Popular opinion and so-called critical opinion often seem to careen off cliffs like lemmings in increasingly unpredictable ways guided by whims and subtle shifts in the proverbial winds. I find myself shocked by things praised and things condemned. Sometimes I feel like a little boy who sees a naked emperor while everyone else is shrieking how much they love the new elegant ensemble. In this case, I’m seeing a lovely presentation while there are many who are whining. Part of the problem is that Season 2 of True Detective is considerably distinct from Season 1. The nature of the series is that each season is a complete reboot with a new cast and location. American Horror Story also changes locations and characters but tends to recycle actors. True Detective made a determined attempt to change everything. The one thing it retained is the brooding, noir roots.
Vince Vaughn was fantastic, and that’s not something I’ve said in a long time. He was a trim and towering figure (also something that couldn’t be said for a long time). Vaughn’s complex, sharp, troubled, and intimidating Frank Semyon was the edgy focus of the series. He was not the detective. There were not two this time, but three.
Some complained that the story was dark and tortured. Funny, but I like my detective stories dark and tortured. I’ve seen lots of TV police stories, and they all are interchangeable. They feed us a predigested format that is relentlessly regurgitated. How different are the five versions of Law and Order from the multiple versions of CSI and NCIS? That was the thrill of the first season of True Detective, and I was just as enthralled this time around. It was grim last time, but Woody Harrelson did tend to lighten things up some last year. It was also a fresh concept then as well, but the concept remains strong.
This time each of the three detectives is driven by demons that they struggle to express. It also covers subjects not touched on in Season 1, best exemplified by Rachel McAdam’s Ann Bezzerides. It flipped the script on what to expect of a female character. She was a tough and unavailable hard case formed in fire from a traumatic childhood. Ann seems centered, focused, and all business, but slowly reveals the cracks. She is a match for Colin Farrell’s Ray Velcoro and Taylor Kitsch’s Paul Woodrugh. All three detectives were damaged goods, but lethally adept at their jobs.
There were complaints that the plot was too complicated and somewhat slow. I expect a good detective story to be complicated, and I have not seen better action scenes this side of Michael Mann. The shootouts were brutal and extended. Perhaps the show in general was on the weird side, but not really, because the first season was plenty weird.
I think the simple problem is that people got caught up in the freshness of the first season. There is nothing like your first love. I will admit that I have no complaints with Season 1, and Matthew McConaughey was spectacular, but Season 2 is rewarding because it was not a predictable retread. The dread, tension, and suspense are just what I was looking for. The extended final episode silenced most critics with its elaborate payoffs of everything that came before. Frankly that extended take from Season 1 that everyone has raved about was far from perfect. I liked it, but not after I heard about it 900 times. The true common thread between the two seasons was that the super-rich get the last laugh. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. The rest of our characters wallow in delicious tragedy, which reached positively operatic proportions.
The ratings were better overall than the first season, so HBO is not complaining. Season 3 is on the way.
Each episode is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec. There’s a huge difference between last season’s release and this season’s high-definition image presentation. Last year it was dark with exceptional texture and detail. This time the sharpness is still there, but light is often harsh and less atmospheric. Black levels are still above average. Close-ups are superior to long shots.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is there to service the dialog. Musical cues are often subtle and well-placed. Surrounds aren’t terribly aggressive, but there are exceptional moments that stand out. A huge street shootout is a crucial turning point in the plot and also a memorable dynamic audio moment. Subs and surrounds go off the charts here, and it lasts a good long while.
There are two episodes with Audio Commentary.
Making The Vinci Massacre: (29:28) The big street gunfight is a huge moment in the season. It’s very unlike the more quiet and deliberate material. It’s also a big changing point for the characters and plot. The scene plays out in real time and took five days to shoot. Here cast and crew take us on a detailed journey through those five days of production. It’s like a video journal of just that scene.
A Look Inside True Detective: (10:16) The cast gets to have their say in this behind-the-scenes feature. You get a basic story synopsis and look inside the characters as the cast offer their thoughts also on the locations and atmosphere.
True Detective’s California: (3:56) A look at the locations that provide the background for the drama. It’s really just a collection of establishment shots set to music.
It has been suggested the inscrutable mystery of the show would play better in the binge fashion that Netflix encourages. I say binge away. I will be binging on True Detective Season 2 a few more times.
Parts of this review were written by Gino Sassani