As long-time readers of this site will know, the very first series of True Detective won our inaugural award for best crime drama of the year. In fact, you could argue that it was the show inspired me to sit down and start this site. Series two, as everyone knows, wasn’t anywhere near as good as the first series, and that lukewarm critical and viewer response meant that Nic Pizzolatto’s show was put on gardening leave by is US network, HBO. Until now.
Last month this website carried a story (here) that detailed the unlikelihood that True Detective would be coming back for a third series. The enigmatic, big, bold, pretentious and brilliant US series stormed onto our screens in 2014 and starred Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey as two tormented, mis-matched cops working in the deep, Deep South on a harrowing murder case. It was incredible stuff, and became much talked-about. If there’s one person that could save the show it’s McConaughey, and he’s come out and said something very interesting.
The first series of True Detective – which seems like an age away – won our inaugural drama of the year back in 2014. Even though it was flawed and pretentious, not to mention neglectful and one-dimensional in its presentation of female characters, we hadn’t quite seen the likes of it before. Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey’s performances were what really lifted it from from the good to the excellent, but series two? Although it had its moments, it really didn’t hit the heights of the first series anywhere near enough. And yet we still want more. Sadly, it looks as though a third series might never happen.
And so it all came to this. One of the most talked about, maligned, high-profile crime dramas of recent years headed into its finale with the critics erring on the side of negativity, and with its viewership thoroughly divided. Throughout its heavily layered, slowish pace and unrelenting gloominess, it lost people I knew who had been watching it. But for me there was enough – brief flickers of brilliance – to keep me sticking with it, through thick and thin. In sickness and in health. And thank goodness I did, because this was a superb ending to a story that has frustrated more than it has thrilled.
There’s no question: series two of True Detective has been a mess. Its sludgy narrative and clumsy plotting has meant trying to follow it has been like wading through a field of mud with the biggest plate of ribs at the other side teasing you with their slippery deliciousness and sweet, barbequed smell. Characters and their dialogue have often lapsed into cliché, set pieces that were supposed to be mind-blowing were sometimes laughable in their ostentatiousness and the sheer amount of characters and their sub-plots have been dizzying. Too dizzying at times. But it has flickered; flickered enough to both keep me interested and serve as a reminder to what might have been. Here we are at the season finale and we’re edging towards a resolution, and we need some questions answering. After the jump I’ll pose some of those questions, while there’s also a trailer for the series finale to whet your appetite.
There was a real sense of characters clearing the decks in this, the penultimate episode of the second series of True Detective, which, for narrative cohesion and pace, did the whole thing no end of good. Like the city of Los Angeles the story is set in, there are many layers to this story. Let’s face it too many layers, which have muddied the waters significantly and made this a stodgy and perplexing watch. But when you get to this stage of a series and the chess pieces are moving into place and everything begins to be stripped down, slipping away like braised meat off a bone… that’s when the real fun begins. And so it proved here in the best episode of the series so far.
I’m happy to admit that I wasn’t looking forward to this episode. Knowing HBO’s penchant for gratuitous nudity, the prospect of Ani Bezzerides going undercover at an Eyes Wide Shut-style sex party made me uneasy. I was expecting wall-to-wall, highly stylised cavorting the likes of which would make Game Of Thrones blush. Throughout these past few episodes the developing strip-club-high-class-prostitution-ring-blackmail-scam-Eastern-European-gangster storyline has felt clichéd and something we’ve seen before time and time again in US crime drama, both on the big and small screens. We’ve seen these storylines in LA Confidential (the high-class prostitution rings), in Chinatown (especially the brief storyline of the contaminating of farm land, one of many storylines that seems to have come and gone in this series) and countless others, and now we’re seeing it again and all of it at once.