Aaron Sorkin had a little show called The Newsroom running from 2012 to 2014. It was essentially three mini-seasons of Sorkin checking his prostate and masturbating to his own ideals with some half-assed attempts at “character moments” sprinkled in amongst the tsunami of cheap ABC family style editing. Despite a scant smattering of a few bright spots, the thing about Aaron Sorkin is he’s a talented writer who doesn’t know when to curve his own sensibilities. He needs a writing room to function properly and not make his Sorkin-isms so overt.
My diagnosis of True Detective Season 2 is roughly the same. Nic Pizzolatto suffers from being the sole writer and not having anybody to help clear out some story elements that aren’t working, or to refine certain pieces of an episode’s script that are almost great. Long story short, this season felt like a first draft of a much better version, with the actors and direction of individual episodes and sequences not to be faulted entirely. Unfortunately, most of Season 2 lead to nothing. There’s no logical continuation of any story beats. Unrelated series of events occur for a while with individual moments of clarity, but only for more discrepancies to arise in the form of writing that felt unconfident when directors weren’t able to strut their stuff. It’s like if Inherent Vice had been directed by anyone other than Paul Thomas Anderson and that same hypothetical director watched a plethora of David Lynch without understanding why David Lynch is David Lynch.
At many times the season felt like a reaction to slight criticisms of Season 1. Women were given more central roles (with mixed results), the focus on the occult was dropped (the Birdman mask was literally just lying around to be picked up), and a scene where a strict film director stands as an obvious dig at Season 1 director Cary Fukunaga. It was all so reactionary.
The weird part is that most of Season 2 is enjoyable, but even the show came together in the final half of the season, it never really came together. At the end of Season 1 we came to understand how it had all been about one story: Light versus dark. Whether or not you thought it succeeded in telling that story is up to you to decide. Season 2, on the other hand, is ultimately a collection of good moments that stand out against the otherwise meandering plot-lines, but there’s no cross to hang itself on. It moves from one moment to another without any sense of righteous telling.
It’s clear Cary Fukunaga had a big hand in creating the masterful atmosphere of Season 1. The cosmic horror and sharp direction is almost all embedded within what Fukunaga brought to the table. Discussions about further episodes of True Detective were all so focused on what cast members could bring to the table that people forgot to talk about the directors. Not to say casting isn’t vital to a show’s success. This season proves that the cast is still important, with Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams giving standout performances, Taylor Kitsch hopefully winning some of you naysayers over, and Vince Vaughn doing his absolute best with a character who was never more defined than “mob guy who is good at what he does sometimes, until he isn’t.”
And that is what the series should be about: Bringing new actors together to test their mettle alongside a single director with a creative vision for the seasonal setting. Example: This season should have had Michael Mann in the forefront because it’s Los Angeles, and nobody exposes the tragic beauty of Los Angeles like him. Get Adam Sandler in Season 3 so he can bounce back from the literal toxicity of his last few movies, or anybody else looking to stretch their dramatic chops. And we’ve all heard David Fincher had his HBO shows dropped, so why not let his specific vision of nihilism come to play in full force.
Let True Detective be more than a good drama. Let it be an experimental playground for artists. That’s what helped make Season 1 a cultural phenomenon. That’s what’ll keep people coming back. That’s why I have hope for the series’ potential future.
Featured Image: HBO