Few television shows are able to come out and capture the national imagination as thoroughly as the first season of HBO’s True Detective. Captivating lead performances by Woody Harrelson and (particularly) Matthew McConaughey, a clever time-jumping narrative structure, and a menacing, vaguely supernatural murder combined to totally dominate the pop culture conversation.
That first season had one other unique feature: it was a self-contained story, and when Harrelson and McConaughey gave in to their decades-simmering bromance and the credits rolled, it was clear that they would not be returning – but the monster ratings they had posted guaranteed that there would be a second season. So what is that second season going to be?
Initially, series creator and writer Nic Pizzolatto said the season would be about “the occult history of the U.S. transportation system,” but it appears that since that statement Pizzolatto has, as they say in Hollywood, gone another way; in an interview on Medium, the showrunner said he dropped the occult elements “in favor of closer character work and a more grounded crime story.” That’s good news, because to me the occult stuff was the first season’s weak point.
So if it’s not that, what is it?
HBO has released a few tantalizing details in the last few days, starting with these character synopses:
Colin Farrell (Golden Globe winner for “In Bruges”) plays Ray Velcoro, a troubled detective whose allegiances are torn between his masters in a corrupt police department and the mobster who owns him. Vince Vaughn (“Wedding Crashers”) portrays Frank Semyon, a criminal and entrepreneur in danger of losing his empire when his move into legitimate enterprise is upended by the murder of a business partner. Rachel McAdams (“Midnight in Paris”) plays Ani Bezzerides, a sheriff’s detective whose uncompromising ethics put her at odds with others and the system she serves. Taylor Kitsch (HBO’s “The Normal Heart”) portrays Paul Woodrugh, a war veteran and a highway patrol motorcycle officer, running from a difficult past and the sudden glare of a scandal that never happened.
Vague, but helpful. Also helpful: the logline for the first episode:
The disappearance of a city manager disrupts a lucrative land scheme and ignites an investigation involving three police officers and a career criminal who is moving into legitimate business.
And then there are the trailers. We’ve all seen this one for the last few months:
But HBO released two more this week:
One thing is clear: this thing is going to be at least as dark as the first season. You can tell by the deep synth tones and the anguished faces and such lines of dialogue as “So am I supposed to solve this thing or not?” and “Sometimes your worst self is your best self” and “How compromised are you?” and “I welcome judgment.” Even with little to no context, those well-chosen lines suggest that Farrell’s branch of law enforcement is corrupt, that Vaughn has second thoughts about his life of crime even as it’s served him well, that McAdams’ branch of law enforcement (or at least McAdams herself) is not corrupt, and that Farrell’s character will come under some kind of investigation – probably the most compelling element of the first season.
As for the finer details, those seem to be in short supply, but really isn’t it better that way? It’s enough to know that Vaughn is playing an angle that, other than that weird shot-for-shot Psycho remake, he’s never played before in the dark, brooding villain; his motormouth Swingers shtick is great but seems to have run its course. “Dark and brooding” is familiar territory for Colin Farrell, of course, but few actors are better at it than him. Rachel McAdams also seems to be working a new muscle here – she is one of the most appealing actresses working right now, but after eleventeen different romantic comedies it will be interesting to see what she does with “righteously driven.”
June 21 can’t come soon enough!