How do you follow a shootout like that? In real life, probably with a lot of paperwork. True Detective, then, does the smart thing and skip forwards two months – another promising sign that what’s now being dubbed a “massacre” was the impetus the show needed to get a move on. But while Episode 5 of True Detective takes us past the halfway point with some big improvements, it’s still dragging the same old problems.
In those 60 odd days that have passed since the shooting(s), things have changed for our trio. The case on Caspere’s killing has been closed – put down to the Mexicans who were strewn across the pavement. Woodrugh has been promoted to an insurance fraud detective. Ani is undergoing sexual harassment therapy. And Ray? He’s shaved his moustache.
That’s the first clue we have to Velcoro’s new existence, which sees him retired from the force and working as a “consultant” for Frank. He still gets to throw out the odd bit of anger – one brutally good intimidation scene sees him go to town on a guy, using everything from a wall to a chair on the other side of a desk – but he’s sober now. As Farrell and the others are drawn back together, the way he interacts with them is notably different: Ray’s suddenly become a character who’s not entirely annoying and/or constantly morose. Here, at last, is a guy to take an interest in.
But then, we’re dragged straight into the custody battle for his son once more – and all those anxieties come flooding to the surface. Even without his moustache, the prospect of seeing him continue to fight for his lost child is far from enticing.
That’s the biggest problem with Nic Pizzolatto’s second season: there may be more characters in his ensemble, but they’re less engaging. That’s not down to the performances of the actors: Vince Vaughn has repeatedly impressed as the insecure (and not very villainous) villain, while Taylor Kitsch and Rachel McAdams both have the brooding intensity that Pizzolatto seems to like in his cops. But the script has dealt Nic’s stars the worst hands imaginable: Vaughn is still saddled with florid monologues that want to be poetic but mostly sound forced, while the rest of the bunch had their back-stories dished out in the broadest brush strokes possible weeks ago.
Five episodes in and there’s therefore not much left to find out about our troopers that we don’t already know. Woodrugh has an argument with his mum over money left over from his black ops army days – but is it any surprise that she would dip into his slush fund? Ray’s tipped off that the guy he thought raped his wife (courtesy of Frank’s intel) may not have been the right man after all – which, again, is something many will have already expected.
In True Detective Season 1, the character portraits were arguably just as unsubtle, but there was an echo between the unveiling of their foibles and the mystery of the case; it added to the sense of foreboding and the importance of peeling back Louisiana’s civilised surface. Here, the two strands have barely anything to do with each other. This week, there’s a rush of exposition, from the involvement of the mayor’s son in the conspiracy and the predictable dodginess of Frank’s right hand man, not to mention that missing girl from Episode 1, who takes Ani down a path full of bloody questions. But this all feels disconnected from Velcoro’s domestic issues, Woodrugh’s war background and Frank’s lack of an heir. As a result, it’s hard to be invested in either the crime or the people solving it.
Again, though, a lot of this stems from earlier instalments, rather than this week’s chapter. Episode 5’s title, Other Lives, hints at the state our characters find themselves in: somewhere between their old selves and the kind of life that someone else, perhaps a better version of themselves, could be living. Ray’s sobriety; Frank’s potential for adopting a son; Woodrugh’s dinner-table conversation with his partner and her mum, where both women are proud of him for wearing a suit and getting away from highway patrol. And yet they’re also hankering after the good old days: Ray’s flash of violence; Frank’s slide back into gangster habits to make ends meet; Woodrugh missing his wheels. Ani snarking her way through her sexual harassment classes is an amusing treat – she winds up another participant with loud talk about how much she loves “big dicks” – but if she hasn’t changed much, still conducting an investigation from the evidence room to which she’s been demoted, you wish there were a sense of progression from this mesh of moral vices and repetitive, heavy-handed themes.
The prospect of our trio being ordered by State Attorney Katherine Davis to form a covert unit to continue the Caspere investigation is a neat one – and Pizzolatto tries to connect Ray’s family dilemma to it with a promise from Davis that she can guarantee he’ll keep his kid – but it’s hard to shake the feeling that this turgidly paced thriller could have been here hours ago. “Word gets out what we’re looking for, they could shut it down like last time,” warns Davis. The thing that threatens progress most of all, though, is sitting behind the camera. We may not see the admin following last week’s shootout, but it still feels like we’re wading through paperwork.
True Detective Season 1 and 2 are available on Sky Box Sets. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, for £7.99 a month, with no contract and a 7-day free trial.
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