True Detective’s Season 2 Finale: A Giant Mess

(In case you missed it on KSDK)

Picture yourself ordering a big juicy ribeye steak and you get a dried up bland T-bone steak cooked by a cook who hates his job. That’s what I got after 8 hours of heavy handed drama on HBO’s season 2 of True Detective. The finale stunk up the room and it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. How did golden boy Nic Pizzolatto round up all this talent and mess this up? Next time, Nic, buy a diaper and unload in that instead of all over people who pay top dollar for HBO and went into this summer expecting something better.

I gave this season time to grow on me. Think of spending a few hours with a VERY serious kid at a playground. He’s cool and wants to have fun but can’t stop talking about philosophical meanings and boring layered narratives. That’s True Detective in 2015. Overwrought and overcooked and just too much in the end. Worst of all, its creator lost his compass. Pizzolatto can write twisty seedy stories about the rugged battles we fight within our subconscious on a daily basis but believe me he had better than this assortment of characters running around with their heads cut off in the middle of this mystery plot.

Hey, there’s Vince Vaughn, trying to recover some dignity from a career that fell straight down the soft comedy rabbit hole. Vaughn was trained on theater and came up in Hollywood through dramas like Clay Pigeons and Return to Paradise. What happened to that magnetic presence from Swingers? Vaughn was miscast here as a former criminal trying to go straight and a stupid one at that. He couldn’t handle the dialogue and never seemed comfortable except for a handful of scenes. Maybe he bit down too hard on the comedy bug or maybe he wasn’t meant for this gym class.

Look at Taylor Kitsch, playing the most doomed closeted gay cop of all time. So serious, never smiling and tormented beyond belief. The main recipe this season was inner torture. Look at me, I am pale, unhappy and out of cigarettes. Show pity on me. Taylor’s Paul, an ex-soldier trying to ride a patrol bike who gets sucked into this crime investigation set to explode. He never seemed right for the job, the same way the actor never knew quite how to play his character. When he found his step, it was overacting. So visible and forced.

Same for Rachel McAdams, the beautiful talented actress who is working so much right now she may need a break. Sometimes, when actors work at much as she has in the past year, I wonder if they don’t know how to handle a big role like this. Her overprotective, damaged, knife wielding badge started out like someone we could like in a dirty cool way, but quickly her character boiled too much and the goods spilled out. By the end of Sunday’s finale, I really didn’t care what happened to her character because I never felt like I knew her.

Colin Farrell’s Ray was the only character I felt had a complete base to work off of. A cop whose wife was brutally raped, a crime that set Ray off on a revenge trail that left him thinking he had killed his wife’s attacker but spending the rest of his life not sure if his son was really his. Farrell adopted this deep slightly Southern drawl and assortment of plaid shirts and funky facial hair to rip into Ray. It was like his Miami Vice character went to Texas and came back a changed much more tormented dude. A sad one but a character we cared about. Farrell can visually project 80 emotions on his face but in the end, the showrunners did him wrong, at least in my eyes. They walked him into a trap. I didn’t expect characters to find happiness at the end, but I expected they’d read something better than what they found.

One character needed his comeuppance and didn’t get it. You’ll know if you watch.

Season 1 was brilliant because it had a sexy confidence, was extremely well written and felt fresh and rightfully gloomy. People were sad, drinking too much, way too violent, but they had a purpose throughout the misery. The season had a vibe and a pulse. It was a wild guitar solo that seemed to last for 7 hours before encore sprung this culmination of all the plot threads. It also had a white hot can’t go wrong Matthew McConaughey meeting the character of a lifetime in Rust Cohle. A man who preached about a flat circle. Maybe Pizzolatto should have stuck with that circle and brought him back, along with Woody Harrelson’s Marty Hart.

To me, the biggest missing element from Season 2 was a foil for the seriousness of the main characters. Season 1 balanced McConaughey’s madness and wrenching monologues with the bewildered humor and light presence of Harrelson. Season 2 was missing a Woody Harrelson. Something to balance all the depressed folks out. Too bad.

Another missing element from Season 2 was director Cary Fukunaga, a maverick world creator from Season 1 who turned Louisiana’s swamp into a gothic lost and found crime zone. The rift between him and Pizzolatto split the marriage they shared via True Detective and deprived Season 2’s players of a great director. Without his compass(Fukunaga’s camera), Pizzolatto was lost this go around.

Maybe Season 3 brings back Cohle and Hart. Go back to what worked and what put you on the map, Nic. Season 2 found you without a purpose. Season 2 felt like leftovers in a broken refrigerator. It was the little brother trying to be as cool as the older star athlete and coming up short. Maybe fans were set up to be disappointed.

True Detective Season 2 tried to go big with a larger cast and wide spreading mystery plot. It misfired, badly. You can go back and watch it again, and I’m sure the effect wouldn’t be better. Only worse.

Nice try, Pizzolatto. Next time, find a worthy story, characters worth caring about and something fresh. Take some time my friend. You need it after that strikeout.

In the meantime, go catch up on Cinemax’s Banshee, a show that DOES NOT disappoint. Like ever.

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