**** SPOILER ALERT **** Review: True Detective, Season 2, Episode Three
Sitting through an episode of True Detective season two is akin to drinking lemonade concentrate or 11 per cent proof beer. The flavours are intriguing but a little overwhelming and if you are not in the mood it can start to resemble like an endurance test.
That was undoubtedly the case across the first two dispatches as show-runner Nic Pizzolatto took his sweet time introducing the series' rag-tag of broken, self-hating cops and crooks while setting in place a murder mystery so obtuse it made the Lovecraftian derring-do of True Detective year one feel like Murder She Wrote.
As the third hour got underway, a major imponderable hung in the air: had we really watched Colin Farrell's Detective Ray Velcoro breath his last when a man wearing a crow mask unloaded a shot gun in his direction at point blank range? The answer was provided tonight via a Twin Peaks-esque fever dream, as Velcoro and his father traded obtuse dialogue in a dive bar to the surreal strains of a terrifying Elvis impersonator.
This was Pizzolatto's version of a long dark tunnel with a blinding light at the end. Velcoro had being granted a fleeting glance at the afterlife before snapping back to consciousness, where we learned he'd been gunned down with harmless buckshot. "I've pissed myself," he observed– the most straightforward dialogue yet uttered this year.
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Some commentators have interpreted Velcoro's survival as a loss of nerve on behalf of Pizzolatto – had he truly wished to stun us with a Game of Thrones-style shock death, he could at least have had the courage to close the deal. Certainly in allowing Ray live Pizzolatto confirmed last week's ending was merely a cheap cliff-hanger – a hammy manipulation we might have hoped True Detective above.
On the other hand, what a grim vista season two would present minus its best character (and, in Farrell, the series' stand-out actor). Though the investigation into the death of corrupt and debauched Vinci city manager Ben Caspere is finally gaining momentum, Velcoro-aside, the protagonists remain difficult to warm to. As brought unconvincingly to life by Vince Vaughn, crime boss Frank Semyon is especially hard to empathize with. His excruciating, daddy-locked-me-in-the-basement monologue from last week, blazed Interstellar-style through a black hole of self-parody; this evening, the actor looked glassy eyed and bored as his marriage crumpled and his attempt to track down Caspere's killers (and with it the missing $7 million seed capital he had entrusted to the dead man) was frustrated on every side.
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At moments, the oppressive atmosphere veered into camp, such as when Detective Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) and tough guy highway patrolman /closeted gay Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) swooped on the mansion belonging to Vinci's venal mayor (not to be confused with the dead city manager). A Russian mail-order bride in the living room, a heavy-lidded daughter upstairs, an over-done "party arranger" son in the pool conspired to deliver True Detective's most cringeful and over-played sequence yet, a blur of bad acting and clunking exposition.
As a devotee of season one and its swampy, supernatural overtones, I was fully on board going into year two. Alas Pizzolatto has taken his audience's goodwill for granted and is surely in danger of squandering it. Carry on this way and True Detective may soon lack for true believers.