The level of hype around True Detective: The Complete Second Season means it had a huge job to do. The first season created something special with the relationship between Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, and created a mythology. Where the second season fails is that it totally forgets that altogether… While calling it a failure is harsh, the simple fact is that it is. There is no getting away from it. What is also true though is that when you remove it from the True Detective bubble, it is also a very good, dark cop show. It’s just not the one we wanted.
In the second season we have three cops, Detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), Detective Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), and office Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) who are investigating a murder. This brings in a connection to Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) and together they are the connected parties that affect each others downfall much in the way the characters in the first season did.
True Detective in both seasons is a show about broken people living in a broken society. It relies on a certain charisma between the characters, and it is there in the second season. Where it’s story fails though is that the conspiracy that takes place lacks the mystique of The King in Yellow, in fact it completely forgets it was even there. I remember in my first viewing of the show just waiting for it to be mentioned. It is something that creates a supernatural feel to the first season, and that is part of the magic of what makes True Detective work.
The King in Yellow may just be a book, but in True Detective they manage to weave a Lovecraftian style conspiracy that oozes through the story and taps into the popular horror genre that so many love now. The biggest mystery with the second season has to be where the decision to completely leave this conspiracy out of the story came from and go for one completely different. Even to hint that there was some Supernatural work at play would give it the edge the audience was looking for, but what we are left with is simply a dark story about characters looking for redemption.
This is where things get interesting though, because if this season was not True Detective, but a new cop show built around these stars then this would be a much more successful experiment. There is no way of getting round that True Detective: The Complete Second Season is beautifully shot and there is a spectacular feel about it, especially the big gunfight that becomes pivotal to the season. The fact that Vince Vaughn’s acting comes back in form is impressive too as we are reminded that yes, he can actually put on a good performance at times.
Remove all expectation from True Detective: The Complete Second Season and you get a show that may be slow, and may not want to reveal its secrets, but still tells a good story and tells it well. On repeated viewings, you’ll see the signs of what is to come and see where the hints were given as to what is going on under the surface of this season. This is about corruption, and the darkness of the human soul with characters crying out for redemption. Whether they get it or not is up for debate, but one thing for sure is the fact you care about these characters, no matter how broken they are, and this is a show that is not afraid to manipulate your emotions based on that very fact.
So yes, True Detective: The Complete Second Season fails to be True Detective. It doesn’t pick up the elements from the first season we wanted to see, in fact it leaves it behind. The King in Yellow is something that can be continued as a “conspiracy” that manipulates society, but by leaving it behind we are simply left with a cop show. A very good one, but not the one that people expected or wanted. So watch it without those expectations, feel disappointed, but let yourself realise how good it actually is. You may be surprised with what you find when you give this one a second chance.
True Detective: The Complete Second Season is available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK now.