TV Review: True Detective (2×01) “The Western Book of the Dead”

true detective season 2

Welp…we’ve got something to talk about.

True Detective was originally an HBO mini-series starring two of coolest Texans ever to grace Hollywood today (Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey) looking for clues in the Louisiana bayou. But, surprise surprise, Harrelson and McConaughey reminded the world that they were pretty good actors in the midst of creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto’s tale of religious witchcraft and dirty deeds done dirt cheap. It was weird, it was sleazy, and it was some of the juiciest television on the air. Thanks to big ratings, social media buzz and a slew of Emmys, True Detective is now an anthology series about the dirty deeds of life behind (or in front of) a police badge. The new season sounds like a recipe for even more great TV, as the series goes from southern swamps to the western sun of California. What better place to find dirty, low-bit scum than in the place of many Hollywood talents, right?

In the fake city of Vinci, the new season introduces us to four main characters. There’s Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn), a casino owner with a dirty past looking to make a bigger name for himself amongst the high-end public by establishing a new highway. There’s Detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), a mustached drunk looking to bring up the morale of his chubby son while having a secret association with Semyon. There’s Highway Patrol officer Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), a motorcycle cop who gets suspended after getting a pretty blonde off of an arrest in exchange for *ahem* “oral justice.” There’s also Detective Antigone Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), a tough-as-nails ball-buster with family trouble. When a city manager Semyon was going to use as his representative for the highway goes missing, he asks Velcoro to find him. Eventually, Velcoro runs into Woodrugh and Bezzerides, with complications not too far behind.


Since most of the fuss over True Detective’s first season was for the performances of McConaughey and Harrelson, surely most of the intrigue for the new season will be for the new cast. Let me be as blunt as possible about the actors: Taylor Kitsch is awful. It’s clear his audition consisted of his appearance while wet and shirtless and little else. He’s a pale Taylor Lautner, giving nothing but stern grimaces and little character development. His character and body scars allude to dark times in the military, but his little screen time doesn’t reveal much else. Vince Vaughn, however, is a bit of a mystery. Known primarily for his comedic work, Vaughn hasn’t taken a dramatic risk since leading Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake of Psycho (which didn’t bode so well for Mr. Vaughn..or anyone else involved). In True Detective, he’s trying really hard to seem like an imposing figure with his tall appearance, dark clothing, and even a smile that would make a snake shiver. But there’s something that doesn’t fully take it over the edge, at least not in the first episode. Vaughn needs to bring something big to the table in order to take his character all the way out of the shadow of his funny-man persona. In fact, most of the menacing from Vaughn’s scenes come from his character’s wife, Jordan (Kelly Reilly).

Fortunately, there are two good performances for the other two disappointments. Colin Farrell is a tough schlub looking to redeem himself for something horrible that will probably be revealed later on. His character is pitiful, but there’s something sincere in his eyes when he’s trying to make himself look like a good cop while drinking himself to slumber in a bar. But the show’s real star is the former-Regina George, Rachel McAdams. There’s something like a blaze in her eyes on-screen, just waiting to torch anything in front of her. Nothing fazes her Antigone Bezzerides, whether it’s her sister shooting Internet porn, her dad leading religious hippies, or a sex buddy looking to take things more serious. Even in the last scene where she, Farrell, and Kitsch face off at a crime scene, she will clearly be wearing all forms of pants in any situation.


The new episode has a cool style moving between each main character thanks to director Justin Lin, who famously revived the Fast & Furious franchise on the big screen and will take on the next Star Trek movie. But the main problem with the first episode is that it’s just the first episode. It’s one hour of introducing the main characters and hinting at their dark secrets. It’s a prologue that could be shrunken to 30 minutes, but instead takes up the whole episode. The first season of True Detective had a central focus on the mystery, with McConaughey and Harrelson’s characters as additional background. This time around, too much focus seems to be on the characters and not enough time is given to get the plot out, let alone any breathing room. The creeping mythos seems to have been replaced with sullen brooding and “you don’t know me” moments. Now the world waits to see how deep the character development hole goes and if a gripping story seeps its way through.

Episode Review: 5 out of 10

Jon Winkler is a 22-year-old movie/music nerd in Southampton, NY by way of Merrimack, NH. He loves watching, listening to, dissecting, mocking and talking about movies, television, music, video games and comics. He enjoys a good cheeseburger, believes CDs and vinyl are superior, likes to make people smile if they're having a rough day, and is rumored to be Batman (unconfirmed).