Detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), which sounds an awful lot like “Velcro,” is one callous, self-destructive son of a bitch. And just in case the boozing, bribes, or perpetually gloomy look plastered across his face doesn’t give it away, we’re treated to a scene early on in True Detective’s second season that jackhammers the point home.
You see, Velcoro had trouble conceiving with his then-wife, who was subsequently beaten and raped (such is the price of invirility in the world of Nic Pizzolatto). Nine months later, she gave birth to a child. He’s now a timid 12-year-old who’s not only the subject of a custody battle, but also bullied relentlessly at school. After a kid cuts up his fresh LeBron’s, a drunken Velcoro pays the puerile perp’s house a visit. He rings the doorbell, slides on a pair of brass knuckles, and pops the father in the jaw. Then he pops him again. And again. He grabs the offending child and, looking him dead in the eye, issues a stern warning: “You ever bully or hurt anyone again, I’ll come back and buttfuck your father with your mom’s headless corpse on this goddamn lawn.”
If that doesn’t sound like the elliptical, Nietzschean monologues delivered by Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle, well, time is no longer a flat circle. The highly anticipated Season 2 of HBO's True Detective is almost entirely devoid of the lyrical dialogue, nonlinear storytelling, and treasure trove of literary references that crashed servers and launched a thousand subreddits (for the former, you’ll have to turn to the Lincoln commercials). It’s a straightforward pulpy neo-noir featuring four protagonists embroiled in an elaborate conspiracy involving a mangled corpse, corrupt politicians, and a $68 billion high-speed rail project in Central California.
That barely identifiable corpse belongs to Ben Casper, a wealthy city manager and architect of the aforementioned California Central Rail Corridor project along with his partner, Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn), a criminal turned entrepreneur. His body is discovered sitting on a bench, Weekend at Bernie’s-style, along the Pacific Coast Highway by Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), an officer with the California Highway Patrol. Because Casper is a resident of the fictional city of Vinci (population 95) and his body was found in Ventura, Vinci detective Velcoro and Ventura County Detective Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) are called to the scene, and they're forced to investigate the case as a trio.
Casper turns out to be quite the character. Not only were his eyes burned out with hydrochloric acid and his penis blasted to smithereens, but privately, he was like Linda Fiorentino in Jade, taking in videotaped kink sessions at a dingy, Taxidermy-decorated Hollywood fuck pad.
And on the subject of all things David Caruso, this new iteration of True Detective, whose first two episodes were helmed by Fast 5’s Justin Lin, contains more overhead shots than CSI: Miami—ones that are balanced by the occasional ultra-tight, Polanski-esque close-up of a distressed face.
And it’s not just Velcoro that has a wildly elaborate backstory. Semyon was brutally abused by his father; Woodrugh is an Army vet who worked for a Blackwater-esque firm with burns across half his body and sexual hang-ups; and Bezzerides grew up in a strange cult with a hippie-guru for a father and a cam girl for a sister. Oh, and her mother committed suicide. All this contextualizing makes you yearn for the mystery of Rust.
By expanding the storyline to four central characters (instead of the Rust & Marty Show), creator Nic Pizzolatto has diluted the series’ focus, shuffling back-and-forth between four troubled souls, instead of mining the depths of two. As a result, during the first three episodes that were made available to critics, the characters don’t spend much time together talking out their myriad dilemmas in philosophical parlance. The only scene that approaches this comes between Farrell’s Velcoro and McAdams’ Bezzerides when he asks her why she carries around knives. “The fundamental difference between the sexes is one of them can kill the other with their bare hands,” she replies. “Man lays his hands on me, he’s going to bleed out in under a minute.”
Season 2 of True Detective is all about playing against type, from cast to creator. There’s Farrell as a depressed alcoholic with a dad bod and no desire for women; Vaughn as a ponderous, impotent-yet-ruthless crime boss; Kitsch as a tortured, sexy bastard with a big secret; McAdams as a badass cop who will cut a motherfucker; and Pizzolatto expanding his scope and incorporating women into his masculine world.
Now, this season is not without its fair share of promise. The performances are all top-notch and the pacing is brisk. There’s even the occasional odd flash to its occultish origins, e.g. a black eagle sitting in the passenger’s seat of a Cadillac, the wooden duct-taped figure in Bezzerides’ living room, or a hitman with a penchant for animal masks.
The most hope lies in McAdams’ character. When we’re first introduced to her, she’s mid-fight with a romantic fling—over how her kinky bedroom activities are too intense for him. She has a wall of knives in her apartment, smokes a vape pen—much to her partners’ collective chagrin— and in one fascinating scene, we see her getting aroused watching hardcore S&M porn. The character is, it seems, a direct response to Season 1’s critics who argued that the show was misogynistic in its worldview, concerning itself with its two macho men and reducing its women to oft-naked window dressing. Well, McAdams, with her half-dyed hair, rings, piercings, and fuck-you attitude, is certainly game for the challenge.
Season 1 of True Detective succeeded as a marriage between creator and director, with the gifted Cary Fukunaga helming all 8 episodes, as well as its two stars (and real-life best friends), who bounced off each other with ease, providing an intoxicating blend of fire and ice. But it also didn’t really get going until that six-minute oner snaking through the projects in Episode 4. If there’s a sequence on par with that in this season’s fourth chapter, expect the bandwagon to get awfully heavy.