What follows is an examination, recap, and review of the first episode of True Detective Season 2. As such, it contains spoilers for this season as well as the first season of the show. It also contains discussions of sexual violence and abuse, as these subjects play heavily into the story of the show.
The first episode of the second season of True Detective makes it very clear that the standard television series rules do not apply here. Writer and showrunner Nic Pizzolatto has jettisoned all the hallmarks of the first season and crafted a world that looks and feels like True Detective, but is different in just about every other way imaginable. The lush and haunting Louisiana landscape has been exchanged for the foul and cancerous industry of Southern California. The cast has grown from two center characters to four, and none of them seem to possess the crazed time-space ramblings of the first season’s Rust Cohle. Pizzolatto is out to prove that he doesn’t need to repeat himself in order to find the surprise success he had with the first season. If this first episode is any indication, it looks like he is right.
The episode opened with an introduction to Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), a detective right out of the darkest of dark noirs. Ray is fighting to get some sort of custody of his son, although we quickly learn that his wife was the victim of a vicious sexual assault and it’s possible – very possible, from the look of the kid – that Ray’s son might not biologically be his at all. He has no interest in learning whether that is true or not, instead mumbling “my son is my son,” when asked if they ever had a paternity test. It’s this attack on his wife that sent Ray on his path of darkness; in the wake of the attack we learn that he went to underworld figure Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) to get info on the attacker. Frank then gave Ray the info and let him know that one day he may call on Ray for a favor in return. As the story gets going, it’s clear that favor has been called in.
Ray is now what could best be described as a dirty cop. He’s still employed by the City of Vinci, but his real work is for Frank. In typical True Detective fashion, Ray’s decline means he now sports a fierce mustache and grown-out mane. Frank, on the other hand, is now struggling to go straight. He’s invested heavily in a land project related to a new rail system. Things are looking good, until the city manager that Frank has been working closely with disappeared and the deal – along with millions of Frank’s dollars – disappeared with him.
The disappearance and subsequent murder of this city manager appears to be the case which this season will revolve around, although calling something like that in the first episode of True Detective is like predicting the Superbowl champion in the first week of the season. Ray, when told he needs to find this city manager right away, even looked at his superiors with a puzzled expression and replied “am I supposed to solve this thing?” This being True Detective, solving the crime might not be as important as the journey the case takes our detectives on. We’ll have to wait and see on that one.
The cast is rounded out with two other police officers: sheriff’s detective Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) and CHP officer Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch). If we are going against our own advice and trying to call this series from the first episode, I’d say that Ani is going to be this season’s star. McAdams is downright brilliant as this tough as nails cop. We don’t get too much of her backstory, but learn right from the get go that she is bad at relationships and worse with family matters. Ani just has presence about her, a bitter sense of the world. She seems to be sizing everyone up, constantly looking for a fight. Where ever this season takes us, if we are sitting shotgun with Ani Bezzerides it should be a worthwhile ride.
Kitsch’s character is a tortured fellow. He’s a veteran who is clearly scarred, inside and out, a man with a rigid moral compass and a tortured soul. He takes pills to get an erection, something he hides with shame from his lady friend. He also, very obviously, has a death wish of sorts. One of the most powerful moments of this episode featured him racing his motorcycle along the California coast in the black of night, pushing the machine to its limits and then suddenly switching its headlight off, barreling head first into the darkness. It’s heavy stuff and the kind of thing that True Detective does better than anybody.
While we are speaking of things True Detective does so well, we have to mention the establishing shots that are quickly becoming the series’ hallmarks. Just as the first season featured slow, crawling scenes of Louisiana greenery, Season Two has some of the most hauntingly beautiful images of freeways, industrial plants, California landscape I have ever seen. Visually, True Detective is in a class all its own, brilliantly bringing the stage, tone, and mood of the series to life through its setting.
This first episode focuses heavily on getting to know this season’s cast and only scratches the surface of the crime they’ll be digging into. That said, I’m already hooked and ready for more. Season Two looks to be a hard-edged LA noir, a complete 180 from the first season. Nic Pizzolatto is one of the most exciting voices in crime fiction and he’s clearly all about taking chances. Don’t come into this season looking for a repeat of what you saw in Season One. Instead, we’re getting a whole new bag, Pizzolatto has pulled the rug out from under us and is ready to show the world a whole new kind of darkness.