The Problem with True Detective’s Paul Woodrugh


This editorial will contain heavy spoilers, especially for last night’s episode.

It wouldn’t be out of line to say that the second season of True Detective had trouble finding its way. The first few episodes were slow and full of teases that still haven’t all panned out. It was sense of directionless, more than anything else, that pervaded almost the entire first half of the season. But the second half has done an admirable job of focusing all of that loose tension in the first half and making it feel meaningful.

Paul Woodrugh kind of had to die, though some way feel differently.

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The way that Paul meant his end in last night’s True Detective was brutal and expertly done; it might have actually even been a high-watermark for the season. For True Detective season two to regain its focus and effectively move forward, certain things had to happen, and one of those things was Paul’s death. It’s not an event that should have felt all that surprising — Nic Pizzolatto had almost been leading us down that path since the beginning.

Paul is the only one of the detectives — even though that’s not his official position — who had trouble moving forward. Both Ani Bezzerides and Ray Velcoro have made excellent strides in their personal lives. They’ve actually grown. Paul, on the hand, has not grown. He has not changed for when we first met him as a highway patrolman in episode one. By not giving him the same character development as the others, Pizzolatto was practically waving a red flag over his head.

We got small glimpses into Paul’s life, but none that propelled him forward as a character.

That’s also what made Paul so difficult to relate to, or sometimes even just watch. His back story seemed interesting enough at the start, but what did we actually learn about him? Next to nothing. He worked as a private security force called Black Mountain in Afghanistan, and then something happened which netted him a ton of money. He’s also gay. There are so many holes in Paul’s back story, that if Pizzzolatto hadn’t killed him, it would have felt ridiculous to wrap everything up in less than two episodes.

Paul was True Detective’s weak link. That’s not an indictment against Taylor Kitsch’s acting, which has been top-notch. The character just never went anywhere. We got small glimpses into Paul’s life, but none that propelled him forward as a character. At a certain point, time spent with Paul was time wasted.

But without him now, True Detective season two can cut the chaff and get straight to it. In a way, it’s a bit of a shame, but it was necessary.

Next: True Detective season two review, 'Black Maps and Hotel Rooms.'

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