I was a big fan of True Detective Season 1, trumpeting the writing, the acting, and the cinematography to everyone who would listen (here is a link to my review). I was far from alone in this, and many people that I know eagerly anticipated this season of the show.
My review can be summed up like this: I am not looking forward to True Detective Season 3.
I mean, I might still watch it, at least the first episode, but I certainly will not be eagerly awaiting the show like I did this time. Season 1 was brilliant, although the ending was a bit of a letdown, season 2 was mediocre, even bad occasionally, with occasional flashes of brilliance. It did not seem like it was done by the same people, even the writing seemed off. I’ll compare what I liked in season 1 with season 2, to see if I can make sense of what I disliked this season.
- Cool Title Sequence: I loved the Title Sequence for Season 1, but Season 2 had Leonard Cohen, which is even better.
- Acting: The acting in both seasons was good. It is hard to follow Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, but the cast for season 2 did a good job, especially when you consider the script. Vince Vaughn seems to get a lot of flak for his role this season, but I feel people are being overly harsh. I mean seriously, look at some of the things he had to say. His scenes with Colin Farell were some of the best parts of the show.
- Cinematography: I expected a bigger drop in quality after the brilliant Cary Fukunaga left the show, but it wasn’t too bad. Some of the shots were brilliant, if unnecessary. Where it really hurt the show was in the action sequences. When the action finally exploded onto the screen in Season 1, it had real impact. The pacing was simply much better. I was really disappointed in the huge build-up to the action in the finale of season 2, only to be let down by the utter lack of tension in the resolution of each scene. Still, I expected a drop in quality in this aspect.
- Writing: Here is where we go off the rails. While I had reservations about the way the last season ended, with all of the supernatural elements like the king in yellow being red herrings, I did enjoy the writing. I would often discuss True Detective Season 1 with my Girlfriend and other fans, trying to puzzle out where it would go next. Not so, Season 2 which was utterly predictable except when it delved into pointless nonsensical crap, such as having an entire main character who was pointless, and bad-guys who vacillate between idiotic and omniscient at the needs of the plot. The dialogue plodded, with only a few good scenes, which was very much at odds with Season 1, where almost every scene was bursting with energy and meaning. What happened? It almost smacks of design by committee or writer hubris.
- I would like to see more detective work in a series called True Detective. Everyone knew who was corrupt from moment one this season and didn’t really act to prove it.
- Humour/Likeable Characters: True Detective Season 1 was grim and brutal. It also had moments of genuine humour to break up the tension. Russ had wit, and Marty had real charisma. The lows in Season 1 seemed much lower because of the highs. I never really connected with any of the characters in Season 2, they were all brooding, all the time.
- Tone: Simply put, next to season 1, season 2 of True Detective seems to be in black and white, faded in many respects. All of the characters were grim and grimmer. Ray Velcoro and Ani Bezzerides hook up in the finale, but there is no joy in it. All of the characters seem to be going through the motions, tired, and not even trying to struggle away from their inevitable ends.
The show ends with the bad guys winning and most of the protagonists dead. It is cynical, world-weary, and bleak. But watching the show often seemed as pointless as trying to fight the corrupt overlords of Vinci. With no redeeming features and characters who are so mired in their own lives it even overshoots tragedy. In the end Angst is not enough.