Is This The Program We Deserve?: True Detective S2/E1&2

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It’s safe to say that the success of True Detective’s fantastic first season lay on the shoulders of one talented, if not a tad egotistical, rising star, and two unlikely giants, in both on- and off-screen senses. With True Detective’s first ridealong with the darker side of the human psyche, we were treated to ferociously obtuse, yet eloquent musings from the angel and the devil that sit on either of our own shoulders. The problem was, Rust Cohle and Martin Hart tended to swap those personas too rapidly to keep us comfortable placing them into any specific mold. Their words and actions, each a revelation, peeling back the men they were, inspired casual meditation on ye olde Enlightenmente musinge — when we finally come, kicking and screaming into a ruthless world, are we socialized towards good or does it stem naturally from our soon-to-be-tainted hearts?

True Detective’s second go-round does not raise these questions. It is answering them all the time, but we’re not asking anymore. In many ways, this season is looking the uncertain universe of season one in the eye and saying, without much poetry, “We get the world we deserve.”

That isn’t to say that our characters are straightforward this time, or that their moral compass never wavers from true north, but instead we have an early insight into why that is for many of them. Ray Velcoro says he “welcomes judgment,” then is dismayed after he specifically goes out and seeks it, because it means he loses his son in every possible respect. Frank Semyon wants to turn over a new leaf because his most potent memory (we assume there was a kernel of emotion intended behind Vaughn’s stiff delivery) belongs to the victim of a bad man. Ani’s undoubtedly fraught history of trauma at the hands of her cultish father and his clergy has yet to be fully laid out, but it’s clear from her perspective on knives and preferred mode of nightcap that the ensuing episodes will prove revealing. And Paul’s a closeted gay man, which is hard.

If this comes off as overly dismissive, it’s only because Pizzolatto has decided that he’s decided to shift the focus away from refreshing takes on trite tropes and instead devote this season’s opener to seeing just how much obtuse fetishism and ugliness he could pack in. I’ve never been curious about what the crotch of someone whose genitals have recently been removed via shotgun would look like, and now I’ll never have to be.

Then again, we’re only 1/6 of the way through, and many of my assumptions about season one in the early stages proved false (didn’t think I’d be seeing that lawnmower guy again!), so maybe Nic’s sitting in his favorite darkened bar while Jenny Lewis’ extremely morose younger sister plays songs about hating, eventually, everything, while cackling to himself over the collective reaction to his initial offerings this season.

As negative as my perspective seems to be, I have to acknowledge that the show is still playing to some of its great strengths. Subtle visual elements continue to pervade. The crow mask’s return connected to Ray sitting beneath a painting of Franz Klein’s take on a raven was a nice touch I missed the first time through (but I did catch the mayor’s handshake with Dubya during his final sloshed scene). The title of this season’s opener is steeped in literary reference that will satiate all the Yellow King fanatics from last year. Even Vince Vaughn has had some good moments- I liked his intimidating fast-talker beneath the overpass.

So despite the final moments of the second episode — the first truly shocking ones of the show so far — I have a lot of hope for the next six episodes.

The problem is, I never expected this show to take a break from astounding me.

I want to just say, before I close out, that I hope with the close of Justin Lin’s direction on this season, that we find some changes in the cinematography. Specifically, a little less focus on what the birds are seeing when they fly over coastal California. We get it. Roads are like webs sometimes. And industrial parks are not fun to look at. Bring back my tracking shots.

Originally posted on Medium

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