True Detective was my favourite new drama of 2014, so it was with much anticipation I sat down for the first three episodes of the new season.
As an anthology by writer Nic Pizzolatto, it has relocated from Louisiana to California with Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch and Vince Vaughan replacing Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.
Whether the drama is facing “Second-album blues” remains to be seen, but it’s clear this does not jump out of the gate with the same impact as the first.
While the first season opened with a haunting, ritualistic murder and two polar opposite cops in pursuit of a serial killer, season two spends nearly a full episode to reach a similar dilemma. That means disparate characters and complex arcs in search of an intersection.
The setting is the fictional industrial town of Vinci, where aerial shots of interwoven freeways have replaced the barren landscapes of the deep south. This is a drab city, drained of colour and hanging between corruption and manufacturing.
Colin Farrell plays Ray Velcoro, a flawed detective and an even worse father to a young son to whom he has access rights. As if to make up for his lack of affection, he records messages to his son on a dictaphone. But he is also about to be plunged into a custody battle with his ex-wife. As is the style of True Detective, there are flashbacks to an incident 8 years earlier which suggests he once crossed a line with help from local entrepreneur Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn), a stone’s throw away from being a typical thug gangster.
Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), a detective with Ventura County Sheriff also has her own personal challenges, with a drug-addicted sister found working in porn and a father who is something of an LA meditation guru (David Morse). She remains affected from the abandonment by her mother.
Taylor Kitsch is the third arm of the law this season, playing brooding highway cop Paul Woodrugh. As a war veteran he also appears unable to commit.
Semyon is expanding his business empire with land deals adjacent to a high-speed rail line -but its also part of a bigger plan to turn legit. Things go awry when his business partner winds up dead, costing him a motza of cash.
The dead man is the catalyst for finally bringing together our three jurisdictional police, none of whom is particularly keen on working together. If there had been a borderline running underneath the corpse, you could be forgiven for thinking this was The Bridge 3.0.
The flashbacks, or at least the interviews attached to them, are far more sparing this time and give the series a present-time momentum. Farrell revels in playing a detective who flouts the law, and runs errands for Semyon while Bezzerides at least adds a through-line to solving crime and driving the plot.
But there is a lack of imminent danger this time, so prevalent in the twisted killings of season one, and the poetic, unorthodox relationship of McConaughey / Harrelson is not matched by expanding our crime-busters from duo to trio. This convoluted tapestry lacks the simplicity of the first season.
Yes there are themes of corruption, conspiracy and disconnection, but I struggled to remain connected, caring little for the case at hand and frustrated by keeping principal players apart for so long.
True Detective is a slow-burn this time around, which is something of a risk for a show that is not available to binge.
True Detective airs 3:30pm / 7:30pm Monday on Showcase.