True Detective is back, and it’s been a while.
Let’s face it: even the most generous assessment of season two will admit it was a let-down from season one. It wasn’t horrible television. It was just a disappointment. To a certain extent, it would almost have to be. I think part of the problem was season one focused all its attention basically on two characters while season two divided it between four, and of those four, one didn’t do much and another was poorly cast. It was still actually a good mystery. It just had too many people working the case, so to speak, and True Detective may be more about the procedural aspects of solving a crime and the messed up people tasked with doing so than it is about solving the crime itself.
So, how to solve the problems of season two? Well, there’s two crucial differences here. First off, creator Nic Pizzolatto wrote or co-wrote every episode of the season this time around. Second, the focus is set squarely on a single character: Arkansas State Police Detective Wayne Hays, as played by Mahershala Ali.
And you know something…I’m pleased as punch to see Ali in the staring role. The guy’s good, with a commanding screen presence that I’m not sure his best known work has ever truly taken advantage of. Heck, all the stuff he’s gotten Oscar nominations and victories for were for Best Supporting Actor.
And taking another page from season one, we have multiple timelines. But this isn’t a pair of detectives discussing a case from over a decade before that eventually catches up to that “present” time frame for the solution; here we see three. We have Wayne with his partner Roland (Stephen Dorff) in 1980 investigating the sudden, mysterious disappearance of a brother and a sister. Then we have Wayne in 1990 answering questions from investigators about that same case only to learn there are new details out there. And finally, we have an elderly Wayne in 2015 or so being interviewed about the case for some kind of documentary. And as an added twist, Old Wayne has some memory problems. He’s a haunted man, missing his dead wife Amelia (Carmen Ejogo), a woman he met in the 1980 time frame, and something isn’t sitting right.
Oh, and he’s a Vietnam vet who worked as a tracker in the jungle, specializing in finding things while working alone.
Considering Wayne in 1990 said he tends to assume everyone is lying until proven otherwise, we can see that old True Detective pessimism combined with a powerful, charismatic central performance. I think I’m gonna like this right now.
But it’s only been one episode so far.