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Thursday 8 December 2016

Review: Has True Detective 2 finally hit its stride with just two episodes to go?

Rachel McAdams and Colin Farrell in True Detective
Rachel McAdams and Colin Farrell in True Detective

IT was at exactly this point — six episodes down, two to go — last year that some commentators claimed the first season of True Detective curdled.

Everything up to then, the hints, the red herrings, the twists and turns and blind alleys, the metaphysical meanderings, the tantalising references to Robert Chambers’s book The King in Yellow, seemed to have little relevance in the end and gave way to what many considered a too-conventional conclusion.

In episode seven, years after the investigation that tore their already fragile partnership apart, ex-detectives Rust (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty (Woody Harrelson) reunited and, armed with new information, set out to solve the case once and for all.

The finale, a hellish, gross-out nightmare, took place in the sinister lair of a creepy, disfigured serial killer who spoke in a variety of bizarre accents, kept his father’s rotting corpse in a shed and was embroiled in an incestuous relationship with a female relative.

Rust’s gloomy view that the universe we live in is a cruel, random one was jettisoned as he had a hallucinatory vision of what looked like the heavens opening up and offering a porthole to peace and redemption. “Once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light’s winning,” he said in the very last line of the final scene.

Some people felt cheated. I have to say I didn’t. I thought the ending worked perfectly. Who doesn’t deserve a little hope now and again?

True Detective 2 also now has six episodes under its belt and the parallels between the two seasons are fascinating. For many people the turning point in TD1 was the bravura six-minute continuous tracking shot in episode four, never mind that it didn’t actually add a whole lot to the story, it was an extraordinary piece of film-making.

SHOOTOUT

TD2 had a fourth-episode equivalent in the form of a protracted, pulse-pounding shootout the equal of the one in Michael Mann’s Heat.

TD1 took a two-year leap forward in its penultimate episode. TD2 did the same thing last week, albeit a jump of only two months. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.

Even more interesting than the similarities between the two, however, are the distinct differences. Less forgiving critics felt the first season took a downward trajectory in its closing episodes. If anything, this one is running in the opposite direction.

True Detective 2 has been criticised in some quarters for lacking pace and having too complicated and meandering a plot. Frankly, I couldn’t agree less. I’m a big fan of slow storytelling if there’s a purpose to it; last night’s episode suggests Pizzolatto has known where he’s going from day one.

It was the best instalment so far in a season that’s been slowly and deliberately tightening its grip in recent weeks. Shown from the point of view of a drugged-up Ani (Rachel McAdams), the orgy scene — a tableaux of young women being used and abused by rich, powerful, sleazy, repulsive men — was a queasy tour de force.

There was poignancy, too, in the way Ray’s (Colin Farrell) failed attempt to connect with his son was juxtaposed with Frank (Vince Vaughn) acting as tender surrogate father to a dead friend’s son.

The season has its shortcomings. The scenes between Frank and his wife drag things down, and Vaughn really has been given some outlandishly florid dialogue to spout (but so, it’s conveniently forgotten, was McConaughey). But I have a sneaking feeling it might do something rare and pull off an ending that, for a change, pleases everyone.

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