How True Detective Season 3 Can Be Great Again


It’s safe to say that season two of True Detective was one of the biggest disappointments of the year. After the first two episodes, it was obvious to fans of season one that something had gone terribly awry.

Last year’s brooding melodrama had Rust Cohle and Martin Hart becoming the best of frenemies while trying to wrap their heads around The Yellow King. The rural setting of Louisiana stood as the perfect backdrop for the King’s creepy crimes that it wasn’t hard to believe that something as mystical as witchcraft could be involved in the answers. Dialog driven by award-winning performances made every crazy thing that came out of Rust’s mouth seem important. Mix that with a one-shot shootout, that’s some gripping television.

Season two seemed to scrap everything that made its predecessor great. A main cast that was more than twice the size of season one couldn’t manage to make the crime itself seem interesting. What went so wrong, and what can season three do to correct those mistakes?

A crime people care about

Boo hoo. A rich guy got screwed out of a land deal and lost some money. That’s hardly relatable. It’s a far cry from season one’s ritualistic human trafficking and murder spree that potentially went all the way up the food chain to a governor.

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In season two, Vince Vaughn’s gangster-turned-straight-business-man Frank Semyon had a land deal with Ben Caspere for a new high-speed rail deal. Caspere turns up dead, and with him, Frank’s deal. A series of events put Detective Ray Velcoro, Sargent Arii Bezzerides and Officer Paul Woodrugh on the case, played respectively by Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch.

Season three needs to make crime interesting again. It can’t be about rich guys losing money and backdoor deals over land. Law and Order: SVU isn’t still on the air because it features weekly crimes of embezzlement and racketeering. White collar crimes are boring. If the crime that the entire season is built around isn’t compelling, it’s safe to assume that the events of the detectives who are trying to solve it aren’t either. True Detective season two was doomed after the first episode.

Less is more

Rust Cohle: Master detective, sayer of crazy things

True Detective season one featured two guys: Rust and Marty. We got to know them intimately throughout eight hour-long episodes. We saw their plight, how they came up in the detective ranks, how they interacted and their personal lives. We watched as they grew old, and tried to relive the glory days. That personal touch was infused in the investigation itself.

Season two has four main characters, plus Frank’s wife Jordan. The season remained eight episodes, but the size of the cast required more time to explain backstories and personalities. After the credits rolled after episode eight, I still wasn’t sure if Velcoro was a good guy, terrible person or just a terrible person trying to be a good guy. There wasn’t enough screen time for the individuals to convey character depth. There wasn’t enough time for the show to balance characters and crime. In turn, we didn’t care about any of them or the crime by the end of the series.

Season three needs to scale back the star power. The season will be stronger being carried by two or three personalities.

Don’t waste our time

In season one, it seemed like every detail mattered. Every action of Rust and Marty was either telling us more about their motives or character, or was drawing them closer to the truth behind The Yellow King. In other words, it was never boring.

Season two had full episodes where nobody was making progress on finding Caspere’s killer. Velcoro was pumped full of non-lethal rounds at the end of episode two by a hidden figure in a bird costume. Progress isn’t made on that mystery until several episodes later. It was as if these characters had more important things to tend to than the Caspere case. If the detectives barely care about it, why should the audience?

True Detective season three needs to stay on topic. The show is about detectives solving crimes. So let’s see more of that.

More Mythology

Rust tells us about time being a flat circle

Mythology was everywhere in season one: stick figure idols, the Guy Francis interrogation, the birds flying in a perfect circle at the end of episode two, “time’s a flat circle” and all that jazz. Like Lost before it, season one of True Detective brought a sense of higher powers at work.

The prospect of the mystical breaks rare ground for an audience. It creates opportunities for endless speculation and debate. It jumpstarts blogs with theories, fan fiction and wonderment. The unknown is always more engaging than the known.

Season two was just too realistic, like it was a work of nonfiction: white collar crimes happening to white color guys. Yawwwwn. Season three needs to take us back into crazy realms of time and space. Bring back that spark of the unknown.

Continue high caliber talent

Season two didn’t blow everything. It still had excellent talent for the lead roles, even if they weren’t given captivating material to work with. Critics were particularly hard on Vince Vaughn as Frank, but when the character is monologuing about being marginalized, or forcing metaphors about his impotent fruit trees (it was actually him who was impotent, GASP), is it the writer or the actor at fault?

Season three needs to return with top-tier talent to play these over-the-top characters. Think back to season one. If anyone of lesser talent filled Matthew McConaughey’s shoes as Rust, would we have so easily swallowed his lines about the secret truths of the universe? I doubt it. His performance sold that dialog and that character.

Great talent is necessary for a show like True Detective, and season two still had that. The problem was in the writing, not the performances.

Vince Vaughn wasn’t the problem in season two. It was the writing

All this talk about season two’s faults and season one’s successes make me want to revisit the season that made me fall in love with this show, and make me try to forget that season two ever happened. Perhaps I’ll binge season one all over again before season two of The Leftovers begins next month.

What did you think of season two of True Detective, and where do you think the show should go from here? Sound off in the comments below.