Nevermind: “True Detective” goes nowhere in its second season

I’ve had it with (this season of) True Detective.

Before this season premiered, everybody was wondering how True Detective would fare in its second outing after its first season was such a sensation. The combination of Cary Fukunaga’s directing, creator Nic Pizzolatto’s writing and magnetic acting from Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson created a show as entertaining as it was atmospheric.

This season, Fukunaga is not involved, McConaughey (and his rambling monologues) and Harrelson are gone, and only Pizzolatto’s writing stays. And the quality of this show has sadly declined with all these departures.

This week’s episode “Black Maps and Motel Rooms” is decent, but the standard of what has happened so far this season has been so low that I’ll take decent.

I’m not even going to try to take you through the plot, because that has been the most frustrating thing this season. Not Vince Vaughn’s awful-at-times delivery, not Taylor Kitsch’s struggle to make his character matter at all, or Colin Farrell’s moustache (on a more serious note, that moustache was quite a sight.)

Not even the dark-bordering-on-suicidal tone was as bad as the plot. This season, everybody is sad and nobody can find a lick of happiness. There’s no problem with having characters who are in a dark place, but they have to be pursuing something worthwhile or else they’re just wallowing in their sorrow. The Leftovers did sad people wallowing in sorrow right; True Detective has not. Seeing Vince Vaughn, acclaimed comedian, spout lines about wet spots on ceilings while looking like a drenched puppy just made me feel sorry for him instead of his character.

Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams have been the best parts of this season of True Detective. That doesn’t count for a lot, but it goes to show how much better the season could have been if it was focused on them instead. Also, Abigail Spencer does what good she can in her limited time on screen. She should emerge unscathed from a very expensive and mediocre cop show.

People may defend this season by saying it’s a realistic take on a noir story. It may be a noir, but the genre does not matter: if a show has a plot so convoluted you need notes to understand it, it has failed in its storytelling. I’m for complex storytelling, but this is just a mess.

People may also defend this season by saying that we have to judge it by its entirety, which is nonsense. In a format where you have to put out episode after episode in successive weeks, begging for judgment only at the season’s end is unfeasible. Nobody is obliged to keep watching a bad show in the hope that it turns good. Sure, it happens, but honestly, we have better uses for our time than a bad show.

This season could have been so much better. The first four episodes, where nothing of note happened, could have been compressed into a much shorter length. This is obvious, especially in the fifth episode where all the characters are reset and the story starts to finally creak into motion. Eight episodes? Five or six would have been better.

This season, True Detective said everything when it actually had little to say. The upcoming finale (“Omega Station”) could well be the best episode of TV this year, but, honestly, I don’t really care any more. Onward to the next season, please.

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