True Detective: The Road Ahead

Matthew Mcconaughey as ‘Rustin Cohle’

It’s dark, it’s gritty and it will leave you wanting more. True Detective is an anthology series by Nic Pizzolatto consisting of two seasons. Season one has been critically acclaimed as one of the greatest television series of the modern era, winning 2 Emmy awards for outstanding drama series and outstanding directing. Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the season, would be the incredible performance by Matthew McConaughey as the nihilistic and mysterious ‘Rustin Cohle’ and the excellent back and forth dialogue between him and Woody Harrelson’s character ‘Martin Hart’. Their relationship was a brilliant juxtaposition between the lone wolf and conventional ‘family man’. This dichotomy opened up a new debate entirely, in regards to their perspective as to who committed the grotesquely occult murder they must solve.

The appropriate tagline for season 1 of True Detective

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the season would be the narrative structure itself. The story is told from the perspective of the 2012 incarnations of Rust and Marty, as they assist with a similar case to the one they had undertaken in 1995. This allowed for burning questions to be answered as the story is told over the 8 episodes- predominantly, what distanced the two characters over time and their emotional status as a result of their experiences. This separates True Detective from the run of the mill cop show because it tells a story larger than the case itself. It delves into everything from corruption to philosophical perspectives on life itself.

Despite the success of its inaugural season , True Detective’s failure to deliver on its second instalment left audiences disappointed. This is most likely why the show has dropped off the radar in conversations about what series to binge watch which seems to be a trend in 2017. Despite this failure however, True Detective’s layout as an anthology series is a major advantage as it allow the show to continuously reinvent itself. Just because season 2 wasn’t as successful as audiences hoped it doesn’t mean the series is beyond redemption.

Rust and Marty

Season 2 shortcomings

Despite the overwhelming success and positive reviews for its first season, True Detective experienced quite the opposite in its second instalment set in the industrial town of ‘Vinci’ California. The second season is saturated in the dark themes which made season 1 so famous yet it does so in a way unfavourable to critical reception. At times, the emotional brooding of each character, particular Colin Farrell’s portrayal of Ray Velcoro- an alcoholic police officer with a past of troubled relationships both with his wife and crime boss portrayed by Vince Vaughn, Frank Semyon. The relationships between each character felt less significant as oppose to the first season due to a broader spectrum of characters. It often felt like there were too many subplots occurring at once without a definitive direction. Subplots such as Frank Semyons impotence, Rays relationship with his son, his lust for vengeance and the actual case itself. It was simply too much source material to be compacted into 8 episodes. As a result of this, many characters were undermined such as Rachel McAdams rather refreshing performance as Annie Bezzerides- a tomboyish detective with a grim past and a drinking problem. Its almost as if there’s a pattern among these characters, perhaps the reason behind the downfall of the second season would be its reliance on the alcoholic and emotionally unstable cop with violent tendencies.

Rachel McAdams as Det. Ani Bezzerides
Vinci, California as it appears in True Detective

Despite these downfalls, Season 2 somewhat redeemed itself with its fresh new setting using an industrial hellscape shrouded by pollution and infested by hierarchical corruption. At least there was some sort of consistency between the tone, subject matter and setting. Other positives included a rather interesting relationship dynamic between Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell’s character which was an emotional rollercoaster throughout. This relationship was somewhat reminiscent of Rust and Marty’s because as it gradually unfolded as the season progressed, more was revealed about the troubled past of both Frank and Ray respectively. This technique was also used to display the past of Rachel McAdams character Ani, using a nightmarish and tragic sequence to do so which truly upheld the True Detective mantra: ‘Man is the cruelest animal’. Other moments of notoriety would be the infamous episode 2 cliffhanger which was an excellent way of keep audiences watching and the emotionally fuelled shootout in the 4th episode which left viewers on the edge of their seats.

The cast for season 2

Despite its intricate storyline, excellent cinematic production featuring visuals of intertwining highways which represented the overlapping storylines, season 2 simply lacked the delivery which season 1 had in spades. This could simply be chalked down to the hype being too high with the inaugural season of the show being a rational candidate for the greatest 8 hours of television in the modern era. Nic Pizzolatto sure had his hands full and aimed to emulate the beloved gothic style portrayed in the Louisiana Hellscape in a completely different timeline and setting in order to remain fresh but satisfy audiences. It was ultimately an unfollowed however, with 1 hit and 1 miss under its belt, True Detective has an opportunity to cement itself in cinematic history by evening the score with a third instalment. The hype surrounding season one has been somewhat neutralised by the dismal second season so Nic Pizzolatto should indeed capitalise on this and reinvigorate the anthology before it is too late.

The famous highway shot prominently featured in season 2

Fargo formula for success

The reason hope should be kept high for the anthology to conclude on a high note can be seen in external successes. An example of this being the critically acclaimed FX series ‘Fargo’. Season 1 of Fargo was met with unparalleled success similar to that of True Detective, season 1. Fargo’s inaugural season was given an astounding 97% on rotten tomatoes and ranking 23/250 on IMDb’s top 250 television series, among the likes of Breaking Bad, The Wire and the Sopranos. This positive reception was primarily attributed to its unique use of dark comedy and the ominous presence of Billy Bob Thornton’s character, Lorne Malvo- a malevolent force which spreads evil and mischief throughout the season. Despite the overwhelming hype it had to live up to, the second season of Fargo not only succeeded, but it thrived, with some stakeholders claiming its successor had bested season 1 on some fronts.

In the same instance, it is entirely plausible that True Detective’s third installment will restore the dignity of the entire anthology however due to the noticeable disparity in quality, between the first and second season, It has been put up to question as to whether or not Nic Pizzolatto wants to renew it for a third season at all. This has been quite a let down for fans however its also a perfect opportunity to properly think out a stellar third season with many locations, themes and timelines to take into consideration, which weren’t present in season 1 and 2. There is an array of different possibilities which Nic Pizzolatto can apply his dark, brooding style of production to.

Billy bob Thornton as Lorne Malvo in ‘Fargo’

Season 3 settings

1. Chicago

The first candidate for these locations would be the crime riddled streets of Chicago. Chicago is a city which has recorded one of the highest crime rates among recent statistics. This is attributed to its gang violence, public corruption and lack of policing in low socio-economic areas. The violence rate in Chicago is one which has been akin to Afghanistan by President Trump in a comparison that isn’t too far from the truth. This is what makes it the perfect location to film True Detective season 3. Nic Pizzolatto’s gothic/noir style will assimilate well with the dark themes of corruption and poor socio economic standards- both of which haunt the city of Chicago. Perhaps a season based on gang violence circulated around an isolated murder case would be a refreshing step away from the occult theme of the murders in seasons 1 and 2. This would give True Detective some more credibility as it would be quite bold and rather unique to document the real life issues in Chicago. Pizzolatto’s infatuation with the theme of corruption is also another way of documenting the current issue of police brutality in Americas crime riddled streets. Overall Chicago would be an excellent way of reviving the True Detective anthology whilst also providing for engaging social commentary akin to that of the critically acclaimed series ‘The Wire’.

2. Baltimore, Maryland

The Wire is highly regarded as one of the best series to ever air on television being praised in the same conversation as Season 1 of True Detective. The Wires success was rooted from its ability to tackle real life issues such as the aforementioned gang violence and the narcotics trade. The series was gritty and brutally revealing about the nature of not just crime, but corruption itself and the ripple effect it has. This refers to its impact influencing the lives of children and how education itself is often short changed in times of desperation in favour of criminal activity in low socio- economic areas. Nic Pizzolatto could use this as somewhat of an inspiration and basis for a story line incorporating the previously mentioned corruption and implementing elements of criminal psychology which appeared in both Seasons of True Detective set it in the city of Baltimore, Maryland- the very same location as The Wire.

The streets of Baltimore as they appear in ‘The Wire’

The narcotics scene would be a a perfect way to rekindle the fan favourite character Rustin Cohle. A large part of Cohle’s character stems from his mysterious past as an undercover narcotics detective. This gives reasoning behind his drug riddled past, cloudy mind and connections/access to motorcycles gangs and weaponry. Nic Pizzolatto could revive the character by perhaps revolving the 3rd season around his days as an undercover narco- a character arc which offered thrilling action sequences such as the 6 minute tracking shot in episode 4 titled ‘Who Goes There’. This sequence was praised universally leaving audiences on the edge of their seat and winning 2 Emmy awards for cinematography. Overall, the Baltimore drug scene seems like an excellent way to not only revive the anthology itself, but also, to shed light on the fabled past of Rustin Cohle.

Rust during the 6 minute tracking shot in ‘Who goes there’

What lies ahead?

Despite the naysayers, True Detective is a series you simply cannot overlook in the vast conversation that is quality television. Its first season was a beacon of hope for episodic TV and was dawn the of a new era in terms of darker themed content. Though season 2 failed to live up to the hype, there is always room for redemption which is why season 3 is one which fans shouldn’t overlook should it eventually come to fruition. Nic pizzolatto’s creative prowess and unique eye for content is one which can solidify the series as one audiences will be recommending to others for years to come. With a well thought out location, central story and a director with skills akin to Cary Fukunaga-responsible for the breathtaking Louisiana hells cape and the exhilarating 6 minute tracking shot, True Detective can revive itself and earn back the credibility it has tragically lost.

There may be some hope after all for a revival as there has been rumours for a while now that the third season has begun production. Rumours of a story spanning decades about a gruesome murder in the heart of the ‘Ozark’s’ have been circulating with a possibility of Nic Pizzolatto working with director Jeremy Saulnier (Green Room, Blue Ruin). If this is the case, the third installment of True Detective may very well restore dignity back to the franchise and though nothing has been officially confirmed yet, these recent developments will have fans left optimistic.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. I enjoyed Season 1 but the script is very patchy. There’s some terrific stuff borrowed from Robert Chambers, Laird Barron, Thomas Ligotti and Alan Moore; the rest of it, the stuff that feels wholly Pizzolatto, is uneven. (It was kind of a mistake to end up undercutting the hints of supernatural horror that were so tantalising and interesting for the first two thirds of the series.)

    Plus you had the virtuoso Fukunaga directing. Taking all that away I think exposed Pizzolatto somewhat.

    • Yeah I think the supernatural elements present in the first season was a fundamental part of its magic. It made you want to keep watching to find out what exactly it all meant- especially Rust’s hallucinations.

  2. TD’s collapse began in the disastrous ending to series 1. “The light’s winning” is my most loathed line in all of TV drama. The entire scene, as well as that line, was ripped off Alan Moore, the ‘light winning’ metaphor didn’t even make sense when Moore used it, the epiphany happened offscreen while Rust was in his coma, and was an infuriatingly implausible, cheap, treacly transformation for his character.

    Pizzolatto’s a funny old fellow. Anybody who can come up with the sublime ending to S01E05 can’t be all bad. But when he goes low, he goes really really low, to say nothing of his plagiarisms, and even worse his excruciating denials of same.

  3. Charlyn

    I was very happy with the second season. yes, a bit convoluted, yes, vince Vaughan maybe not stellar, but good enough. And Colin was Farrell outstanding

    • Season two was not as good as season one but I wouldn’t say it was that bad as this article says it was.It did have its moments.
      The first season was something else altogether everything from the opening credits to the plot the scenes the characters the chemistry was perfect.A 10/10…. and there lies the problem…anything one makes after that would seem lackluster.
      Maybe if season 1 had been season 2 and if season 2 had been season 1 …..I will definitely keep my mind open to season 3 if there is one.

    • True Detective Season 2 was flawed, and I recognise all the criticisms that were levelled at it. But it really wasn’t anywhere near to being the disaster that people make out. I actually watched it all the way through twice, and thoroughly enjoyed the second viewing. Season One was more impressive first time through, not least because of how enjoyable the spliced narrative was, the contrasting interviews with the two detectives, and of course the revelation that Matthew McConaughey could act; but it gradually unravelled and the ending was a joke. When I started watching Season 1 a second time, I eventually let my viewing peter out – I never made it all the way to the end on the second viewing. True Detective Season 2 was painted on a wider canvas, and yes it was, in some ways, a bit of a mess. But Season 2 did have numerous enjoyable aspects (not least the layered LA pop cultural allusions and nuances), and a great ensemble cast. Overall, Season 2 was very under-rated, and Season 1’s reputation is quite overblown, it was far from perfect too

      • I do see where your coming from with this. I think a lot of season 1’s success stems from the fact that it was such a fresh concept. The supernatural allusions and overall dark personality of the series was what kept me hooked, not to mention the dialogue between Rust and Marty. Had the roles been reversed, and season 2 came first, I do think that it would have been met with better reception as it would be allowed to exist as its own entity, free from comparison.

  4. Nedra Fine

    I hope we get a third series. Two was no match for one but it was not dreadful if you took away the huge expectation. I think it’s worth another shot.

  5. While I was initially disappointed with TD season two, I ultimately found it more affecting than the emotionally sterile season one.

    • TD season 2 :step 1; husky grainy mumbly voiced person sitting in dark room drinking scotch with moody music in background: ” Casper mumble mumble mumble girls mumble mumble money mumble casper” then smokes ciggie very slowly. Step 2 ; another character enters and repeats step 1

    • Gilespie

      I ended up preferring it to Season 1 too. While Vaughn was useless, Rachel McAdams was brilliant and Colin Farrell was reliably solid. I thought that the critical mauling was undeserved and expected it to be reevaluated in time. Obviously it hasn’t been long enough yet

  6. letsway

    I don’t think Season 2 was an unmitigated turkey. In fairness, Season 1 was a hard act to follow and pretty much anything following it would have suffered. It kinda got crushed under a weight of expectation. No, it wasn’t the best TV ever made, not even as a standalone series, but it didn’t suck. There’s certainly worse TV out there.

    Personally, I feel the return of Rust Cohole (or, to a lesser extent, McConaughey) would be a mistake – as great as both the character and actor were. I’d love to see Fukunaga back at the helm though. For me, True Detective is a vibe; a vision and a feel rather than characters and plot line

    • I thoroughly agree with you in that the reputation of Season 1 and it being cited among the likes of heavyweights such as Breaking Bad and The Wire was perhaps a little too much pressure on the second season to deliver. I think Pizzolatto’s biggest flaw was that he tried too hard to emulate his first season as oppose to building a new legacy. Fukunaga was definitely one of the reasons behind the success of season 1 with his excellent ability to capture the Louisiana setting.

      In regards to a Rust spinoff, while it is a huge risk and could topple the legacy of the series itself, I think an exploration into his mysterious past could be just what the series needs to be revived. This must be a well calculated risk though which could jeopardise Pizzolatto’s reputation, especially with the negative reception of the second season.

    • I thought some of the scenes with Kelly Reilly and Matthew Vaughan were almost unwatchable – the dialogue rambling and wooden, the relationship totally unbelievable. By the end I was finding it hard to see beyond its flaws to find anything to enjoy, a real shame. I don’t mind if they mix it up (à la Fargo), but True Detective season 2 was a mess

  7. I love me some self-serious adolescent nihilism as much as the next guy, but TD season 1 is the most overrated TV series in memory—a passable detective story witlessly drowned in grizzly undergrad philosophy cliches worthy of a po-faced 17yr old boy’s notebook scribbles. Compared with something like Twin Peaks, it’s pathetic

    • Pull-man

      I have to agree series 1 was very overrated. The (admittedly excellent) title sequence was by far the best thing about it. Otherwise it was portentous, mumblecore wank.

  8. If they return to a southern gothic universe and populate it with interesting characters which aren’t just cliche mob figures and dirty cops then it could work.

    Mix up some Flannery O’Connor and Cormac McCarthy for a script then get the Hannibal production and cinematography team in and get Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh in as lead actors with Walton Goggins and Billy Bob Thornton as support

    • Go with the southern thaaaang and finally please give the marvellous Walton Goggins a lead role of his own. He won’t disappoint.

  9. Munjeera

    Looks like a series that provokes a lot of reaction.

  10. Perhaps they could take a lesson from American Crime on ABC that uses the same actors in different roles each series, it gives actors an opportunity to use their acting skills in a variety of ways. I have enjoyed all three series (they just started season 3) and I would love to see Matthew McConnaughey and Wood Harrelson again.

  11. My picks for leads:
    Nicolas Cage and Sean Penn
    Jim Carrey and Steve Buscemi
    Kevin Costner and Keanu Reeves
    John Travolta and Wesley Snipes

  12. Linnie Yoon

    I wouldn’t mind seeing the detectives that were investigating Rust and Marty lead the charge for season 3 .

  13. Skidmore

    Some of us will never forgive Nic Pizzolatto for turning Rust Cohle from a cynical, pitiless, steel-eyed, nihilist into a blubbering, born-again-Christian cry-baby. I’d love to see Cohle brought back for another series – but only if the writers start asking the right questions.

  14. If season two were a separate series and not named Tru Detective s2 it would have received much better feedback.

  15. They should make Timothy Olympant the main man for this new series, if it is to be a unique story. (seeing the DeadWood / McShane inset)

    He is wasted in the NetFlix comedy he is involved with at present.

  16. the second seasons failure was due to the departure of Cary Fukunaga. He brought so much to the first season. I honestly couldn’t explain season 2 story line or care to

  17. Queenie

    This show, especially Season 2, would have worked far better if all the episodes were released at the same time, like Fortitude Season 2 for example.

    Such a complex and detailed plot is hard to stay on top of when you have one week between each episode.

  18. I don’t think that the second season of True Detective was wholly disappointing. With any other title or channel, it might’ve received great acclaim. The first season just set expectations so high.

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