Comparing Monsters to Rats: A Review of True Detective Season 2

True Detective Season 2 ended in early August. Everyone has had time to sit on it and think it over. Myself included. And when searching online for True Detective Season 2 there is a dearth of negativity and poor reviews. After reading many of those negative things said about Season 2 I stumbled on an article from Nerdist.com by Benjamin Bailey. Finally, there is someone out there that understands more of what Pizzolatto was trying to accomplish with this season.

Bailey is spot on with two very important points. First, Season 1 was very much out of the Lovecraftian mythos. Explicitly, no. Not as if Cthulu makes an appearance, but the vibe, or feel is in line with those stories. Second, Season 2 was not cut from the same cloth. Early on it was clear that stylistically the seasons are different. While both dark and exploring the depths of human emotion and interaction that is where the similarities end. And this is where everything else online tries to measure Season 1 against Season 2. Stop. They aren’t the same and they weren’t meant to be. From the beginning of the show it was meant to be self-contained seasons. Season 1 having different cast and setting than Season 2. So, why are people so intent on comparing apples to oranges? Or is it monsters to rats? (It is a hypothetical. I don’t actually have an answer.)

I will admit that the performances by the main cast in Season 2 were not up to the same standard as Matthew McConaughey’s in Season 1. But in all reality, the bar was set incredibly high. Woody Harrelson, while giving a strong performance, was just along for the ride. To expect all four actors to give performances like McConaughey’s is ridiculous. That said, when the cast listing came out I knew that the one to watch for a breakout-type performance would be Vince Vaughn. While much of what I read online focused on the series in general, I would have to argue that Vaughn did deliver with one of his best, if not the best performance of his career. I rooted for him, even as a crime boss, from beginning to end. I hoped things would end differently for him, but seeing Season 2 through the filter, of what it was, a noir, it was acceptable and understandable.

After Season 1 I went out and purchased a copy of Pizzalatto’s book, Galveston. After reading it I expected a more noir feel from Season 2. And that is exactly what we got. While the detective aspect remained, the feel followed more closely to Pizzalatto’s writing style. I must be the only one not surprised by the turn from the occult to double-crossing-cops-on-the-mob-payroll in this season. I’m also probably the only one that would like the noir feel to continue into Season 3. Early rumors are already swirling that Season 3 will turn back toward more occult-ish fare, but I pray that Pizzalatto is able to weave the two styles together successfully. If he can manage that, I fear that Season 1 may be measured against 3 while 2 will be set aside as an anomaly.

The long and short is that critics and fans alike need to stop comparing the two seasons. They aren’t meant to be binge-watched back to back. In fact they are meant to hit so hard that you don’t want to watch more than a few episodes at a time. In that regard, maybe Season 2 fell somewhat short of Season 1, but aside from that comparison, they should stand separately, on their own merits.

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