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May 7, 2018 | by  | in Arts TV |
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True Detective: A Comparison Review

Season one – 4.5 stars, season two – 2 stars

True Detective’s first season is a strange and compelling crime tale that thrusts a pair of detectives on the hunt for a serial killer. While TD is about many things, the show stays grounded by focusing on two lead detectives, Martin “Marty” Hart and Rustin “Rust” Cohle, played expertly by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. Utilizing non-linear storytelling, the show bounces between two time frames featuring quite different narratives, one set in 1995 following their attempt to stop a murderer at large, the other in 2012 where they are interviewed about the case.

The strained relationship between our two flawed main characters becomes a major theme in the series. As they drive through the South together, Rust often spouts nihilistic musings to his partner Marty, who is quick to dismiss them. It’s a good representation of their characters; Rust is a brooding alcoholic, Marty an unfaithful family man. The two personalities clash, and it only serves to make both their personal and work relationships more intriguing. Season one manages to interweave the conflicts within its characters’ personal lives into the wider story, managing to elevate them to a level of equal importance as the ongoing murder mystery.

Along with the characters, the first season’s setting and style plays a big part in its success. Largely set in Louisiana, TD’s version of Southern USA is a lonely, decaying world. Gothic horror creates an unsettling environment, which only seems to devolve as Marty and Rust descend further into the mystery.

Season one’s highest point comes at the end of episode four, in a brilliant scene featuring a shot that lasts for six minutes. The characters must escape an undercover mission that has gone horribly wrong, in what could be the most tense and exciting segment of television ever. While the show is sometimes sedate and hard to follow, viewers who tolerate the show’s slow-burn nature will be rewarded with satisfying payoffs, both subtle and action filled.

Following season one, expectations for what the second season of True Detective could bring were immeasurably high. Unfortunately, season two proved unable to reach its predecessor’s heights, failing to win over fans and critics alike.

The non-linear, dual narratives which gave season one such an edge to its storytelling are no longer present. Viewers are instead treated to a story which played it straight, following events as they happened. What the audience saw is what they got, and what they got was cramped, dull, and confusing. Almost from the get-go, the series seemed bogged down in its own self-seriousness and angst. The character arcs (and portrayals) were nowhere near as satisfying, with many of the second season’s protagonists ending up feeling like people you’d barely met. This misguided focus on its generally unlikeable characters, mixed in with an overly-complicated plot which forced viewers to connect the dots a little too often, made the show suffer.

The mystery of first season was further propelled by the Louisiana setting, incorporating it to the extent that it felt like a character in the show. The dry and concrete-heavy LA-styled setting of the second series traps the show in a generic American cityscape. The style and tone generated in season one is clearly lacking in the sophomore season, the primary reason being the disappearance of powerful collaborative role of Cary Fukunaga (who helmed the director seat for the entirety of season one). Left to his own devices, show creator Nic Pizzolatto’s weaknesses and strengths were not handled effectively, causing his vision for the second season to feel both rushed and flat, and leaving viewers waiting for the narrative to fulfil its potential.

With season three reportedly being set across multiple timelines and moving to an Ozarks setting, and Pizzolatto being given the time to craft his narrative, the series seems to be hinting at a return to form.

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