True Detective Season Two Review: What is “too dark?”


On the whole, I found True Detective Season Two to be a successful and interesting piece of television drama. Controversial opinion? Maybe. Certainly not to the same level as the first season, which does appear to some extent to have been a lightning in a bottle experience, but still a pretty great show on its own terms.

The show doesn’t owe us levity.

I’ve actually found that I’m something of an apologist for the new season, at least insofar as I often feel the need to respond to what I perceive to be baseless or non-criticisms of the new season. The round critical beating the new season received for being “too dark”, or “confusing”, or “slow,” I think is a relatively meaningless form of criticism. The show doesn’t owe us levity. The plotting was relatively straightforward, if at times poorly handled. It was only as slow, if not somewhat less so, than season one.

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That being said, I do have some criticisms, as most people would. At a structural level, the season was simply too ambitious with its narrative. There was not enough room for our four leads to be treated with the depth that they deserved. Paul and Ani suffered the most from this sidelining, and Frank’s bloated arc was certainly a detriment to the season in terms of narrative momentum.

The three detectives spent so much time apart that it was difficult to feel as invested in their relationships as we did in the in-focus partnership of Marty and Rust last season. And it’s a shame, too, because the show really kicked into gear whenever the leads were actually working together. Which, of course, was rare.

Furthermore, the show definitely suffered in terms of atmosphere without the unifying creative vision of a single director. I never really found the directing to be actively problematic, but it only very rarely achieved the same kind of haunting beauty that Fukunaga suffused into the visual identity of the first season. Outside of perhaps some shots in the final episode, nothing really stands out.

Vaughn’s performance was, for me, a little more problematic

Performance wise, I have nothing but praise for Farrell, McAdams, and Kitsch. I think that, given a more tightly written narrative, we could have seen so, so much more from the three detectives. This is especially true for Kitsch, who was far too often shoved out of the spotlight.

Vaughn’s performance was, for me, a little more problematic, but I think the fault there lies in the writing more than the acting. There were a number of scenes where I was really impressed by Vaughn, and it was only when he had to deliver some of Pizzolatto’s more egregiously unnatural whoppers that his performance felt stilted.

Fundamentally, this season was simply too fractured to reach the same heights as the first. Pizzolatto’s script ultimately never completely gelled into a cohesive vision, being pulled in too many different directions at once. It’s something of a shame that these fascinatingly broken characters didn’t quite get the show they deserved. Even still, I’m glad to have wandered in the darkness with Pizzolatto once more.

Next: Read Reuben's take on True Detective season two.

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