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True Detective: Season 2

HBO // Unrated // January 5, 2016
List Price: $59.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Scott Pewenofkit | posted January 20, 2016 | E-mail the Author
The Show
HBO'S True Detective Season 2, based on many of the reviews that appeared after the show premiered on HBO in 2015, didn't live up to the "literary qualities" of season one, a buzz term that shows up in several articles about the show. As one of the few reviewers to watch season 2 without the ability to draw a comparison to the first season, it can be said that the True Detective 2 DVD has some nice visuals, but it's driven by a mystery that isn't particularly intriguing. The only "literary qualities" present in True Detective are derived from poorly written, hackneyed crime fiction.

Season 2 of True Detective is notable for its atmospheric soundtrack by T. Bone Burrnett, and its washed-out golden sleaze look. However, its grim, relentlessly dismal tone makes the show a challenge to sit through. True Detective season 2 is centered around three law enforcement officers from different departments, who are involved in the murder investigation of a corrupt city official in a fictional Southern California town.

Corrupt city official Ben Caspere, from the fictional industrial town Vinci, California was murdered before he had a chance to finalize a deal to build a rail system that runs through the state. His corpse, with its eyes and genitals removed, is found near the side of a road by Highway Patrol officer Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch). Kitsch and Colin Farrell's gruff stock detective, Ray Velcoro, are joined by Amy Adams in the role of Ani Bezzerides, an agent assigned to investigate corruption in the Vinci police department while helping with the murder investigation. A corrupt businessman named Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn), who is struggling to go legit, loses five million dollars as a result of Caspere's death, and spends the series hunting down his money.

With three investigators featured in True Detective, along with Vaughn's almost convincing businessman/crook, the story is often scattered and unfocused. Velvcoro, with Farrell playing the burned-out detective archetype to its fullest potential, seems to be the central character. Ferrel's over-acted shaggy corrupt cop cannot exude the gruff authenticity he strains to convey. He hides behind a soggy mustache and shambles through season two, carrying emotional baggage and harboring haunted memories that lapse into moments of ham-fisted grandstanding.

The murder case that brings the four main characters together seems inconsequential and easily becomes subordinate to the occasionally nice visual flourish. The show is more notable for its evocative mood and fleeting moments of visual beauty. The smokey mood and dreamy visual style nearly manages to transcend its generic plot. You will see soaring overhead shots of Southern California, urban blight, tangled strands of freeway, and an imitation-Gordon Willis downcast lighting scheme in some of its scenes.

True Detective is depressingly devoid of any sense of the enigmatic strangeness inherent in the worlds of good mystery films. David Lynch was far better at accentuating the bizarre and out-of-place through the mysteries of his California-set films Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive. And remember that the show's public corruption subplot was derived from Roman Polanski's Chinatown, the best of all California Noir works. True Detective's setting in a fictional town gives the show a peculiar detachment, a kind of postmodernist "neither here nor there" quality that adds to its own meaninglessness.

Vinci, California is a neo-noir fairy tale netherworld that mirrors noir tendencies in a self-conscious way without much meaningful effect. The use of a fictionalized town, as opposed to a real-life setting, without an allegorical or referential connection to any real-life place, becomes simply an arbitrary decision by the show's creators. The innumerable strands of plot, including public corruption, human trafficking, sexual identity, sexual abuse, a custody dispute involving paternity tests, revenge killings, are too much even for a series that spans eight episodes. As the title of the show suggests, True Detective is packed with pulpy elements, but it does not presenting a focused mystery.

The DVD:
Video: The show has a warm, vibrant color pallet that translates vividly on a large screen. The show's 1.85:1 frame captures the sprawl of Southern California and its use of seemingly natural lighting is effective.

Audio: Several episodes have audio commentaries, which give no further insight into the meaning of the show, nor do any of the commentaries resolve the show's dull, convoluted plotting.

There is a 5.1 stereo surround soundtrack compliments T. Bone Burnett's score, but the overall audio design of the show doesn't stand out.

Extras: There are several making-of documentaries, but the extra features are of little note. There is even a half-hour featurette about the planning and filming of a particularly overly long and strenuous shoot-out sequence that has a high body count and elaborate pyrotechnics, but is inconsequential to an already-by-that-point over-burdened plot.

Final Thoughts:
True Detective season two's biggest misstep is its unnecessarily cluttered plot, which muddles the murder mystery at the heart of the show, and makes for a tiring viewing experience. The visual flourishes alone are not enough to prop up such a mediocre show. The decision to set the show in a fictional town seems arbitrary, and thus ineffectual.

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