It would not stretch the imagination to see accomplished writer Nic Pizzolatto and director Justin Lin’s True Detective as an intricately complex and compelling spiderweb. Unfortunately, after the latest episode, ‘Church in Ruins,’ what we have looks more akin to protagonist Ray Velcoro’s (Colin Farrell) attempt at knitting after one of his whiskey-and-cocaine binges.
Conforming to the spiderweb analogy, the art direction and broodingly atmospheric nature of the show allows for its appreciated neo-noir aesthetic, the main saving grace of the season. However, this charm is subdued when it bleeds over into the characters, whose lack of animation throughout the entirety of the season has made the viewing experience more like a tour of a morgue than an engaging, modern-day psychological drama.
This is not to say the acting is sub-par; the star-studded lineup of the previously mentioned Velcoro, Frank Symian (Vince Vaughn), and Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) are executed to the best of their actor’s formidable abilities. It’s in the script that depth is seriously misjudged, seemingly bordering on pretentiousness. While the actor’s delivery is admirable, the vast majority of the dialogue (at least that which the audience is led to believe they should care about or pay attention to) was written to be not only stilted but overflowing with forcibly gritty dialogue that somehow manages to feign poeticism at the same time – most of the time utilized in some inexplicably irrelevant and often downright boring character development scene.
All of this is easily confined within the range of emotion that any character is allowed to display, which typically hovers between anger, sadness, and confusion – I could probably count the number of times any character has laughed throughout the season on one hand. This completely removes the audience from the realm of believability and forces them to watch what comes off as a walking, talking comic book.
These might be forgivable sins if the plot – or its execution – could disarm the viewers’ more analytical side, drawing them into an immersive world of a morally degraded Los Angeles. The main protagonists are flanked by a plethora of unmemorable characters whose random and infrequent insertion into the plotline will leaving you scratching your head trying to remember their identities or their relevance, all while they unload some truth nugget intended to clarify but only further obscures the main thrust of the plot.
And therein lies the season’s biggest flaw: Its inability to arrange the numerous moving parts into something coherently entertaining. There is the central murder, but from there the plot tentacles out to include a menagerie of corrupt cops, criminals with visions of grandeur, fetishists, Mexican cartels, Russian mobsters, a grand interstate rail line, diamonds, prostitution, and any other clichéd sin that Los Angeles seems to invite outsiders to assume it runs rampant with. Much like the city itself, though these aspects may be interconnected somewhere, they are bogged down by the traffic of uneven and unclear delivery and untenable significance.
Had it been executed with finesse, the interwoven plotlines could have made for a truly enthralling crime drama, but as it stands today, each episode has only tacked on endless, confusing addendum that takes the audience’s attention (or interest) in the underlying plot. Had there been any sense of realism surrounding the characters themselves, instead of making them manically depressed street poets with the occasional (and admittedly entertaining) violent outburst, we would have cared about their sordid pasts and whether they were inching towards redemption or destruction.
Had the show paced its action instead of offering 45 minutes of filler followed by ten minutes of anything anybody cared about, I might have written this a lot differently. But just as the second season shouldn’t be unfairly compared to the first, nor should its pretentious dreariness be excused by its predecessors artistry – and thus, like Velcoro after a couple of his many hastily ingested whiskeys, the show falls flat on its face, and snores its viewers away.