The new season of True Detective premiered on HBO Sunday night.
It’s got an impossible act to follow. Last year, with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey playing two mismatched detectives on the trail of a twisted killer, True Detective was a riveting powerhouse. McConaughey’s character, Rustin Cohle,was so finely crafted and unique, and the chemistry between Harrelson and McConaughey was so powerful, that you wondered how the producers of the show could possibly follow it up.
And the answer is . . . they can’t, and they aren’t really trying to do so. This year, the cast is different, the setting is different, and the storyline is different, with no quasi-religious serial killer lurking — at least, not so far. Unlike last season, where the discovery of a disturbing mystical killing, the use of constant flashbacks, and Cohle’s unexplained change from straight arrow cop to alcoholic longhair made the first episode immediately riveting, this year the storyline threads are more diverse and drawing them together will take some time. We knew it was still True Detective, though, when one key flashback was shown.
There’s a common, deeper theme between this year and last year, too: the world is a sick, messed-up place. This year we’ve got another weird killing to solve, when the bag man in a corrupt California town is found with his eyes missing and a visit to his home shows he was in the grip of multiple sexual fetishes. The cast includes Vince Vaughn as Frank Semyon, the outwardly glad-handing but obviously ruthless boss of the town, a creepy Russian who Semyon hopes will help fund his latest scheme, and three police officers who will investigate the bag man’s murder. All three have obvious problems: Ray Velcoro, played by Colin Farrell, is a drunken, hyper-violent drug abuser who willingly participates in the town’s corruption and is glad to beat up either reporters trying to expose the town’s criminality or the father of a bullying kid who cut up his son’s expensive shoes; Ani Bezzerides, played by Rachel McAdams, whose Dad is a guru and whose sister performs live sex acts on porn website, has her own difficulties in establishing personal relationships; and Paul Woodrugh, played by Taylor Kitsch, is a suicidal veteran and California Highway Patrol officer who needs to take a blue pill to become intimate with his girlfriend.
It’s a rich stew of graft, violence, booze, and drugs, stirred by some very troubled people. That’s apt, because True Detective traces its roots to the pulp crime magazines of days gone by that thrilled barber shop patrons with their tales of murder and seduction. This year’s version is off to a promising start in my book.