When “True Detective” launched last year on HBO, with an epic intro somewhere between “True Blood” and spaghetti western, the mood was set to capture rural Louisiana. Headed by the acting talents of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, neither of whom felt out of place in the south, the show seemed fresh, and authentic. In its second iteration, despite boasting far more names–and even a few former “True Blood” cast members–Sunday’s premiere episode came off as disjointed and volatile as the San Andreas fault. And not in a fun, Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino kind of way, as I have heard (by the way–Johnson’s “Ballers” is one half-hour show worth watching Sunday nights, although I am about to give up on Gugino in “Wayward Pines”).
Frank Semyon, played by Vince Vaughn, is a soft spoken business man who has a dark, L.A.-casino-interest and shady-dive side. He takes interest in Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), whose wife has been raped by an unknown assailant. This attack serves as Ray’s main arc/purpose), as he wants revenge and has been left with a child that is most likely not his own. Frank shows empathy and wants to help Ray, but ultimately we still know next to nothing about what drives Frank after one episode. Ray, on the other hand, who is emotionally unstable following the attack on his wife, is a stand out success in episode one, especially when played next to the seen-it-before Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), the boyscout cop on a motorcycle. Paul has the perfect girlfriend that he cannot commit to because of his dark past and suicidal tendencies. It is a tired cliche that does not touch what McConaughey accomplished in the first season. As for Farrell, he plays angry too well; he is the stand-out star, and I will be watching this season just to see how he develops.
While Farrell shines as the crazy alcoholic detective, the dreadfully flat Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) does little to help flesh out a strong, female character. Season one did not have much in terms of female empowerment either, but at least Maggie Hart (Michelle Monaghan) had the opportunity to stand up for herself and explore the issue. Hopefully Ani will be treated more like a lead in future episodes rather than “a woman in a man’s world who is more man than her boyfriend,” which is a tired trope that had more success in the first season of “Girls” than it does here. Also, I think it is fair to say that it’s difficult to see McAdams as the lead on a drug raid. I recently viewed the film Aloha with a friend, and while that McAdams happened to be over-the-top girly, the role felt more comfortable than this over-the-top ex-junkie character. Don’t get me wrong; I like McAdams, she can act, but the first show did her no favors as far as building her credibility as a hard-nosed cop. Instead, her character’s family members act only to discredit her further, leaving viewers to think, “Ok, so why should we care about her, let alone believe she has power?”
I went in excited to see McAdams tied to this season, but I was expecting more of an “X-Files”-like Scully at command, not the emotional, identity-craving mess presented in Bezzerides. Would it be too terrible for the show to feature a strong female lead to counter these brooding boys? Are we going to have to struggle with four different characters that are all hopeless in some way? Would anyone really want to watch that depressing mess week after week?
While the first half hour of True Detective’s second season premiere felt too deliberate in how chaotic the threads were presented, the last couple of minutes suggested the future episodes might have a form worth admiring. If they all start the same way, however, I imagine viewership will plummet. The problem is in all of these threads, whereas the first season focused primarily on the interest of whether or not Rust Cohle (McConaughey) was guilty of doing something terrible. After that, it was pretty much a two-man show between McConaughey and Harrelson–which was great–with Monaghan filling in the details and Alexandra Daddario being blue-eyed and gorgeous (note to self: I need to actually watch that San Andreas, which also stars Daddario). As mentioned prior, episode one, “The Western Book of the Dead,” features its own HBO-family eye candy in former “True Blood” actors James Frain (who played Tara-obsessed Franklin) and the gorgeous Ashley Hinshaw (pictured; who Jason has an eye for toward the end). The former has a very small role, while the latter will likely appear in future episodes, because–if for no other reason–legs. In fact they made it so apparent in this “True” show, they threw on an ankle monitor just to emphasize them. We see what you did there, HBO. We see.
All things considered, tune in for Farrell. Vaughn seems misplaced, McAdams does too, and the only constant from last season is that most of the surnames of the major players sound like they could reside from Ireland or Scotland. I’ll remain optimistic, but it’s unlikely this season will find the magic last season brought to the table.