Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 20, 2015)
When fans heard that HBO would air a second year of True Detective, they likely believed they’d see a continuation with the characters found in Season One. However, Season Two failed to do so, as it provided entirely new characters and situations.
The Blu-ray set spreads all of Season Two’s eight episodes across three discs. The plot synopses come straight from the Blu-ray menus.
The Western Book of the Dead: “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.”
Going into Season Two, I knew little about it beyond its lead cast – and the fact a lot of fans apparently didn’t like it much. After a successful first season, year two seemed to lose a lot of them with what I heard was a confusing narrative.
Despite those warnings, I hoped Season Two would be better than I’d heard. Of course, I won’t judge the entire year based on the first episode, but “Book” launches the story in a reasonably intriguing manner. The program manages to introduce the main characters well and launch the investigation that will dominate the narrative.
This doesn’t mean “Book” lacks drawbacks, however. For one, the leads all seem so bitter and unsavory that eight hours with them may become a chore. In addition, “Book” presents some rather theatrical dialogue via lines like “never do anything out of hunger – not even eating”. Who speaks that way? No one, and a full season of overbaked dialogue might grow old.
We’ll see. Right now, “Book” leaves me in a state of guarded optimism. It doesn’t dispel my fears but it opens the year well enough to make me curious to see where True Detective will go.
Night Finds You: “Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ani (Rachel McAdams) investigate a victim’s depraved background, as does Frank (Vince Vaughn), whole Paul (Taylor Kitsch) probes the Vinci PD.”
With “Night”, we get what I perceive – so far – to be the series’ strengths and weaknesses. On the negative side, we see some of the overcooked dialogue and character-based meandering I already mentioned. The show opens with Frank’s pretentious musing about whether or not he really exists. Perhaps this theme will become meaningful eventually, but right now, scenes like that feel pointless.
Despite those tendencies, “Night” manages to advance the main narrative fairly well. The series favors indulgences into the characters’ subtexts to add some depth, and it pursues the murder investigation well enough to stay on target. This isn’t a tight, “Point A to Point B” tale, but it doesn’t need to be, and it progresses in a positive manner.
Maybe Tomorrow: “Paul works the prostitute angle while Frank receives the first casualty in a secret war and steps back into a world he’d left behind.”
While prior episodes balanced character areas and the investigation, “Tomorrow” tends more toward the former category. That makes it less focused than its predecessors, but not in a bad manner. “Tomorrow” does enough to advance the overall plot to keep us with it, and it helps embellish the roles in a satisfying way.
Down Will Come: “The detail works a pawn shop lead to close in on a suspect in the Caspere case. Frank revisits his past to pay for his present.”
Once again, “Down” gives us a show in which the murder mystery takes a back seat to character domains. So far, I don’t think that’s a problem, but I must admit I’d like to see the series focus more on the investigation. Parts of “Down” meander, but enough of it hits the target to keep us with it, and a jolt of action toward the end rouses the series from its semi-slumber.
Other Lives: “Ray and Frank contemplate new life choices. Ani and Paul follow a lead up the coast.”
After the violence that ended “Down”, “Lives” offers a pretty radical change for Ray, and that creates an interesting twist. Ani at a sexual harassment seminar also gives the series a little much-needed humor. The investigation takes a firm backseat and some of the character bits drag, but the show comes with an unusual change of pace that mostly works.
Church In Ruins: “Desperate to locate a missing woman with intel about Caspere, Frank meets with Mexican drug dealers. Ani infiltrates an exclusive inner circle, with Ray and Paul keeping close tabs.”
At this point in Season Two, you either buy into the style on display or you don’t – none of the progressing episodes change matters in a way to alter perceptions. While I can see why some feel turned off by Season Two’s somewhat plot-digressive nature, I think it works, and “Church” continues the intrigue. In particular, Ray’s family issues create drama, and the investigation deepens in compelling ways, especially when Ani puts herself at risk during a seedy party.
Black Maps and Motel Rooms: “Ray, Ani and Paul take precautionary measures to elude detection and untangle a dark mystery. Frank deals with the fallout of his betrayal.”
As the season nears its conclusion, various matters heat up, especially in terms of Frank’s arc. The various elements combine well and make this a provocative episode that pushes us toward the finale.
Omega Station: “Frank, Ray and Ani weigh their options as Caspere’s killer and the scope of corruption are revealed.”
Season Two’s narrative ends with a reasonable flourish. Too much of the show suffers from this year’s signature pensive chattiness, but it still pays off in a fairly satisfying manner. Don’t expect a happy ending – that wouldn’t suit the series – but anticipate one that ties up events well.