This season of True Detective has the impossible task of living up to the reputation of season one — a mixed reputation, sure, but a looming one. So far, not so good. While creator Nic Pizzolatto's stylized dialogue often felt sparkling or poetic coming from Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, Vince Vaughn often makes it seem like a parody of masculinity. (It helped that Rust's philosophical musings were tempered by Marty's irritation.) We're now at the halfway mark of the season, and it's completely possible that the next four episodes will set everything right, weave together the disparate strands of the season, and make some strange acting choices seem more correct. Let that hope keep us going.
But let another hope also keep us going, and that is for a better season three. HBO hasn't renewed the series yet, but it would be crazy not to. Pizzolatto has said he can't imagine the show going more than three seasons, so this still-imaginary next season could be TD's last. Based on the first two seasons of True Detective, what are the essential elements necessary to ensure a solid season three?
More creepy mask stuff. It's possible to find everything else about this season bloated and blah and still take one look at that creepy bird head thing and think, wow. That is some A+ weirdness. Literal masks were also a big part of season one, leading to some of that season's most memorable (and disturbing) images. Thus, season three should be set in Mask City, USA. Gas masks, bird masks, the masks of our own shitty identities, Halloween masks, death masks, face masks, everything. Do it up. Mask with impunity.
More driving around. Inside a car is where many of the best conversations on the show, and in life, happen, and that's because it's a unique environment: It's public and private at once, so our characters are themselves and less guarded, though not quite as sadly shabby as they are when alone. Plus TD likes to play with space and distance, both of which lend themselves to car-oriented storytelling.
More jokes. Season one of TD often displayed a cheeky sense of humor, which is largely and painfully absent from this season. It's not going to be a night at the Chuckle Hut, but even pervs, drunks, and gangsters have senses of humor.
Bring back Cary Fukunaga. It's … extremely unlikely. But TD3 would at least benefit from having the same director for every episode, setting a consistent tone and pace, zeroing in on the emotional through lines for our characters, and navigating mood better. This season has plenty of premise, many clearly drawn characters, and a reasonable amount of plot. It's missing a sense of life within it, though, a spark or a breath. Too many scenes feel like twisted dioramas rather than a living, moving story.
Throw in a courtship. TD has a very sour take on love and romance. In season one, we saw the rot really take hold in Marty and Maggie's relationship, which eventually affected Marty and Rust's partnership. This season we're at different points on the relationship timeline: Woodrugh's convincing himself to stay in the closet and get married to a woman; Semyon's marriage is strained and does not seem like a healthy, supportive environment into which one ought to bring a child; and Velcoro's marriage has already decayed and dissolved. You can't get extra divorced (… can you?), but TD could turn its skeptical gaze on the earlier parts of a relationship — what should be the butterflies phase — but instead in the True Detective realm would become something more sinister.
Keep the title designers. Obviously. These titles are gold.