In Review

True Detective: are viewers just waiting for the orgy scene?

Episode five of pulp saga gets 'darker, weirder and deeper' – and that's no bad thing, say critics

Spoiler alert: this story contains spoilers for the second season of True Detective

Episode five of True Detective, Other Lives, has aired to mixed reviews from critics, with some saying the series has finally found its feet, others still unimpressed, and some just waiting for the orgy scene.

In the Daily Telegraph, Ed Power writes that the past month has been like a "trek through the desert" for True Detective fans. The pulp saga, he says, has tested viewers with a "plot that's fruitier than a hamper of organic jams".

The crisis came last week, says Power, with episode four's cheesy gun battle, in which True Detective 2.0 seemed "poised to fritter away the last of the goodwill generated through its stunning first season".

Anyone whose loyalty survived that, says Power, has been rewarded with the fifth instalment. "After endless slouching and navel-gazing, True Detective is finally picking up speed."

Yes, series creator Nic Pizzolatto seems to have pushed the reboot button, says Gwilym Mumford in The Guardian. After last week's bloodbath, "the faltering drama has burst back into life".

The shift has reignited a spark of interest in this sophomore series, says Mumford. "Things are getting darker, weirder and deeper, and that's no bad thing."

On Digital Spy, Emma Dibdin is unconvinced. If nothing else good came of last week's shootout, she says, at least we're finally rid of Ray Velcoro's (Colin Farrell) moustache.

Dibdin admits that there has been a narrative shift and the main characters now have more interesting storylines. Ani, for example, has been demoted, prompting her to re-focus on the missing girls we've been hearing about since episode one.

"But at this point," Dibdin asks, "do we really care?"

There is one reason to keep tuning in to Nic Pizzolatto's "headache-inducing maze of highway shots, pained stares, gloomy bar ballads, and a batshit plot", says Marlow Stern on the Daily Beast. Apart from the performances of Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams, "a weird orgy awaits".

Next week we'll be treated to McAdams going undercover at a sex party featuring what the Hollywood Reporter has called "a colossal orgy sequence" involving "dozens of naked bodies," and several lithe porn stars.

That's reason enough, to keep watching, says Stern. And to be fair, he adds, "despite its myriad faults, this second season of True D is hilarious and utterly watchable."

True Detective season two: can cult show recapture the magic?

22 June

HBO's hit crime drama series True Detective returns to television screens this week. The series, which lured audiences with a brooding noirish tale of two troubled hard-drinking cops on the trail of a serial killer when it first aired last year, will feature a new cast and story for its second season. So what can viewers expect?

True Detective is the creation of novelist and former literature professor turned screenwriter Nic Pizzolato. The first series, starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, was a hit with audiences and many critics who called it one of the best television series of 2014. 

Although the new season shares the "brooding atmosphere" of the first, says the Radio Times, the anthology format means series two has "a completely separate story, with a whole new cast, plot and location". 

The new eight-episode drama, set in Los Angeles, follows the story of a Californian motorcycle cop (Taylor Kitsch), who discovers the body of a dead city official, setting in motion an investigation involving police and criminal collusions.

It stars Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams as two officers drawn into the investigation, and Vince Vaughn as a shady entrepreneur whose business partner has been killed. Cary Fukunaga, who directed the first series with his signature darkly saturated visual style, has also been replaced by Fast and Furious director Justin Lin.

In the Daily Telegraph Benjamin Secher writes that Pizzolato has made "a triumphant return". He says Farrell's "burnt out, soul sick cop" Ray Velcoro, is comparable to McConaughey's Rustin Cohle from the first series, and his performance is "magnetic".

The closest we come to a good guy is a woman, says Secher. McAdam's Ani Bezzerides is a drinking, smoking, knife-carrying cop with a grudge against the world. She may be a response to the criticism that the first series lacked strong female characters, notes Secher – or is she a male character in disguise? Either way, says Secher, McAdams brings "a vividness to the role", that brings a much needed flash of energy to offset the others' malaise.

Secher adds that "whether or not this heady concoction appeals to you will largely depend on your willingness to join Pizzolatto's cast of broken individuals on the road to hell". 

Others are not so sure. In Digital Spy, Emma Dibdin writes that the new series is "by the numbers" and a "disappointment".

Where season one's "dual timelines transformed its central murder mystery into a shrewd exploration of storytelling", unreliable narration and the lies people tell, says Dibdin, there is no such structural nuance in season two. Dibdin says at best it's "a watchable potboiler", and at worst "a clunky and self-important mockery of its former self".

The New York Times says the three main officers are played by "engaging actors" but in the first episode they seemed "less like actual people than varying shades of the type of broken folks who solve crimes on television, because it's the only thing they know how to do".

Unlike with McConaughey, who turned out to be the "perfect conduit for Rust Cohle's highfalutin philosospeak", Pizzolatto's lines sounded "very much like a second language" in the mouth of Vince Vaughn's character Frank. "Mr Vaughn's live-wire intelligence, potent enough to enliven even dumb comedies, simply doesn't mesh with self-consciously hard-boiled lines like 'worries me, you talkin' so stupid'," says the newspaper.

Time magazine concludes that the new series "loses the novelty of the show's first outing and highlights the weaknesses". However, it says the set-up – of three cops with three agendas investigating the same case – has strong possibilities.

"This could have been better, and might be yet."

  • True Detective begins at 9pm on Monday 22 June on Sky Atlantic in the UK

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