Do You Want to Live?
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The third installment of True Detective‘s second season is a vast improvement over its predecessors, although in all honesty it’s a little like watching a terrible movie and saying it’s at least better than Transformers 2. Director Janus Metz thankfully kept the obnoxious overhead highway shots to two (unless I counted wrong, in which case let me know in the comments below), but he’s clearly having tremendous difficulty bringing the show to life until the final exhilarating chase scene, which for me is the best sequence so far this season. In all honesty, the fault over how languid True Detective feels in its first three episodes has little to do with the direction, which so far has been fine but nothing close to groundbreaking. The writing is simply poor this season, as if creator Nic Pizzolatto took the scripts for the first season, tinkered around with thesaurus.com. and then arrived at a conclusion that no further editing was required. After that inglorious conclusion, he simply copied and pasted one character’s lines to another and started casting. Much like the Sand Snakes on this season of Game of Thrones, Ani, Ray, Paul, and Frank feel like the same person with slightly different tweaks – like having different weapons, for example. The actors are doing their best to give their respective roles different gravitas with Rachel McAdams being by far the most successful, but even perfect acting can’t cover up the reality that you can feasibly imagine the other leads saying one character’s lines and it fitting perfectly. That’s a problem, let alone the actual problems with the script and narrative decisions, beginning with the exceedingly poor decision to have a fakeout with Ray’s nonexistent, apparent death last week.
It’s a prescribed rule of television narrative that unless there’s a body being interned in some fashion, the character is still alive and that’s inevitably in play here. But whether or not the character is alive, the danger needs to engender a palpable fear that they are not and the show failed stupendously with Ray. For one thing, Ray isn’t nearly a charismatic or even understandable character yet for the audience to feel some true emotional response to his apparent demise besides blanket shock. For another, it has to appear at a critical juncture in the narrative that simultaneously accomplishes two things. It has to arrive at a moment where the character is perilously close to whatever he or she is looking for (which this episode does not truly accomplish) and it has to be at a juncture where the loss of that character could truly shock the narrative into overdrive (where once again Ray simply hasn’t developed enough as a character for that to happen in the first place). For a third, if you’re going to have a character get shot that many times to an unfortunately prescient musical number, they have to at the very least be logically injured. Based on how quickly Ray seems to recover with only rib problems at the end, he got a severe blast from a NERF water gun. But above all, it’s an inherently cheap trick that isn’t deployed to a decent effect that couldn’t be rescued by that bizarre but neat opening dream number.
The most important revelation clearly here is Paul’s sexuality, which if you paid attention to the previous two episodes, came about as much of a surprise as ice cream melting in the heat. It easily is the most character work done on Paul, even if once again the originality of “super macho guy is gay” isn’t, well, original and there’s no subtlety on display here. The moment where he gets into a fight with his friend Miguel after he confesses to having thought about Paul is a good minute that encapsulates that subtlety problem quite well. We got the sexual tension that was there from the basic framing of the camera and the actors’ body language. But for some reason Pizzolatto’s script felt the need to go that extra mile and make it blatantly obvious, insulting the audience’s intelligence as it did so. In insulting the audience in such a fashion, Pizzolatto exposes the inherent weakness of his script beyond the character work itself, chiefly its large incompetency in showing instead of telling. An example is the strange yet atmospheric opening dream sequence that brings the inevitability of Ray’s survival to the forefront. It was a rare moment of introspection and artistry in a largely creatively empty season, but a quick moment of dialogue mars it by adding in a literal manifestation that is not only jarring but takes place in a scene where the dialogue ought to be completely unnecessary. I don’t know if it’s the result of Pizzolatto putting too much store in his words and not his actors, but he ought to take a page out of Game of Thrones’s playbook here and trust his actors enough to convey the emotional construct he’s going for without spelling it out to the audience.
That emotional construct is significantly jumbled here, underlined by the sheer lack of effort placed into the characterizations. I understand that I’m being a bit harsh here, but this is not simply an eight-episode season, it’s an eight-episode series. There simply isn’t the luxury of time here, frankly and the writers ought to be aware of that fact. For Ray, there’s a moment that works and a moment that doesn’t. The former is a nice moment with his wife where she offers him $10,000 to go away from their child’s life for everyone’s sake and his conscience doesn’t allow him to take it. The moment where Ray is told that he has his father’s hands, on the other hand, is a clear attempt to play into an emotional construct that doesn’t exist in any significant fashion to begin with. For Paul, there’s an attempt to give him more to do with his sexuality coming into question, but so far Kitsch has given him a singular expression and it doesn’t help. Frank is in extremely entertaining mode when he’s drawn back into his gangster life, but otherwise that fire dampens as if a monsoon dropped on it whenever there’s a scene in any different context. The most understandable character may be Ani, who’s so dedicated to her job that she doesn’t move out the way of an oncoming truck just so she could get a clear shot at a suspect. In that thrilling chase, True Detective approaches a beautiful mix of character and story and in doing so accidentally illuminates the plethora of weaknesses that came before it.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+There were a lot of accidental(?) meta jokes here, like the line centered around “overwrought” and “angsty cop drama”
+“Is medicine for my eyes” made me laugh a lot harder than anticipated
+Ani’s expression when she’s told to use her sexuality
+The Hollywood angle of the plot is quite nice
+Frank and the golden tooth
-“Collapse of civilization revenge flick.” Just made me think of this season as a whole and it didn’t help.
-If the director was a jab at Cary Fukunaga like it seems, it’s unprofessional and even otherwise it’s quite distracting
-Stan is dead. With his eyes taken out. And I care?
-Brought to you by American Sniper?
Title: Maybe Tomorrow
Written By: Nic Pizzolatto
Directed By: Janus Metz
Image Courtesy: Screen Crush