**WARNING - SPOILERS** - Ed Power analyses season two based on the first two episodes...
While the first season of True Detective was universally beloved from the outset, series two has received a more ambivalent response. Reviewers have praised the murky ambience and noted that, with the action relocated to a corrupt Los Angeles suburb and an entirely new cast of troubled protagonists introduced, TD 2.0 faced the steep challenge of competing with itself.
But there have been grumblings that the show, in doubling down on its patented existential gloom, has teetered on self-parody. One of the great charms of series one was its interweaving of apocalyptic bleakness and raw-boned humour. Remove the latter and surely the former would become a drag?
On the other hand the performances have been extolled as generally excellent, with Colin Farrell's boozy, morally compromised cop Ray Velcoro heralded as this season's equivalent of Matthew McConaughey's Rust Cohle – a character worth watching no matter what is going on in the background.
Two episodes in, opinions are still divided as to whether writer/show-runner Nic Pizzolatto has birthed a worthy follow-up. Here are five positives and five negatives.
Farrell brings a hollow-eyed authenticity to the part of dead-inside detective Velcoro (that moustache is pretty fine also). As damaged lady-cop Antigone Bezzerides, Rachel McAdams is convincing too – her terrible hair and haunted gaze saying more than any quantity of purple dialogue.
Woah – did they just kill off Colin Farrell's character? Detective Velcoro copped a shot-gun blast to the chest after interrupting a dude in a crow mask at murdered city manager Ben Caspere's Hollywood creep-nest. He *seemed* a certified goner as the camera cut away and, even though trailers have suggested Farrell has a part to play in the remainder of the season, you wonder if that was simply cunning misdirection on the part of show-runner Nic Pizzolatto. It's like Jon Snow all over again.
One of Pizzolatto's great talents is drilling down deep into the tics and tremors that define a location. He laid bare the sweltering weirdness of the Louisiana interior in season one and now frames his storyline against the jagged smoke-stacks and asphalt configurations of the Los Angeles sprawl. Endless overhead shots suggest a city that has lost touch with its humanity – the perfect backdrop for a drama about lost souls and hearts filled with sawdust.
All that borderline surreal sex stuff in episode one. A corpse with its eyes burnt out. A guy in a crow mask toting a shotgun. Pizzolatto had insisted TD would play with a straight bat in season two – but this is perhaps turning out not to be the case.
There have been grumblings about the Leonard Cohen theme tune – but even if you are a Laughing Lenny agnostic, you can't argue that here his laconic mumblings are perfectly deployed, lyrics and delivery capturing the essence of True Detective's baroque and occasionally hysterical world view.
Vaughn is putting his shoulder into the role of Frank Semyon, a crime boss striving, and largely failing, to go straight. However, the part requires an actor who can dig deep and Vaughn is a performer who feeds on the energy around him. Rather than tortured and confused, too often he merely seems vapid and listless – a lizard dozing on a rock.
In season one, Pizzolatto's gothic flourishes were tempered by an appreciation that he had to keep his audience onside. Second time out, it appears nobody is saying 'stop', resulting in dialogue so ripe you can smell it from the next room. "When you walk it's like erasers clapping," someone says in episode one. Later Vince Vaughn blurts "never do anything out of hunger. Not even eating". Eh, could you repeat that in English please?
At its heart, True Detective was meant to be a relatively straight-forward police drama. But here the investigation into the gruesome murder of Caspere feels tacked on. Pizzolatto is more interested in characters than storyline – which can result in memorable individual scenes but leaves the overall show sagging when it ought to be careening forward.
His character is arguably the most underwritten so far. That aside, it's an open question what exactly Kitsch brings to True Detective. He glowers, he wobbles his lip, he stagily loses his temper now and then. Otherwise, there is a gaping void where his performance should be.
Is something awful about to happen? Well, yes – a portentous swell of horns has erupted. Is Colin Farrell's character all chewed up inside? The atonal droning that's just arrived out of left field suggests this is indeed the case. The best soundtracks underpin the emotions the protagonists are experiencing. Here, the score feels like a bull-horn bullying us into Pizzolatto's world view.
True Detective is back – but back where? The enthralling first series of this HBO drama, written by Nic Pizzolatto, directed by Cary Fukunaga and starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as a deliciously mismatched pair of cops, slouched across the badlands of Louisiana like something escaped from a swamp. Its potent, pungent story of myth and murder unspooled against a backdrop of gnarled mangroves, rotting clapboard churches and sweaty flophouses. And, at least until a misfiring finale, it did almost everything right, earning a devoted audience, rave reviews and a clutch of awards.