June 28, 2015, 9:00 p.m. (EST), HBO
“My strong suspicion is we get the world we deserve.”
Two episodes into most seasons, there’s plenty of breathing room to get things going, to put pieces in place for later payoffs. But with only eight episodes to this entire story, True Detective has a lot less leeway than many shows might. And “Night Finds You” continues to be a dour parade of uninteresting characters luxuriating in their misery through a series of shadowy locations. The plot moves forward, sure, but the more we learn about this story, the more I am convinced it will amount to little more than warmed over clichés piled together into a franken-noir the beats of which we’ve seen a dozen times before.
The episode tries to do some serious work getting us to care about the characters, but much of it is, frankly, laughable, from Semyon’s story about being locked in a basement turning rats into rat-monade to Woodrugh’s purposefully vague terrible deeds he committed during the war (he probably tortured a puppy. Or a kid. Or a kid with a puppy) a lot of the character beats laid out in this episode land with a thud. It doesn’t help that neither Vince Vaughn nor Taylor Kitsch is making much of an impression of yet. Both seem poised to ride this out, but neither of them seem to have a handle on their characters beyond the broad beats. Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams fare much better, developing an uneasy chemistry in the driving sequences that are apparently this show’s go-to and adding at least some shading to their fairly uninteresting characters. But it’s a bad sign when your nominal main character gets seemingly plugged (though it will not surprise me to learn Velcoro has survived to bore me another day) for a cliffhanger, and I can’t even bring myself to care.
In its ideal form, True Detective is a mix of grim nihilism, pulpy thrills, and grand philosophical striving that can at least appear, in its finest hours, to be better than the sum of its parts. But one quarter through this second season, the show seems to have gone all in on the former without exhibiting much interest in either of the latter (which, for my money, are the things it did reasonably well in season one). Whether it’s Farrell howling at his ex wife about his empty life or McAdams taking solemn swigs and scrolling through porn websites, this is a relentlessly grim hour of television that left me wondering what, if anything, all of this is supposed to be for. It’s too early to say at this point whether this season has anything to offer beyond some plot mechanics that to date are fairly rote and some performances that of yet have not come close to the beautiful one-two punch of McConaughey and Harrelson last year, but “Night Finds You” leaves me fairly worried about where all this is headed. If there’s an organizing theme around all of this, beyond the Velcoro quote that advertised this season and opens this review, it’s not yet there. But two episodes in, I don’t care about the plot, the characters, the narrative structure, or its thematic undergirding. Which makes it pretty hard to invest in this show from any angle at all, absent a sort of morbid curiosity and a vague hope that something even close to on par with last season’s “The Secret Fate of All Life” is still in the works for later in the season.
The episode’s best bit of character work is also one that has me slightly on edge. Ani’s speech about why she keeps so many knives around positions her as the most well-drawn and interesting character on this season so far, and the episode seems to take her seriously as someone who walks through the world with a frustrating sense of her place in it. It’s exciting to see True Detective taking Bezzerides seriously as both a central character and a woman, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit to being slightly on edge. Season one was not exactly a master class in women’s issues, and Velcoro’s crack about issues with body image feels like Pizzolatto taking some liberties he has yet to earn, but at this point, I am cautiously optimistic that Ani will be a character worth watching, and that McAdams is up to the task of keeping us with her. The moment isn’t on par with the best beats of season one, but it’s a dim light in an episode that is otherwise almost all black spots.
That darkness finds its most interesting hue (other than Ani’s speech) in that final scene, not because of its cliffhanger (which really did do nothing for me), but because the man in the bird mask hearkens back to what True Detective does well, mixing a sense of the weirdness on the fringes of society into the story to leave things feeling slightly unhinged. The idea behind season one’s King in Yellow references was never to hint at a supernatural resolution, but simply to lay groundwork for the enduring idea that there is true madness in the world, madness that is mind-boggling in its totality and terrifying in its might. That’s an idea that carries a lot of power, and if True Detective season two goes a little more nuts in the weeks to come, it may find some of that pulpiness its missing, or at least become something I am interested in watching. As of now, I am left underwhelmed and primed for further disappointment. If we get the world we deserve, I’m left wondering what mistakes I’ve made in my life to end up with a season like this.
- “I had a right, by any natural law. I had a right.”
- “Bad habits. Never lost one yet. You?” “I don’t distinguish between good and bad habits.”
- “Fundamental difference between the sexes is one of them can kill the other with their bare hands.” McAdams really does sell the hell out of this line, and these moments. Fingers crossed there’s more for her to do going forward.
“Night Finds You” continues to be a dour parade of uninteresting characters luxuriating in their misery through a series of shadowy locations.