Season one was one of the year’s TV highlights, but True Detective’s second season has potential to be even greater.
Even though True Detective’s first season debuted at the very start of the year, it will probably be considered the most pleasant shock of 2014. The ingredients for an entertaining drama series were all there, of course: HBO backing it, two giant acting talents and a confident, promising young director. But the final product was something extraordinary: a near-perfect slice of American storytelling. Next January will see True Detective return for another eight-part self-contained series, and has the potential to continue in its predecessor’s footsteps. Obviously, though, for this to transpire it will have to retain its identity, but also evolve. And with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson’s shift done, as well as the confirmation that it will take place in a whole new setting, the True Detective team have the opportunity to do this.
As much as character development was praised, critics voiced concerns relating to the role of women throughout the story
Possibly the strongest element of True Detective season one was its rich characterisation, especially from the leading pair. Their relationship blossomed adeptly on screen. Their world views challenged each other, sparking interesting debate as well as humorous rebuttals. When one of Rust Cohle’s abstract remarks put a scene at risk of seeming too pretentious, Hart would be there to to add balance with a blunt, snappy retort. A key illustration of this dynamic occurred in the opening episode: “This place is like a memory of a town, and the memory’s fading. It’s like there was never anything here but jungle,” Rust muses as he looks out onto a desolate street, to which Marty responds after a beat, “Stop saying shit like that.” Writer Nic Pizzolatto constructed the perfect detective team: one with a methodical approach to his work, and the other who operated from gut instinct.
But as much as the character development was praised, TV commentators voiced some concerns relating to the role of women throughout the story. While intentional, there was a certain disconnect with the female cast members. Michelle Monaghan’s Maggie, at the same time as exhibiting moments of strength, was mentally reviled by a cheating Hart. Further still, the young girls that he was adulterous with were ostensibly of no real importance other than to fill HBO’s boob quota. Indeed, it is clear that Pizzolatto did this in order to highlight Hart’s flawed personality, but the poor treatment of women proved to be one of the series’ main drawbacks.
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Luckily, for the second instalment, this could be rectified if the detective team included a female. If done effectively, a whole new energy between the central leads could be formed, one in which their different traits could create a contrasting chemistry, without the masculine bravado that irritated critics in the initial pair. There is a buzz currently that Brad Pitt is a shoe-in as a main cast member. This, coupled with the fact that Pizzolatto teased that he is writing something built around “hard women, bad men and the secret occult history of the United States transportation system” is very exciting (sounds rad). Pitt’s performance in noir thriller Se7en could ascribe as his audition tape, so envisaging him in a bleak, tense setting, investigating a troubling crime wouldn’t be a stretch. Moreover, having Pitt coupled with a strong feminine counterpart would be entertaining to say the least.
The setting will be important when creating True Detective’s next universe. It can even act as a character in itself, as many English literature teachers will assert when touching on Wuthering Heights. The plains and nondescript towns of Louisiana leant themselves very well to the convoluted hunt for the mysterious Yellow King. Within the expanse of the Pelican State, the pair were often isolated from the rest of the townsfolk – especially the Texan Cohle, whose social interactions seemed only suited to coaxing a prisoner into a confession. And in every scene, the drama’s characters were encircled by the humid stifle of the southern state, helping to keep tension simmering until the finale moment, when it came to boil over.
The team behind the second season need to construct an intriguing new twosome and utilise the brand new setting effectively
Looking to the upcoming season, there have been many rumours and fan predictions as to where it will be set. And really, there are usually only two ways in the crime genre: another sleepy, sultry region of America where killers can walk amongst the normality of the town, or perhaps it could head in a grittier urban environment like New York or L.A. But would the latter work? Pizzolatto’s writing was so impressive in the first instance because he knew what he was writing about, being a native of Louisiana. To complement this, being the showrunner, he was also helpful as a guide for director Cary Fukunaga and cinematographer Adam Arkapaw. As a result, the series was visually spectacular and paced perfectly. If Pizzolatto is attempting a more metropolitan feel, one can only hope that he is fully aware of the motifs and quirks that are specific to his chosen city in order to employ them dramatically.
At the core of season one of True Detective, there was a prevailing sentiment: storytelling is a key aspect of life. We use stories to connect with people, and how we digest a tale helps us understand the world. Throughout the journey of finding the Yellow King, Rust begins to open up more and more with Hart and we as an audience began to piece together his painful background. We also witnessed two accounts of the same tale in the fifth episode, The Secret Fate of Life, where they both lied for the greater good. So, as long as the team behind the second season construct an intriguing new twosome and utilise the setting effectively, it will be an enjoyable follow-up. But most importantly, if season two showcases the power of narratives, it will be remarkable, for as Pizzolatto says, “I would say it was that as human beings, we are nothing but the stories we live and die by — so you’d better be careful what stories you tell yourself.”
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All images: HBO