A bizarre murder brings together three law-enforcement officers and a career criminal, each of whom must navigate a web of conspiracy and betrayal in the scorched landscapes of California. Colin Farrell is Ray Velcoro, a compromised detective in the all-industrial City of Vinci, LA County. Vince Vaughn plays Frank Semyon, a criminal and entrepreneur in danger of losing his life’s work, while his wife and closest ally (Kelly Reilly), struggles with his choices and her own. Rachel McAdams is Ani Bezzerides, a Ventura County Sheriff’s detective often at odds with the system she serves, while Taylor Kitsch plays Paul Woodrugh, a war veteran and motorcycle cop for the California Highway Patrol who discovers a crime scene which triggers an investigation involving three law enforcement groups, multiple criminal collusions, and billions of dollars.
If time truly is a flat circle (as the great Rust Cohle once said), then the triumph of 'True Detective: The Complete First Season' will continue to repeat itself over and over for all eternity. And that must be a comforting thought for creator Nic Pizzolatto -- especially considering how messy his sophomore effort becomes. Though these episodes are still impressive in potent bursts, season two's mystery and characters simply can't measure up to what came before, leading to a confusing and muddled experience -- one that even Detective Rust Cohle probably couldn't make sense of.
After a corrupt City Manager is found murdered, three LA area cops, Detective Ray Velcoro (Collin Farrell), Detective Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), and Officer Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), are drawn into a dark conspiracy. Meanwhile, a local criminal businessman, Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn), also deals with the fallout from the murder, forcing both sides of the law to intersect while the investigation continues to take unexpected turns. As the truth is slowly uncovered, more bodies start to pile up, placing everyone involved in mortal danger.
While the above description might offer a vaguely intriguing sense of where the story starts off, plotting is sadly one of the season's weakest aspects. On the surface, season two presents a more straightforward experience than season one (there is no multiple time period structure here), but the narrative is often inexplicably confusing and unnecessarily complicated. Sure, by the time the season comes to an end, most viewers will be able to piece together a pretty good idea of what happened -- but looking back (and even watching it for a second time), the path that gets us there remains frustratingly convoluted and messy. Various storylines and subplots dealing with murder, stolen diamonds, cover-ups, corrupt politics, land deals, custody battles, infertility, pay-offs, major daddy-issues, and revenge are all engaging on their own to varying degrees, but they are intermingled in a sometimes haphazard manner with inconsistent thematic connections and head-scratching logistics.
And worst of all, when the intricate conspiracy at the heart of the season is finally revealed, the results are rather anticlimactic and uninteresting. Likewise, the characters themselves also reveal some scripting flaws. Though the cast does an excellent job all across the board, Pizzolatto's overall characterizations are thin and clichéd, often playing to standard macho tropes and archetypes. On that note, Rachel McAdams tough female protagonist is a clear attempt to make up for criticisms lobbied against the first season's treatment of female characters, but here the writer simply trade one cliche for another. One character's struggle with his/her sexuality also comes across as an especially familiar subplot (similar crime dramas like 'The Shield' have already approached this kind of material much better). Other than Farrell's character (and to a lesser extent, Vaughn's) no one really stands out, and compared to Rust Cohle and Marty Hart, these detectives are just plain boring. And then there's the dialogue, which oscillates between appropriately stylized and… just plain awful.
Thankfully, we do get more of the former than the latter, and despite the weaker characterizations, the arcs are ultimately engaging (though not exactly satisfying). As critical as I've been so far, there still is a good amount to admire here. No really, I mean it! Despite the confusing plot, the show manages to create a palpable sense of mood and tension, using its urban industrial setting to great effect. Though we no longer have season one director Cary Fukunaga at the helm of each installment (or any installments for that matter), the show's cinematic style leads to some powerful and genuinely memorable sequences, including a somber meeting in a low-lit bar, an escape from a disturbing sex party, and the explosive climax to episode four. That latter scene is by far the season's highlight, offering a truly gripping street shootout that is sure to leave audiences breathless. Of course, we do also get several ponderous scenes of characters brooding and reciting monologues while they intensely stare at the ceiling… which aren't quite as exciting.
In the first season of 'True Detective,' some of my favorite scenes involved the narrative's esoteric musings and philosophical dialogue. In season two, though still occasionally interesting, these bits far too often come across as empty and pretentious. Pizzolatto's trademark style is retained, but it's like we're being subjected to a half-baked version of it with a hazy plot and cast of characters that seem like they need a few more drafts. Don't get me wrong, there is still some gripping TV here, but the engaging parts are mixed up in between a disappointing amount of listless incoherence… and men dressed in creepy bird masks.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
HBO brings 'True Detective: The Complete Second Season' to Blu-ray on three BD-50 discs that comes housed in a foldout case within a sturdy cardboard outercase. Instructions for an iTunes/UltraViolet digital copy and an HBO sampler are also included. After a skippable HBO promo, the screen transitions to a standard menu.
The show is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Appropriately stylized, this is a very impressive transfer.
While season one was shot on film, season two makes the switch to digital. Thankfully, the source still retains a relatively filmic appearance with a light to moderate layer of grain-like noise visible in most shots, providing a slightly gritty quality. Clarity is nicely rendered throughout with a strong sense of depth and fine textures. All of the heavy weight on Farrell and Vaughn's world-weary faces is readily apparent while small details in objects and locations add an extra level of realism to the production. Colors adhere to an intentionally stylized palette which often veers toward a moody yellow tinge -- though specific scenes offer different looks as well. Though not especially attractive from a traditional standpoint, the aesthetic suits the tone and urban industrial setting of the story perfectly. Contrast is fairly well balanced but blacks do look a tad elevated and a little noisy in dark scenes.
Though not quite worthy of a five-star rating, this is an excellent transfer that preserves the show's intended style very well.
The series is presented with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track along with a French DTS 5.1 and Spanish DTS 2.0 track. Optional English SDH, English, French, Spanish, Norwegian, Finnish, Dutch, Danish, Portuguese, and Swedish subtitles are also included. Though the story, characters, and setting might be completely new this year, the series continues to excel with a moody and atmospheric mix.
Dialogue is clean and relatively easy to hear throughout (some characters do have a tendency to speak in whispery growls). Fueled by T. Bone Burnett's ominous score and original songs, the soundscape takes on a haunting quality that fully evokes the story's dark tone. Music comes through with full-bodied presence, range, and low frequencies in specific cues. Likewise, effects work is both subtle and aggressive when called for, fully extending sounds (city ambiance, background clatter, etc) throughout the room with natural imaging and directionality -- creating an enveloping sense of atmosphere. Action sequences (like the much talked about ending of episode four) are especially noteworthy, with powerful gunshots and explosions that move about the front speakers and surrounds seamlessly to engulf audiences within all of the bullet-laden chaos.
Marked by a palpable sense of dread, delicately immersive sound design, and a few key explosive action scenes, the show comes to Blu-ray with a versatile and enveloping mix.
HBO has included a solid assortment of supplements, including two commentaries and several featurettes with the cast and crew. All of the special features are presented in 1080p with DTS 5.1 sound (unless noted otherwise).
'True Detective: The Complete Second Season' is a very uneven successor to the show's excellent first season. Though there are engaging episodes and a few standout sequences, the clichéd characters and messy plot hold the show back. Thankfully, from a technical perspective, these discs are great, with fantastic video and audio. The included commentaries are a little disappointing, but the featurettes are worthwhile. There are several notable issues with the narrative, but fans of the first season's dark noir style might want to give this a try. Just make sure to lower your expectations.