Truly Trying Too Hard: Recap of “True Detective” Season 2 Episode 1

My thoughts on this week’s episode are up at Slant Magazine, and all I can say right now is: thank goodness there are only seven weeks left to go. Mind you, this isn’t an unwatchable or execrable show, but it’s damnably hard to write about. Last season was filled with moody portents and existential monologues, but this season seems to have pulled back from the occult and to have fixated on a more organized and recognizable sort of evil.

Despite the new title sequence featuring a shot from the solar system, there’s nothing nebulous in this first episode, and quite a lot of it is ponderously obvious. It’s not enough, in other words, to show that one character’s depressed by having him hide in a bathroom so that he can secretly use Viagra to help him get it up–that same character needs to speed on his motorbike without a helmet in the middle of the night, cursing at himself. Moreover, whereas the first season took place largely in the past, leaving us to wonder how they’d gotten to that miserable present, this new season takes place predominantly in the present, which makes a lot of plot points from the past seem pretty obvious.

Maybe it’ll be revealed that Ray had second thoughts and didn’t kill the man who raped his wife, or that he’s been playing a long-con and faked the entire thing so as to infiltrate Frank’s organization. But who really cares? We learn that Ani has become estranged from her family, fleeing toward the authority of the law after her father–a pacifist who is “uncomfortable imposing [his] will upon anybody”–allowed her mother to drown herself in a lake, Woolfe-style. I don’t know that there’s really anything else I need to know about her character; I’m not surprised she has a drinking problem. In other words: there’s no real mystery to dwell on; the hook has not yet been set, despite the main characters assembling at a crime scene over the posed corpse of the former (corrupt) city manager.

Instead of compelling story, we get arresting imagery, and that’s simply not enough. The default for premium cable is that a show looks amazing; it now takes far more to impress. Worse, by hanging so much on visuals instead of innovative storytelling, there’s the sensation that the creator/writer is attempting to smear lipstick all over his pig. Bacon enhances other meals; on its own, it’s just fat.

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