Let’s put it this way: At least we always have YouTube to use to go back to watching Rust Cohle talk about time being a flat circle, because after True Detective’s season two premiere there may be a lot of nostalgia for the past.
Of course, it’s always hard to get used to something new. Most, if not all, TV shows today carry the same cast through multiple seasons until the show ends. True Detective is not one of those shows, and that’s what makes it so special.
And that’s why it was almost inevitable that the first episode of this new season get such a negative response that you’d think Reggie Ledoux himself was the protagonist.
It’s tough to get used to change, especially after we were treated to such stunning acting, writing, and cinematography as we were in season one. Maybe show creator and writer Nic Pizzolatto set the bar too high with his opening season. And maybe we won’t see another character on television as complicated, deep, messed up, well spoken, cool, psychopathic, and so easy to hate and love at the same time as Rust Cohle.
With all of that in season two’s shadow, it’s no wonder most True Detective fans were left scratching their heads after “The Western Book of the Dead,” thinking, “Where did the magic go?”
The writing’s still there, that’s for sure, even if Vince Vaughn’s character Frank Semyon says things like “all the marbles.” We’re treated now to two more main characters than in season one, and they’ve all got their own issues that need to be dealt with.
And yes, there are still hints of what made season one so creepy. Like having that bird mask in the front seat of the Cadillac carrying city planner Ben Casper, or all the odd sex toys in Casper’s house (along with a really weird skeleton statue, which was my personal favorite).
But despite some carry-over themes from the first season, there isn’t much else that’s to be desired from the first episode.
The camera work from director Justin Lin doesn’t have that same edge that director Cary Joji Fukunaga had in season one. We’re shown establishing shots of Los Angeles and the mountainous areas around it, but it doesn’t have the same isolated, off-color feeling that Fukunaga was able to establish in Louisiana’s back roads. In season one, Fukunaga was able to make Louisiana a character in the show. So far, all California feels like is simply the setting.
Then there are the characters.
As I mentioned above, it’d be truly difficult to repeat a character as mesmerizing as Mathew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but what we get with Ray Velcoro seems like a cheap knockoff of Rust Cohle. Yes, he drinks and smokes just like Rust did, but the substance isn’t quite there. The humanity, in fact, doesn’t seem to be quite there, either.
Now, this could be purposeful, but something needs to happen in order to give Collin Ferrell’s character some depth throughout the show.
With that said, Rachel McAdams plays a terrific character in Antigone Bezzerides. With her, there seems to be more on the surface that meets the eye. She seems so hell bent on fixing her sister who seems to have no problem with the life she’s living. “You want people to stop screwing and start taking drugs. That’s so typical you,” her sister tells her. Yes, with Bezzerides, there does seem to be more than meets the eye, especially after seeing that her father is the head of an Esalen-style spiritual retreat that I hope plays a big part in future episodes.
Seeing Vince Vaughn in this dramatic of a role is still unsettling, and the jury still seems to be out on if it fits him or not (If throwing a glass cup against a wall in anger is any measurement to how dramatic someone is, then give Vaughn an Emmy now).
And, of course, there’s Paul Woodrugh, the highway police officer who’s been accused of getting oral sex from a woman he stopped on the highway. He’s a character that came off as very vanilla in the opening episode other than the fact that he drives a motorcycle, which I still believe is considered cool.
Pizzolatto’s got a lot on his hands this season, as he did with last. With four main characters now, though, we’ll have to see how he handles them and gives them the adequate amount of screen time for his audience to connect with them; he doesn’t have five seasons like Game of Thrones does to build a character-audience relationship with more than just two characters, he’s only got eight episodes—eight hours—to do so.
But, perhaps more importantly, will we see things like the 6-minute, uncut, single tracking scene (which was one of the best shot scenes in TV history) we saw in episode 4 of season one? Or will there be a villain as creepy and fun to say as Reggie Ledoux? Those, I’m sure, will be answered in time.
Perhaps, through all of this, I’m overreacting—it’s only been one episode, after all. Maybe, we just need to get used to the change in everything and stop worrying about the last season, because, as I mentioned, what makes True Detective great is the fact that no two seasons are alike. Vince Vaughn may turnout to be an incredible dramatic actor who brings depth and style to his character, and director Justin Lin (and the other 3 or 4 other directors this season) will find his style and incorporate California into the story more. Perhaps this all happens, and it starts with the characters.
However, despite the presence of the four main characters, we’ve only seen two of them interact with each other—with little chemistry evident. The biggest worry here, then, is if the trajectory that “The Western Book of the Dead” started continues throughout the season, the chemistry that should be developing between the audience and the show won’t be evident, either.
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