How will they speak of True Detective season 2 in the very near future, after the dust has settled? When the buzzards have picked Frank Semyon's body clean and he's just a nondescript Vince Vaughn-length skeleton in the desert, will Nic Pizzolatto's second self-contained tale of unbeatable systematic corruption be looked upon as an intriguing case study of colossal failure? Or will its defenders, currently small in number but quite vocal, grow in number and rise up to anoint these eight episodes as a misunderstood cult classic? I ask because as the credits rolled on last night's especially depressing finale, I honestly had no idea.
Indeed, season 2 came to a grim close (the last chapter of Life, an AudioBook Narrated by Raymond Velcoro's failure to upload was a particular kick in the nuts), a sharp swerve from last year, which seemed to be heading toward a dark end and instead closed on a relatively optimistic note. But really, comparing the two seasons becomes lazy after a certain point. This is an anthology series, after all. So, removing the looming shadows of Rust Cohle, Carcosa, and a sweet narrative structure, was season 2 a success on its own merit? Not quite. But it certainly was worthwhile. My own relationship with the season was complicated. For the first two episodes, I was intrigued. Three and four seemed to betray my loyalty. And the back half varied between silly, problematic but watchable and Actually Pretty Good. All told it's a mess though, ain't no way around it.
Remove Paul Woodrugh from this season entirely. Does it affect anything, like, at all? No, the entire series of events could've unfolded as they would have, sans bad acting, a mother straight out of a Lifetime movie and a truly cringeworthy not to mention really fucking dated closeted arc. I went into the season optimistic to see what Vaughn would do; more times than not his line readings played as if he was reading a Raymond Chandler novel at one of those Jason Reitman A-Lister classic works renditions. The information crucial to this mystery was deployed casually at best, haphazardly at worst, leaving even the most avid mystery watchers/readers confused at certain points. Somebody killed Stan. The documents have signatures.
Just because the mystery and the show around it picked up towards the end doesn't excuse a sloppy set-up. A slow-building case was far from the early hours' biggest problem; a case and characters who hardly inspired a shit to give was. (Imagine how much more lively this season would be if Birdman Lenny was hunting down Caspere's collaborators instead of conveniently waiting offstage until episode 8 to act on knowledge he already had.) And there was no form to lean on. This year is its own story, sure but after last year's tracking scene, it's not unreasonable to expect similar technical flourishes. The shootout that played like a Call of Duty cutscene was not that.
But there was something strangely poetic albeit simultaneously absurd as Vince Vaughn limped toward death in the desert, surrounded by the ghosts of people and experiences that shaped him into the truly terrible career criminal he became. I felt for him, the same way I felt for Ray Farrell as he ran into a hail of decidedly non-rubber bullets, the same fate he dream-predicted in Limbo World with Conway Twitty. He and McAdams sold Ray and Ani's connection enough to make the finale's final beats work for me. I smiled at the idea of her and Jordan taking on the world, without the fuck-ups they couldn't help but care for, plus a baby because, remember, Jordan really wanted a baby. This was not 8 collective hours of trash. It is quite far from 8 hours of perfection.
Nic P set out to make a neo-noir with Chinatown as a base element and flavors of Mann and Lynch thrown in. Instead he made a different type of noir, the one that takes work to appreciate but has genius within if you look hard enough. Up close, its flaws are frustratingly evident. But a year or two removed, I can easily see 'Why True D 2 Is Actually Brilliant' thinkpieces popping up like James Frain, glorifying everything from Vince Vaugn's eight-episode slow march to his own doom to the Black Rose bar's
bard songstress; "Sometimes your best self.." "Everything is fucking" and "Blue balls of the heart" will live in infamy. (No one will ever talk positively of Paul Woodrugh.) Rest easy, True truthers...you're a year or so out from saying "I told you so." Or maybe Nic P will never work on HBO again. Or maybe he'll make a movie. In the meantime, pour out a little Johnnie Walker Blue for Colin Velcoro, the one element of this season that needed no time nor distance to appreciate.