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Mid-Season Review: True Detective season 2

Set in the fictional town of Vinci, a post-industrial wasteland surrounded by chemically poisoned land and riddled with institutional corruption at every level, True Detective season 2 plunges the viewer in a maelstrom of corruption and violence.

Introducing four principle characters (three cops and a shady businessman) and a raft of secondary figures (wives, ex-wives, girlfriends, scowling police chiefs, smirking Feds, a dipsomaniac mayor, among others) alongside great slabs of political manoeuvring around complex land deals in episode one was a risky move on creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto’s part, leaving both the audience and critics confused. At the close of the first episode a violent murder brought a filigree of plot to thread these disparate elements together. This is a show that is as murky as a severe LA smog.

The mystery is probably the least interesting aspect of True Detective. The victim was brokering land deals with money accumulated by Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughan) over years spent on the wrong side of the law. With his death, Semyon’s ill-gotten gains have disappeared forcing him to return to old ways in a scramble for cash.

The body was found by Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), a Highway Patrolman facing a sexual misconduct allegation. To get him out of the public eye and save embarrassment for the department, Woodraugh is appointed as a ‘special investigator’ in the federal investigation. Owing to political power games, the operation is shared with the Vinci PD and the Sheriff’s Department.

The more senior detectives working the case are no less messed up than Woodrugh. Vinci PD’s Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) has a drinking problem and is on the take. Sheriff Department detective Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) has issues with intimacy and male colleagues who see her as ‘difficult’ – for behaviour that would buy them drinks for an evening.

True Detective season 2

As the investigation becomes more baffling, the red herrings pile up, and the arcane and often portentous dialogue uttered by almost every character risks distancing viewers. But somewhere around episode 3, this season of True Detective starts to click.

The mystery may be as impenetrable as obsidian. Vaughn’s character an inscrutable thug in a sharp suit more suited to an actor like Vinnie Jones. But it is the characters of the three cops that fascinates.

Velcoro seems the most clichéd, the sort of walking case study in male violence that is James Ellroy’s bread and butter – but he also brings sparks of humour with sardonic lines like “I support feminism, mostly by having body image issues.” Some argued that Bezzandres was a masculine character, cast as female to meet a diversity quota, but her complex father issues and battles with insidious institutionalised misogyny add depth. Most intriguing to me is Kitsch’s portrayal of Woodraugh. A character in extreme denial about his sexuality and desires.

Pizzolatto’s plotting has also become more daring: a fake twist early in the run was bold and the sudden explosion of carnage that closed episode 4 was genuinely shocking, sending rivers of blood flowing towards Vinci’s many storm channels.

In my first piece on season 2 of True Detective, I concluded that it would be premature to dismiss the show on the basis of its opening episode. It is equally true that the house of cards Pizzolatto is building could easily collapse before the end and the mystery desperately needs to come into focus. But True Detective season 2 is still a serious slice of quality crime drama.

Review by Stuart Barr.

What do you think of True Detective season 2 now we’re halfway through the series? Let us know in the comments below!

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