Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective set a new standard for crime drama last year, with its complex, flawed characters and philosophical themes. The series explored a curious murder investigation that spanned two decades — as well as the personal and emotional lives of its two troubled protagonists — on its way to winning five Emmys and overwhelming acclaim. It’s no surprise that the second season was expected to live up to its predecessor.
The Season 2 premiere, titled “The Western Book of the Dead,” moves the original setting from the Louisiana backwoods to the rough urban streets of Los Angeles and, following the anthology format, It introduces a whole new cast (although Pizzolatto’s penchant for creating fascinating characters is still in play). We meet the highly anticipated Detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), an alcoholic and drug addict who’s not above menacing a bully’s family when his son is picked on at school. Another character on the force, Detective Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) is a by-the-book cop who resents her hippie father and wild-eyed sister. Officer Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) is an army vet on the Highway Patrol whose idea of a good time is riding his bike at 100 miles per hour at night with the headlight off. Our antagonist Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) is a wealthy criminal who hopes to get richer by cashing in on federal money for a high speed rail set to be built in California.
The show plunges us into deep noir from the outset. The lush vistas of the forests and marshlands from season one have been replaced with the gritty greys and blues of the L.A. nightlife. The characters are all broken and run-down, and the story immediately shows us the downfalls and dark sides of them: Ani’s failed bust on what she thinks is a whorehouse, Woodrugh being placed on forced leave after being blackmailed by an actress, and Velcoro’s rampant drinking and drug use. We are told in flashback how Velcoro’s wife was raped and how Semyon provided the man’s identity so Velcoro could get his revenge. Now Velcoro is on Semyon’s payroll, doing odd jobs like threatening newspaper reporters while wearing a ski mask. The cadence of the dialogue has changed noticeably for this new season as well. None of the characters are allowed to philosophize at length the way Rust Cohle did. Instead, they’re curt and terse, no-nonsense, hard boiled cops who just want to do their job and for everyone else to stay out of the way.
Everyone is tied together by the episode’s end, when Paul finds a corpse on one of his late night joyrides. The body turns out to be a city planner whose involvement in the railway was instrumental to Semyon’s plans and Ani and Velcoro are brought in to investigate. It’s obvious that the case will bring the detectives in contact with Semyon and his illegal enterprise, but the biggest pleasure will likely be the imminent friction between characters with such disparate personalities. Ani, Velcoro, and Paul are going to rub each other the wrong way, and Velcoro in particular will have to go to great lengths to hide his criminal ties from his new partners. With a skilled actor like Farrell in the role, Velcoro’s story is sure to be the highlight of the series.
True Detective‘s second season has so far caught a few negative reviews from those who dislike the change of locale and tone, but it’s important to remember that Pizzolatto is telling a very different story here. One of the high points of season one was the way we saw Cohle and Hart resolve their differences and focus their energy into a successful investigation. That same tension and release seems likely to occur here and in the hands of such a talented cast and showrunner, it’s bound to be dynamite. It is testament to the popularity of the show that Sky Atlantic are airing it so close to the US transmission, but time will tell if this series will have people talking as much as the first did. For viewers in the US This season will premiere every Sunday until August 9th so make sure you don’t miss a minute of it. Every episode will be available on HBO Go and on demand on Dish, DirecTV, and AT&T, so there are no excuses. Get ready for fireworks this summer.
Contributed by Maria Ramos.
True Detective Continues Mondays on Sky Atlantic.