Article originally written for Seat42F.
HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE wowed audiences in its inaugural season last year, so as season two premieres this week with a different cast and story, it has a lot to live up to, and will surely evoke comparisons (as happens in this article). In order to do the title proud, the new run doesn’t seek to copy its predecessor, but instead uses a different structure and approach, while keeping the same dark, gritty, authentic, complex types of characters. Even early in the premiere, “The Western Book of the Dead,” I feel that it is succeeding.
In “The Western Book of the Dead,” we are introduced to three officials in law enforcement. Detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell, Total Recall) went off the rails after the rape of his wife, and now is a dirty cop who gets violent to protect the son (Trevor Larcom, Fresh Off the Boat) he raised but may not have fathered, biologically speaking. Knife-wielding Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams, Midnight in Paris) is a cop who doesn’t agree with the lifestyle choices of her family, sister, Athena (Leven Rambin, Grey’s Anatomy), being a solo porn actor, and her father (Treme’s David Morse) being a free-spirited hippie lecturer. Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch, Friday Night Lights) loves riding his motorcycle with a death wish, and is unhappy to be suspended (with pay) after an improper behavior accusation is lobbied against him.
None of these are heroes, at least not yet. Like last year’s Rust, they are deeply flawed. Except, unlike last year’s Rust, there’s no Marty to balance them out. Sure, Ani has a partner, Elvis (Michael Irby, Almost Human), but the scenes we see of the trio in the premiere are focused on showing us their bad behavior and it doesn’t look like any of them have anyone in their lives to pull them back from the brinks they are all rocketing towards.
In fact, the most stable character in this year’s TRUE DETECTIVE is not a cop, but a criminal, Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn, The Internship), who, along with his wife, Jordan (Kelly Reilly, Black Box), join the three above in the main cast. Frank is trying to go legit, having found a scheme that will make him lots of money above-board. Unlike the other leads, Frank seems to behave logically, not emotionally, and is trying to better himself, not self-destruct. Ironic, no?
Of course, there is a story that brings all five of these people (Jordan to a lesser extent, but definitely the other four) together. This isn’t done at the start of the hour, as happened last year, but is the ending climax of “The Western Book of the Dead,” and will surely lead to a lot more interaction, of which there is barely any between the leads here, over the next seven weeks (this season being another eight-installment run).
I like this delayed beginning, though. Because there are more characters, it takes a little longer to get to know them. Without the partner dynamic, it’s not as easy for TRUE DETECTIVE to let viewers be introduced through a single relationship. Since the entire make up has more complexity, meaning more moving parts, taking time with each individually in “The Western Book of the Dead” does much to prepare us for the rest of the season.
I really enjoyed this premiere. Is it as good as season one? I think it’s too early to make that call, as season one was a twisty, slow burn that started great and continued to be so week after week. This first episode back seems to have the same qualities as its predecessor, and it is easy to be fully engaged in this new story with these new characters, which is a hopeful sign. The next couple of months will show us whether that can be maintained or not.
TRUE DETECTIVE airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.