True Detective: Season 2 Episode 1 – TV Review

(Written for Filmoria)

We’ve all been anticipating the new series of True Detective for two very different reasons – 1) because the first ended on such a fantastic high, unexpectedly blowing our minds episode after episode, and 2) because we wanted to see if the new casting would work.

True Detective may be ‘back’, but everything is brand new; the characters, the story, and even the city.

Taking a new setting in the brightly lit landscape of Chicago, in a fictional town called Vinci, we are introduced to the separate (yet slowly intertwining lives) of three cops – Colin Farrell’s compromised Detective Ray Velcoro, Taylor Kitsch‘s highway patrolman and ex-serviceman Paul Woodrugh, and Rachel McAdams‘ sex, booze, and gambling-loving Ani Bezzerides – and a mobster who is trying to move into legitimate enterprise after the murder of a business partner – Vince Vaughn‘s Frank Semyon.

Whilst not as impacting as the first of episode of season one, “The Western Book of the Dead” does what was needed of it. It may not have the same philosophical approach or disturbing and rustic feel to it, and it agreeably takes some getting used to, but creator Nic Pizzolatto isn’t about being repetitive. He wanted to create something new, and whilst maintaining the dark mood that made his original series so successful, that’s what he does.

Episode one didn’t need to convince us that it was original and intelligent – again – it needed to convince us that there were new characters and a new story worth sticking around for. So is there? Hell yes.

The new casting has been the main topic of discussion in relation to the new series, with the lead duo, especially, being doubted by most. So it was a quality that we all needed some quick reassurance of, and, fortunately, most characters throw out any doubts quite rapidly. Farrell’s character is filled with a deep anger because of a past that we want to know more about, McAdams’ character couldn’t care less as she proves straight away that this is going to be one of her best roles yet, and Kitsch’s character obviously has a death wish, as he does well to persuade us that his name is one worth remembering this time around, though all we really want to know is why his character has to take Viagra.

These characters all get off to an excellent start. McAdams was the stand out for me, but we all know who the real risk was with this new series – Vaughn. Even as we meet Vaughn’s character sat at a bar with a mobster ere around him and a stern look on his face, I bet I wasn’t the only one grabbing onto the arm of the sofa pleading, “Please don’t make a bad joke.” Fortunately, he’s yet to falter in his new role. There’s not much overly exciting about his character as of yet, but whilst we know that he was ‘bad’ in the past, it’s obvious that he hasn’t fully made the move over to the side of ‘good’ just quite yet.

And let’s not forget Kelly Reilly, either. She may have only been in the background for most of the episode, but what a presence she had.

It’s these hints to character flaws that make this first episode so gripping.

The logline for the new series was: “The disappearance of a city manager disrupts a lucrative land scheme and ignites an investigation involving three police officers and a career criminal who is moving into legitimate business.”

We don’t really know much more than that in terms of plot at this point, and it’s a little confusing at its current state since we’ve only been given short plot introductions to the various stories and character lives going on, but it’s all done to intrigue us.

We only know small histories of these new characters; we don’t yet know much of their pasts, or presents for that matter, nor do we know much about why they’re all drinking/taking drugs quite so heavily. All we really know is the minor contexts of their characters in relation to each other, as the main point of focus of this first episode is bringing these characters together.

The main thing to take away from the first episode is Vaughn’s connection to Farrell. From the start of the episode, we know that Velcoro had asked Semyon for some information in the past, after his wife was raped (and possibly impregnated?), so a favour was owed between the two. In the present, Semyon is now the man behind the plans to build a $68 billion high-speed railway through the heart of Vinci, and the favour has obviously been returned as Velcoro attacks a journalist to scare him off a report that he was writing on Semyon’s request.

The rest doesn’t piece together quite well enough yet, but all we know for sure is that there are a lot of secrets yet to be uncovered.

And that’s what will keep you coming back to this series. These characters are messed up, and whilst it’s difficult to decide if this series will stand up to the first (we will have to stop making this comparison at some point!), we will always find ourselves wanting to know more.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Pizzolatto described the new season as a detective story in the manner of Oedipus Rex, in which “the detective is searching and searching and searching, and the culprit is him.”

In other words, the more the detective searches for the horrible truth, the more he will find out about himself. And there’s nothing more entertaining than seeing the unravelling of remarkably developed characters, is there?

It’s that unraveling of humanity that we know this new series is going to deliver to the highest of levels.

The new series may severely lack the poetry and philosophy of season one’s Rusty, but this time around we’re going to be served with a huge dose of hard-hitting violence and a lot of flustering, but also stomach-knotting, sexual issues.

Again written by Pizzolatto, the creator of the show, the second series is this time around directed by Fast & FuriousJustin Lin. True Detective is certainly very different to the kind of work that we know Lin for, in pretty much every way possible, but his directorial style is obvious throughout. It’s difficult to tell if the premise of this second series is too much for him to handle or not at the minute, but one thing for sure is that the he knows how to shoot Chicago.

The drive scenes and city landscapes make a huge contrast to the first series, adding a somewhat Lynchian feel to it, especially in the scene when a mysterious figure drives through the Hollywood hills, down a road identified as Mulholland Drive, with a giant crow’s head mask on the passenger seat and a dead millionaire missing both eyes and genitalia, propped up in the back. Series two is obviously going to have its quirks, too.

The final panning shot showing all of the characters coming together on the case that will lead the series ends the episode perfectly, showing us exactly what’s to come.

I don’t have any theories of my own at this point, just a feeling that Panticapaeum Institute has something to do with people going missing, but I do know that I’m just as intrigued as I was in season one to find out what’s going on in this new series.

What did you think of the first episode? Do you think that Farrell and Vaughn make a good leading cast? And can you make any sense of what’s going to come yet? Let us know in the comments section below.

True Detective airs on Sky Atlantic on Monday’s at 9pm.

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