'True Detective' (S2, E1) Satisfying Without Being Hugely Engaging
The second season of True Detective kicks off to a very different rhythm and beat. Season one followed a pair of homicide detectives who investigated a perverse case using a hugely entertaining non-linear style. The first episode of season two works within a mainly linear structure and follows several different people – cops and civilians – as their stories intertwine.
There is nothing wrong with series creator Nic Pizzolatto deciding to structure this season in a more conventional fashion. We're one episode into a 10-episodic season only brushing the surface of its story — a story that may flourish under a linear telling. This new approach for Pizzolatto may upset die-hard True Detective fans who found the back-and-forth style one of its main appeals: weaving the twisted narrative around the strained relationship of its two main characters was an infectious way of telling the story. However, season two has more depth to its roster with four characters looking like they'll be key factors in the tale.
Colin Farrell plays Ray Velcoro, a former LAPD officer who now works in Vinci, a small industrial town in Los Angeles County. We first see Velcoro dropping his kid off at school. The kid is chubby, ginger and goes by he name Chad. He's being bullied, but Ray and his wife are divorced, so it's hard for him to spend time with young Chad. A short time later on, we see Ray sat in a room giving a disposition. It's a scene that's designed to evoke memories with viewers of Matthew McConaughey's character Rust Cohle from season one. When the scene develops we learn its not in the same manner of Cohle's, rather, Ray is meeting with an attorney about getting more visitation with his kid. We find out that roughly a decade ago, Ray’s wife Gena was beaten and raped… nine months later, Chad was born. This leads to a flashback to when Ray met Frank Semyon, a local gangster played by Vince Vaughn.
Frank Semyon runs the Vinci Gardens Casino with his wife, Jordan (Kelly Reilly), with them both living in a beautiful home in the hills. Frank’s consigliere, Blake, hands the latest print of the Los Angeles Times which has piblished the first of an eight-part investigative series on Vinci being the most corrupt city in Los Angeles County. Frank tells Blake to get Ray on it — the first real indication that they clearly talk. We now know Ray is a detective who's lost the love of his job and turned to being a thug-for-hire. He waits outside the apartment of the journalist who wrote the story, and lets him know how Frank feels about the story.
Ray doesn't just take down the big guys in his thug-for-hire role, he also looks out for his son. Ray goes to drop off a sleeping bag at Chad's school for his camping trip. When Ray notices Chad isn't wearing the new shoes he bought him he goes ballistic. Chad is afraid to admit some kids stole them from him, but once Ray starts, he grasses the kid up. A call to the department leads Ray to the kids address. He speaks to the kid’s father about the stolen shoes, but the dad relents. Ray, who sneaks a pair of brass knuckles on when the dads back is turned, hurls into a barrage of cursing, beating the dad up with his kid watching. Ray looks at the kid and eerily says, "I thought seeing people in pain got you off.”
Along with Farell and Vaughn's characters we also meet Rachel McAdams' Ani Bezzerides during the episode. Ani is a sheriff’s detective who harnesses a bad attitude. We first meet her kicking a man out of her apartment after they've just had sex. The man pleads to stay but Ani isn't interested in talking about their relationship. Then, we see Ani leading a raid on a small farmhouse which she has been tipped off on with it suspected as being a brothel. Once in the house it quickly becomes apparent its webcam sex shows; all legal and above board with entirely American girls. However, with one of the girls, Athena, she talks to outside. It's Ani's sister and she's annoyed that she's turned to sex as way of making money. Athena insists she likes the work she does even if Ani is disgusted by her life choices.
The last character we get introduced to is Paul Woodrugh played by Taylor Kirsh. Paul is a CHP officer and our first glimpse of him is when he pulls over an actress for reckless driving. The actress is known for getting into trouble and pleads with him to escort her home, not charge her and she'll make it worth his time. We don't know if Paul takes the offer but the scene straight after sees him being placed on paid administrative leave. Paul used to be in the Army, and his body shows it — covered in scars and burns. When his girlfriend asks him about the injuries he suffered, he doesn't want to talk about it. No doubt Paul's backstory will lead to some interesting sub-plots as the series progresses. Paul decides he doesn't want to spend the night with his girlfriend, rather deciding to help a friend with a side job instead. Paul leaves on his motorcycle which he drives recklessly before losing control and turning off onto the shoulder.
Overall, the first episode is satisfying without being hugely engaging. It pleasantly drops subtle hints that'll come into play as the narrative unravels over the coming weeks. It introduces us to the main players but never quite grasps our attention as to why these people matter. They're all unpleasant individuals with seemingly no redeeming qualities: a trait that was present in season one. However, both main characters in season one where likeable but done unlikable things. This first episodes biggest problem made it hard for us to connect with single one of them.