Fortune cookie dialogue and a plot out of 1985

Second season of 'True Detective' (second review)

3 minute read
Yoda-speak and Batman whispers: Vaughn and Farrell. (© 2015 HBO)
Yoda-speak and Batman whispers: Vaughn and Farrell. (© 2015 HBO)

Rust Cohle said in season one of True Detective that time is a flat circle — we’ll do the same things over and over. I hope that’s not true because I never want to watch season two again. Season one was flawed but extremely enjoyable. I watched season two hoping week by week that it would get better. It didn’t. The dead guy, Caspere, had his eyes gouged and the sockets burned with acid. I feel the same way after sitting through it.

If you ask me what season two is about, I can’t answer without a PowerPoint presentation and at least an hour. So many threads were never tied; so many tertiary characters ultimately had nothing to do with anything. Season one was a character study of two detectives, solving a murder and developing a binding bromance, with side characters who moved the story forward in most cases. Season one also was about storytelling — what we tell ourselves and others, and why. I’ll give season two a shot: It’s about four unhappy people, three of them cops, all of them denying who they really are. It’s about a murder. It’s about the mob and a gangster who wants not to be. It’s also about corruption at the highest levels of government. It’s about fatherhood and lack of motherhood. I could go on, but I don’t want to run up my word count.

Endless plot points and a gaggle of useless side characters make things too confusing. When the entire Internet is Googling the guy you just killed (RIP Stan) and/or the people revealed as the killers, that’s a big problem. And it takes away from the main characters. Storytelling 101: We need to know them and their motivations so we can care about what happens to them.

Déjà vu

Also, writer Nic Pizzolatto told almost every story ever heard before. Frank (Vince Vaughn) is a gangster trying to go legit. Paul (Taylor Kitsch) is a veteran who’s gay and pretending to be straight. The gangsters Frank’s dealing with? People with a variety of foreign accents. So unoriginal.

Much of the dialogue is delivered in short phrases, out of order, like Yoda-speak, and in Batman whispers. Ray (Colin Farrell) consistently speaks under his breath in monotone. It adds nothing to the experience. And the dialogue — did Pizzolatto pull fortune cookies out of a hat? Frank: “Never do anything out of hunger, even eating.” And I scoffed at the idea that criminals would say, “The enemy won’t reveal himself. . . .Stymies my retribution. It’s like blue balls in your heart.”

Time travel

Does Pizzolatto think it’s 1985? Paul receives compromising photos on his smartphone in a blackmail attempt. Paul tells his blackmailer that he’ll do what the bad guy wants if he gets “all copies” of the damning photos. There are no copies. Set the piece in antiquity if you want to use tropes like that. It’s the 21st century.

Season one’s flaws: The killer was obvious if you were paying attention, a couple episodes dragged a bit, and a main character that should have died didn’t. Season two’s flaw: that it happened at all.

Give me a compelling and understandable-without-flashcards plot. Give me characters I care about. But mostly, just tell a good story. Ray says, “Pain is inexhaustible. It’s only people that get exhausted.” That’s true, and I am. Storyteller, invigorate me. Don’t make me want to gouge my eyes out.

For Paula Berman's review, click here.

What, When, Where

True Detective, season two. Created by Nic Pizzolatto. HBO.

Sign up for our newsletter

All of the week's new articles, all in one place. Sign up for the free weekly BSR newsletters, and don't miss a conversation.

Join the Conversation