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The problem with True Detective this season is one that I don’t think the show can recover from in its final five episodes: I don’t care about the central mystery at all. To be fair, I don’t care about the four main characters all that much either. But I can generally push through a show where I’m not all invested in the leads if the story is gripping enough for me to want to keep watching. This year, it just isn’t for True Detective.
Case in point: When Vince Vaughn’s lackey Stan was killed, my immediate reaction was to ask “Who is Stan?” I had to Google to character to see how he fit into the Vaughn criminal empire. After three episodes, if a show wants to begin making us care about a murder mystery, there need to be stakes. Killing off a background character most of the audience doesn’t remember is not how to do that. The end of episode two, with Colin Ferrell’s Ray laying prone and shot- that gives the show stakes. Killing Stan? That draws attention to how poorly drawn the characters on the show are.
To its credit, the opening dream sequence this week was pretty inspired and crazy. I enjoyed those three minutes of confusion far more than the other 55 minutes of “plot” and “character building.” Last season, what gripped the audience wasn’t the hard boiled detective work or the issues Rust and Marty had with women (that actually detracted from the show’s charm). Rather, it was the hint of crazy that accompanied the central mystery. The air of the supernatural and occult. That helped ground Rust’s strange and beautiful monologues. It helped entice millions to take the journey. While Nick Pizzolatto wants to prove he can do a good straight noir, it might be time for him to realize he has a talent for the strange and slightly mystical. I was more engaged in Ray’s fever dream and what it means for the character than I was with his wife trying to pay him to back out of the custody arrangement. That is a problem.
Going over my notes from this week’s episode, they look strikingly similar to my notes from weeks one and two. Vaughn is still unable to sell his dialogue (and, after three weeks of watching him struggle desperately to be believable, I’m growing tired of the exercise). Taylor Kitsch’s Woodrugh is still a mumbling mystery, although it appears that the slow burn reveal of his sexuality is still slowly burning. And Rachel McAdams’s Ani is still angry at the world and taking it out on everyone around her.
There are still too many characters who can only be defined by their traits rather than character elements- the first sign of sloppy writing. And the actual season arc is so mired down in the political goings on in each of the police outfits that I can’t keep things straight. The problem with four poorly defined leading characters is that you can’t really keep their characters straight. I don’t know, at a glance, which side Ani or Ray is on. I know Woodrugh’s police affiliation only because I have heard of the old show CHiPs. Without that, I would be lost regarding him as well. There are too many balls in the air and far too little time spent developing each. I’m quickly losing patience with the series and this season, and I am afraid it won’t get much better.
— I’ve never had to do this before, but I’m thinking I might have to stop reviewing True Detective. I just find myself so unengaged with this season that I’m not sure I have much more to say on the subject. The plan for now is to watch next week’s episode and see how I feel regarding it. If things pick-up and the story streamlines, I’ll be here next week with my take. Should things continue down this murky and uninviting path, I’ll hang-up my key board regarding the series, and only chime in with an end of season review.