True confessions: I liked True Detective, Season 2

true-detective-season-2-colin-farrellI liked the sophomore season of True Detective. There, I said it.

A heady mix of mob politics, police drama and introspective narrative, season 2 was a lot to digest, particularly since it came on the heels of the relatively simple (although masterfully executed) format of the first season.

This season gave us four tragic co-stars, each with their own motivations and back story (an ambitious undertaking for the writers). From the moment we met each of them, we knew things would never be wrapped in a pretty bow for Frank (Vince Vaughn), Ray (Colin Farrell), Ani (Rachel McAdams), and Paul (Taylor Kitsch).

Much has been written of Farrell’s performance as Ray Velcoro, particularly of that Lynch-esque, Conway Twitty look-alike, bar scene. While the critics seem to have disliked almost everything else about the show, they have lauded Farrell’s portrayal of the conflicted, failed detective. On this, we are in agreement.

As Frank Semyon, Vaughn easily shed his big-screen, goofball image for this complicated character study. Watching him juggle his roles as king of the Vinci underworld and husband/potential father/ wounded son, I found myself hoping that he could somehow leave the streets for a legitimate lifestyle. But alas, he was doomed from the start (time is a flat circle) and he delivered one of the most gut-wrenching, haunting, death scenes that I’ve seen in a while. After that final episode, I couldn’t sleep.

McAdams also showed hidden depth as Ani, tackling emotionally charged scenes with her father, sister and male coworkers and carrying that intense sex-party scene that was reminiscent of Eyes Wide Shut.

Of the four leads, Paul Woodrugh (Kitsch) probably suffered the most from the writer’s challenge to fit so much story into 8 episodes. There were glimpses into Woodrugh’s true self but there was no time to really delve in. Maybe that was the point. Viewers – like his wife, mother and friends – never really knew who he was.

I’ll admit, at times the dense story and multitude of subplots were confusing. And it was tough to keep the names of minor and supporting characters straight. But overall, the writers delivered a complex story with artistic, noir elements that kept me coming back each week.

The ending was bleak. The bad guys won. There was no hard-won redemption for Frank or Ray. No long lost loves reuniting on the white sand beaches of Venezuela. After a couple weeks to digest it, I’m OK with this. It was tough to see both Frank and Ray die such awful deaths. But it would have felt contrived if it ended any other way. Also, I can sympathize with the need of the writers to mix it up after last season ended with both major characters surviving.

Given some time, perhaps other critics will agree with me on this one – dense, dark and imperfect, season 2 was worth watching.