The Winners and Losers of True Detective Season Two

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Left: winner. Right: neutral. Photo: Lacey Terrell/HBO

Sunday night's True Detective finale tied up the seasons' convoluted plotlines but ultimately struggled to find emotional resonance from its various characters. What kinds of adventures will Jordan and Ani have in Venezuela? Eesh. As we review their arcs throughout season two, some clear winners and losers emerge. Let's take a look.

WINNERS:

Photo: Lacey Terrell/HBO

Season one of True Detective. Suddenly, all the shortcomings of that season have melted into obscurity. McConaughey! Harrelson! Oh, boy, we had some good times back then. 

Colin Farrell. Farrell hasn't been in anything big or good in a while (oy, Winter's Tale), but he was solid here, swimming nobly against the current of stifling grandiosity that drowned much of the rest of the show. Farrell's decrepit Ray Velcoro was a dirtbag and a monster, but he had his moments, like in "Omega Station," as he tried not to crack a smile while talking to Ani on the phone. Their relationship was profoundly underdeveloped, and yet in that little gesture we got so much personality and dimension from Farrell. It's not a McConaissance, but what is?

Leonard Cohen. The opening song — slightly tweaked for every single episode — is probably the most stylish thing about this whole season.

Cary Fukunaga. There were some interesting directors this season, but the overall lack of cohesion coupled with some crummy acting choices make Fukunaga's stunning work in season one even more special in comparison.

Nic Pizzolatto. Either season three is a wild masterpiece and everyone writes the "how Nic Pizzolatto grew up" story, or it's a big mess and he continues not to give a shit. Pizzolatto was defensive about the mostly well-received season one; imagine his fury now. This only makes him stronger.

Noir. So many people talking about noir! It's fun to be a genre.

LOSERS:

Photo: Lacey Terrell/HBO

HBO. And not because they aired this. Because now they're in an impossible position: Does the brass force Pizzolatto to use a writers room and follow more traditional show-building strategies, given that this season was a creative swing-and-a-miss? Or does that totally compromise the network's reputation as a creative safe haven, and make other possible showrunners wary?

Taylor Kitsch. Tim Riggins is what brought Taylor Kitsch into our hearts, so let his pillars guide us: Kitsch needs more roles that include warmth, humor, depth, and an edge of naughtiness. Ice-cold closeted war criminal with a death wish and a motorcycle? Oof.

Kelly Reilly. Oh, boy. Let us simply say that this was not a great match of performer and material. Farewell, Jordan.

Vince Vaughn. Frank's overwrought monologues, robotic interactions with his wife, and paeans to characters we'd met one time, plus the character's ultimate remoteness, exemplify the season's shortcomings. A hundred Jack Nicholsons making a hundred wishes with a hundred genies to be a hundred times the actor he is could not have brought life to these horrible lines; the failures of this season are not Vaughn's fault. But he's the literal face of those failures nonetheless.

NEUTRAL:

Rachel McAdams. We were all already pro–Rachel McAdams. This didn't hurt the cause, necessarily, but there was no real spark to Ani Bezzerides, no wit. Can McAdams play sad and gritty? Sure. But this isn't an example of it.