Is it possible for good and evil to co-exist without one side winning out over the other? That’s seems to be part of the premise behind the second season of HBO’s “True Detective” with both the cops and the criminals just as miserable as the other. No one’s professional and personal lives are what they appeared to be, but one case forced everyone to confront their demons in every possible way. Let’s just hope that the case and the main characters’ personal lives both get enough attention without paying too much emphasis on the other.
“True Detective” followed three very different but equally damaged California law enforcement officials as they were brought together to solve a very strange murder involving a government official who had ties to a career criminal named Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn). Frank was looking to become a legitimate businessman, but the official’s recent murder also left the bulk of his fortune missing and his power slipping through his fingers. He had to resort to some of his old criminal habits in order to recoup what he lost and to find answers of his own. As for Frank’s personal life, his devoted wife and partner Jordan (Kelly Reilly) was starting to question some of Frank’s decisions and why she chose to blindly follow him for so long. She wasn’t sure if it was for love or their shared ambition of a better life for themselves. The police officers who were investigating the murder case also had their own personal demons that plagued them daily. Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) was once an honorable Vinci detective who made one wrong turn that ruined his entire life. His wife was brutally raped by a criminal that remained free. They ended up bitterly divorced and he had a tense relationship with his son; who might not even be biologically his. It also turned out that Velcoro might have extracted revenge on his ex-wife’s rapist with the help of Semyon in the past, which forced Ray to be another law enforcement official in his pocket that had to do his dirty work whenever necessary. Velcoro was growing tired of being Frank’s slave made him a possible threat to Frank and his entire organization. While Ray was working on the murder case, he was forced to partner up with a Ventura County Sherriff’s detective named Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) who seemed to always be at odds with the rules and her own personal instincts. Ani came from a very dysfunctional family that made her frightened of anything that was remotely normal, especially on the relationship front. California Highway Patrolman Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) was a man who didn’t like to be tied down at all. He loved being on a motorcycle at all times and was even unwilling to spend the night with his girlfriend. Paul was the one who discovered the initial crime and was brought into the case as an outside investigator who only wanted to return to his motorcycle after someone made a false claim against him. Will Paul, Ani and Ray be able to find the truth; or will Frank beat them to the punch?
In terms of questions, the show has raised more questions than answers for the time being as the case slowly started to come together. Unfortunately, the show’s pace in the first two episodes was a little on a sluggish side, especially during the season premiere. That episode spend most of the time connecting the four seemingly different characters who shared a mutual sense of overwhelming unhappiness in their personal and professional lives in some shape or form. The premiere spent too much time setting things up rather than diving right into the case that brought all of them together. Luckily, the second episode fixed that by having McAdams, Farrell and Kitsch interacting more than in the premiere. By having them all work the case, viewers got to see the story move along a little better, but the following episodes will likely receive more of a kick after the event’s of this week’s episode that left Farrell’s character in jeopardy. If Farrell’s character doesn’t make it, it will be the most surprising exit in a longtime. A risky move to kill off one of the leading stars before the series truly started. It would be a twist for certain, but it’s doubtful that it will happen since Farrell is the headlining star. Overall, the series has a little ways to go to resolve the premiere’s lackluster beginning and even needs to inject just a slight touch of humor to outweigh the rather dark tone this season, even if the comedy is also of the dark variety. Any type of brief comedy is better than nothing at all. The story that seemed to work so far were McAdams’ cynical cop on the edge of success and personal sanity as she seemed to be edging closer towards a cliff whenever she wasn’t on duty. McAdams’ character looked to be the early frontrunner as to which character would prove to be the driving force of the series. A close second would be Kitsch’s Paul who had the ability of being philosophical and an enigma at the same time. The show would be wise to pair McAdams and Kitsch immediately as their character had an opposites attract chemistry that was briefly illustrated in the second episode. Let’s hope that the show exploits that before it’s too late.
As for breakout performances, McAdams, Kitsch and Vaughn led the pack for three very different reasons. McAdams’ Ani was a very different character than audiences were used to seeing. She was much less made up and the character wore her baggage on her sleeve like a badge of honor and a curse at the same time. McAdams made Ani both heroic and angry at the same time. A lethal combination for her job and when she was off-duty, which could either result in a promotion or a prison sentence if the character wasn’t too careful. Sure, the character could use some more development beyond being angry at the world and solving crimes. She had some initial chemistry with Farrell’s total opposite Velcoro who was a lot quieter in his misery but just as disappointed with life as Ani was. Hopefully, Farrell’s characters gets to stick around long enough to explore what does and doesn’t happen between the two of them. Kitsch, on the other hand, had the challenging task of playing the wild card character who occasionally sprouted something profound while remaining totally uncommitted to everything around him by choice. Viewers will likely get to see some more character development in upcoming episodes as the case starts to kick into overdrive. They will either love or grow irritated by his character as the season goes on. It’s early to tell if it will be the former or the latter option. Ultimately, the show’s biggest surprise so far was being able to find a way to reign in Vaughn’s usually colorful acting by making him dial it down just enough for Vaughn’s Frank to be both quietly colorful and equally just as menacing at the same time. A combination that works very well in his tense scenes with Farrell in the second episode and could work when he crossed paths with either McAdams or Kitsch. Only time will tell when Vaughn’s Frank gets to meet Ani and Paul. Sooner rather than later would be ideal, especially after the event’s of last week’s episode.
“True Detective” premiered on June 21st and airs Sundays at 9:00 PM on HBO.
Verdict: The show’s season premiere got off to a sluggish start, but the season showed signs of improvement by a shocking act of violence in the end of episode two.
TV Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)