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David Poland

By David Poland

Review-ish: True Detective, Season 2, Episodes 1-3 (spoiler-lite)


“True Detective” Season 2 is nothing like “True Detective” Season 1.

Just take a minute and clear your palate.

I’ll ease you in… the song… the theme song… not as good. Not as memorable. Not eerily memorable. Like the next song from what you don’t yet know will turn out to be a one-hit wonder.

Okay… now to the show.

I don’t know whether it will be great or just good.

It is not, as some have written, trying too hard. It’s not showing its ass to draw your attention.

It is just what it is. Not a two-man show with two seeming opposites trying to find a horrifying psychotic who leaves dead bodies artfully splayed and displayed.

“TD2″ is moody. There are fireworks, but they are seductive the way that they were in the first season. Season 2 is about four seriously broken people, three of whom are cops and one of whom is, it seems early on, a bad, bad guy.

Episode One is all set-up. Who are these four? What is their situation at the time this story begins? Most of the answers you will want are not made available to you. None of the three cops are archetypical, though each displays as a cop cliché, we have that idea ripped away along the way.

Episode Two is the meet-not-cute. And this will also be the hardest episode for a lot of people to get past, because the show makes it clear that we are being given all of the symptoms of the disease/crime, but what the trio of cops are actually getting into is being withheld maliciously. In Season One, the writer used time-shifting to keep the audience guessing. This season, it is much more straight forward… three cops hungry to find out the answer while they (and we with them) are being kept from knowing by the powers above them (in our case, Nic Pizzolatto).

The first great event that really pushes the audience to think about what they are getting into – not just the story of the show – is in Episode Two.

Episode Three is when the show, it seems, gets ready to settle in an announce itself. Really, it’s the first chapter. The first two episodes are black + white prologue. Episode 3 is when we find out who we will follow down the yellow brick road. Within that, the main characters start to figure each other out. Is there a Dorothy? Who has a brain, a heart, the nerve? Well.. they all have the nerve. That’s one of the things that makes this series so compelling.

I don’t know what to compare “TD2″ to in order to make it easier for you to have some comfort with what is coming. It’s not Crash, but it is four completely separate characters coming together to make sense of a bigger story. It’s not Lumet. He would have done this in three hours and it would have been fantastic, but it would have been something else altogether. It’s not David Ayer, who would never smear his canvas with so many elements but would have a similar tone focusing with laser sharpness on one or two of these characters. It’s not Mann, whose loners never shut up and are really close to their emotions even if they are tortured in being unable to quite reach them.

And most of all… it’s unknown. Three episodes in, it is completely clear that the surface is just being scratched. Even the main characters are significantly unsettled three hours in.

None of us had really seen anything like “True Detective” when Rust and Marty limped into our lives. This second season is like Nic Pizzolatto pushed himself not to repeat what worked so well and to go much closer to what has been the conventional police drama we all know so well… and then, really fuck with it and us.

It is a harder seduction, make no mistake. The moment in Season One where people almost checked out was around Episode 3 or 4, when they started getting really frustrated by the show not giving them what they wanted for week after week. But they were soon satisfied. Here, it will be most of the first two episodes. Glimpses. Pizzolatto gives you glimpses.

And he doesn’t give you much more, in that regard, in Episode 3. But he does give you the feeling that the characters are ready to put their completely dysfunctional real lives to the side and get focused on the police work in front of them. Obviously, the dysfunction will continue to be a part of the show. But so will more of a procedural… and evolving relationships between the main characters… and more sense of what is really lurking.

I am a fan of all four lead performances. The show seems early on like Colin Farrell’s character will eat the thing. Then not. Rachel McAdams seems a little out of her zone with her character… but then her back story (and ongoing story) develops and it all makes more sense. Taylor Kitsch seems out of place too… and after three episodes, he is still the most mysterious of the trio. And Vince Vaughn is playing a kind of classic Vince Vaughn bad-guy prick… but then his vulnerabilities start to show… at least to the audience… and it gets more and more interesting.

I don’t know what is about to happen to any of these characters at any moment. But after three hours, I am invested in all of them.

Truth is, it could go sideways. It could be a waste when all is said and done. But there is also the very real chance that it could be as profound, if not more profound a journey than Season 1 by the end.

I don’t know what happened at HBO, but one mark of their series as of late has been patience. Amazing patience. Series are taking 4, 5, 6 episodes to find their truest voice. Patience is not always rewarded. But then again, most of you probably watched “The Wire” in reruns or binging on DVD or HBO Go. (Me too… and I LOVED the team behind that show before it even aired. Huge “Homicide” fan.)

If you are scared or the first episode scares you, DVR it. Watch the first three back-to-back-to-back. And then, I think you will be ready for more. I know I am.

2 Responses to “Review-ish: True Detective, Season 2, Episodes 1-3 (spoiler-lite)”

  1. Pete B says:

    Here’s hoping there’s not as many dangling plot threads as the first one had. It was enjoyable until you actually thought about it, and then it kinda fell apart.

  2. Nick says:

    other than Rachel McAdams character not being believable in any sense for a second, I loved the first episode. IT IS LOS ANGELES NOIR. Everyone drinks and drugs and thinks heavy. What else do people want? Now let’s just watch crazy bad shit go down.

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin