A Visual Annotation: ‘True Detective’ Season 2 Episode 1

By Dave Pezza

Daniel Ford has wanted me to talk about how I annotate in the margin of books I am currently reading; instead I gave him this—a visual annotation of the first episodes of the second season of “True Detective.” Each post will be my reaction and musings about an episode of true detective.  I've never seen a second of this show before now. So I thought it fitting to start with the second season and work my way backwards.

Books and shows are not about sitting back and being transported into a fake world with fake people with no ties to real life. It’s about conversing with other people as a writer and a reader/watcher. It’s about taking those emotions and observations and processing them into change or knowledge. Annotating has always been my initial response to art. Maybe you’ll like it and maybe you won’t. In either case, here are my thoughts on episode 1 of season 2 of "True Detective." Warning: Spoilers ahead!

All right, so let’s talk about the James Bond-esque opening credits. I want to like it really badly, but I’m not feeling it yet. Although I’m totally going to find the Leonard Cohen song (it’s called “Nevermind”). Writer Nic Pizzolatto throws us right into it; Colin Farrell’s character trying to do right by his probably not son years after his wife was beaten and raped. Pizzolatto is already setting up some good character development devices; here, for instance, where Farrell’s character wants to exchange voice recorders with his son, a sort of audio correspondence. That’ll definitely come in handy for some killer monologue later on (I was right!). I have to admit I love a well worked in monologue. Maybe it’s those Shakespeare classes from college.

Farrell’s character has a gritty feel, a look he’s really good with. But this character seems different, darker than I can ever remember him. Pseudo-dirty cop might seem to on the nose for him, but I already dig it.

Yes! God I am so excited to see Vince Vaughan in this show. He’s the whole reason I decided to check it out. I don’t think for a moment this show is outside of his range. You ever see him as Norman Bates in that remake of Psycho? Creepy as fuck. Pizzolatto decides to give us our first look at Vaughan as not a real, whole villain. He’s helping Farrell out, albeit to get Farrell under the payroll while killing a man in the process. Then again “this filth” did beat and rape Farrell’s wife. And if drama has taught me anything, it’s that singular acts of evil cannot go unpunished, otherwise the framework of the microcosm that the writer has tried to enclose us in totally fails. Vaughn’s wife is a hottie too! I am guessing that’s his weakness, especially since that’s how we are introduced to him, defining Farrell’s wife, a reflection of his relationship with his own wife.

My sense of Vaughn is exactly what Pizzolatto is probably going for: a brooding, serious man who is venturing into something new, laying everything on the line for something grand. Honestly, I think Vaughn’s killing it so far.

Butt stuff! Wow. Really. That’s how we get introduced to Rachel McAdams. Butt stuff. Jesus, HBO. And the over the top effeminate boyfriend to top it off! “Oh, how do we show that a female character is hard? Let’s make her a man.”

And naturally she is paired up with a Hispanic male partner, because you know they go together, because neither of them are white males. Just saying. Pizzolatto seems a little lazy here. And the crazy younger sister is a bit much, maybe not as much as the whacked out, hippie father that named her Antigone, a name which I am supposed to read into more than I will. I hate putting too much stock in character names. No real person has had the luxury of being appropriately named for the poetic circumstances of their life’s drama.

And who is this Paul Walker-looking dude. I’m really not interested in his tacked on story, even though he’s getting one of the top bills. It could be that I’ve just simply gotten tired of the young-white-guy-with-angst-issues character arch. Oh no, does that mean I’m maturing… Ugh, I better pour some more bourbon. Did he take the blowjob, did he not take the blowjob, and I’m supposed to feel sorry for the guy because he has erectile dysfunction? Nah, gimmie more Vaughn…who just stared down some mob attorney like a badass! Now I’m the one with a boner. 

Vaughn is a man keeping it together, slowly coming undone at the seams. I am not sure there is a better way to unleash a villain’s anger throughout a story. And Ferrell is a perfectly foil for Vaughn. A dirty cop at his wick’s end whose sense of right and wrong has him so screwed he’s beating down a reporter and father of a 12-year-old vs. a career criminal who maintains a moral high ground that’s quickly eroding away as he grasps at life in the legitimate. Damn. I just sold myself on this whole season.

I haven’t yet mentioned anything of the plot, but not because it is thin. It’s thin in a good way, the way good noir detective stories should be. There is shit and evil and muck and blurred moral compasses everywhere, but it’s the individual cases and circumstances of these machinations and the men and women who attempt to stop them or cause them that gets me. Plot can be hard-nosed, brittle and difficult to navigate as a writer and reader/watcher, but, when characters are slippery and fickle like real people, they fill in the gaps with their own twists and turns. I’m also glad we are back to hating journalists and have stopped canonizing cops in this show. That’s a world I can only vaguely recall from old movies. I miss it so. Pizzolatto does well there. People can be good and people can be bad, no matter profession or race.

Highlight of the episode is the bar scene between Vaughn and Farrell. They just sit and look at each other for what must have been an hour. The director earned his whole salary right here. I’m terribly impressed with it. Vaughn and Farrell know that their arrangement has grown stale and superficial, and with it their tacit friendship. But it feels like they both so badly want it to endure somehow. That there was something there once, like childhood friends who just don’t get along like they once did. And all of this is beautifully narrated by the folk singer’s song in the back ground. I found this song on the official show soundtrack (which was recorded from scratch) get it, because it is dangerously addictive: "My Least Favorite Life" by Lera Lynn. Interesting tidbit, Lynn was cast to perform the song in the episode.

On the other hand, I’m not sure Pizzolatto nails the ending. I mean it is clear he wants us to see that all these characters are alike and connected in some way. Vaughn and Farrell’s friendship. Vaughn and McAdams with their coffee mug scenes. McAdams and Farrell’s fetish for getting shitfaced on whiskey (join the club). The only one I can’t place is Paul Walker’s look-a-like, other than the fact I’m pretty sure he is shacking up with the missing 24-year-old woman. I guess I have seven more episodes for him. But all in all, Pizzolatto sets the stage pretty well, bringing them all together even with their vastly different jurisdictions.

Line of the Episode: “You ever bully or hurt anyone again, I’ll come back and butt fuck your father with your mom’s headless corpse on the goddamn lawn.”—Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell)