True Detective S2, E1: “The Western Book of the Dead”

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It’s the summer, so I think I can afford to recap/review each individual episode of True Detective‘s highly anticipated second season. Now that the show is finally here, it’s great to get all these burning questions answered, such as: can any of the actors replicate the magical chemistry of Harrelson/McConaughey? will they keep the same tone as the first season or will this be a horse on an entirely different color? and most importantly, can it possibly live up the fantastic first season? Well, so far, the answer is: probably not.

From the outset, it becomes apparently that True Detective‘s second season is merely trying to copy the first one rather than improve upon it or vary it in any way. With only seeing the first episode, I clearly cannot say that the whole second season is doomed to be only a pale imitation of the first, but that looks to be where we’re heading. Not sure about the time period, but we’re across the country from the first season, Southern California shouldn’t be feeling exactly like the Louisiana of Season 1. This is always a tricky line to walk, because if you vary the tone too much the show is going to have an identity crisis and no one will recognize it as the same show. But varying it a bit probably would have helped.

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The show introduces four main characters to us. Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) some sort of corrupt gangster/land developer. Apparently working for him is Detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), a damaged cop, perhaps made that way by the rape of his wife. Similarly damaged is Detective Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), who has a run in with both her porn star sister and her ultra religious father in the same episode. Last but not least is Officer Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), who works for the highway patrol and is somehow has the need for high speed motorcycle chases even after he’s been suspended. They are all tied to together by the disappearance of the city manager, who was supposed to give a presentation for Semyon but never showed up, and whose body is eventually¬†discovered by Woodrugh. Velcoro and Bezzerides are called in to investigate.

Though the tone of the episode might as well be a carbon copy of season one, that doesn’t mean everything else is the same too. The story structure is completely different, incorporating only one short flashback and largely keeping to an omniscient point of view. The characters are most definitely not the narrators of their own stories as in season one. This is not really a compliment or a criticism, merely an observation and I’d like to see how this approach plays out in subsequent episodes when the characters interact with each other more.

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There are two main concerns I have with the show going forward, one I’ve already talked about and that’s the tone they’ve established for the season feeling like a rip off of season one. The other is the characters themselves, they all seem to be very much in the alcoholic/workaholic lone wolf damaged cop stereotype. It’s a common enough archetype already, we don’t need three in one show. Whereas Rust and Marty where both undeniably messed up, the dual character studies and their interactions, the comparisons and differences, were what made the show. Hopefully in further episodes the character development will differentiate all of these damaged detectives more.

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“I used to want to be an astronaut. But astronauts don’t even go to the moon anymore.”

Long story short: 3/4 stars

For Further Reading:

AV Club recap

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2 responses to “True Detective S2, E1: “The Western Book of the Dead”

  1. I’m currently watching season 2, and while I’m waiting for that big fireworks special at the end, I’m still not impressed. Overacting and cheesy dialogue litter the show. Plus, SoCal can’t compete with the eerie landscape of Louisiana…that was just unbeatable.

    • I could have sworn I already responded to this….. weird.
      Yeah, I’m pretty disappointed with season 2. The more time that goes by and the more I think about this second season, the more disappointed I am by it. You’re right, it’s just not as well written and I still think they are trying to rip off the first season in terms of atmosphere. I’m sort of regretting my decision to recap on an episode by episode basis, but hopefully the show gets better. If it doesn’t, then at least there are only 8 episodes!

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