in the initial shot of the series, introducing it as highly polluted land that’s only getting worse, pushing out the local farming industry, and teasing its place in the grand scheme of things. Then again, that’s all this episode has been so far, teases and wasted time. This is only continued with further scenes of Ami talking about her mother and memories, and Ray talking to his son (that looks like neither him, the mother, or her attacker) before eventually sitting down, once again, in the bar.
Finally! Onto the shocker of the week, now the action can begin! In an attempt to outdo the six minute epic that came in the equivalent 4th episode of the last season, they’ve added more guns, more death, and more blood, but again, it falls flat. Why did it work in season one? For starters, there was a building sense of threat and anxiety, that Rust would be uncovered, that their plan would fail, or that the biker’s plan would. This was done through drawing out the scene and adding parts to build and build, the music, the child still in the house, the hidden grenade in the safe, people checking houses, steadily growing dread; and so when it all collapsed around your ears it felt satisfying. This episode they establish that they’ve discovered the suspect, no backup, shifty looks from the people in on the conspiracy, and then off they go. It’s so quick and we’re given so little prior knowledge, that when people start getting gunned down it’s just jarring.
It’s a continuation of the constant problem with the show, the morality. So far all we’re presented with are bad people making morally wrong decisions and are told to be okay with it. While the theme of the series is maybe that bad people can do good things, or that bad choices are sometimes necessary, it doesn’t mean that the characters have to be detestable or their actions deplorable. When civilians are being killed in the streets you don’t feel empathetic that this brilliant plan has gone so horribly wrong, you feel cheated that this so called ‘intelligent’ show is using easy deaths to manipulate your emotions. While this series may seem even more complicated than its predecessor, in fact it’s quite reductive.
Overall I’ll keep watching the series, in the hopes that it regains something near the end, but by this point I can tell that it’s just an attempt to have lightning strike twice. There are too many main characters to juggle, a story that’s being padded out, and themes that range from being barely tangible, to shoved in your face. But what’s probably most disappointing is, it’s not the same, it’s not new, it just sank so easily into becoming another faceless police drama.
True Detective airs on Sky Atlantic on Monday at 9pm.