‘True Detective’ 2.01 Recap: “I Welcome Judgment”

It has been close to a year and a half since the first season of HBO’s ‘True Detective’ wrapped up, and it was one of the best first years of a TV series you’re going to find anywhere, past or present. Viewers knew from the beginning that ‘True Detective’ was an anthology series – with brand-new characters and actors (and a brand-new story) arriving with each new season – but after the highly disappointing premiere of Season 2, one has to wonder why HBO even bothered to bring back the series at all.

Gone are stars Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson and Michelle Monaghan, and in are Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch. Also gone is Season 1 director Cary Fukunaga, who has been replaced by Justin Lin (the director of a number of ‘Fast & Furious’ films and the upcoming ‘Star Trek’ sequel) for the first couple of episodes, followed by a number of others for the remainder of this 8-episode season. Almost immediately, the downgrade in quality is noticed, even in the opening credits, which have replaced The Handsome Family’s haunting “Far from Any Road” with the less interesting “Nevermind” by Leonard Cohen. Ironically, “nevermind” may be exactly the right reaction to this season premiere.

Season 2 replaces the Louisiana bayous with the twists and turns of congested roads in Southern California. The setting is the fictional town of Vinci. While the change in locale probably made production costs much cheaper for the show-runners (creator Nic Pizzolatto returns to once again pen all of Season 2’s episodes), it doesn’t help in distinguishing this new season from a dozen other crime dramas already on the air. Other than some interesting aerial shots of freeways and industrial locations, Season 2 (so far) lacks the visual appeal that fans got the first time around.

While I’ve never been a huge fan of Colin Farrell, it quickly becomes obvious that he’s the most interesting actor to watch in this new season. We’re first introduced to his character Detective Ray Velcoro, a divorced father, dropping his son off at his school. Ray’s son is a rather pudgy, out-of-shape redhead, and it’s apparent that the kid gets picked on daily at school and that Ray is concerned about his toughness. In the very next scene, we discover that Ray is much more concerned about something else. In a meeting with his lawyer over extending his visitation rights, we learn that Ray’s ex-wife had been raped, and Ray’s son may very well be the result of that sexual assault.

Vince Vaughn plays Frank Semyon, who is sort of the organized crime kingpin in Vinci. We learn of his connection with Velcoro quite early on. After his wife’s rape, a younger Velcoro enlisted Semyon’s aide to find out who assaulted her. Semyon provided Velcoro with the identity of the man in exchange for Velcoro’s help from time to time, and it seems as if the two men have had a working relationship ever since. As a viewer, I immediately thought that Frank may have ID’d someone who wasn’t guilty of the rape, but rather a person he just wanted to get rid of (or perhaps a false ID to protect someone he knew, maybe even himself), but after all the dead ends and red herrings that existed in the first season of ‘True Detective’, I’ve learned not to look for anything that creative in Nic Pizzolatto’s writing.

However, Velcoro isn’t the only cop who will play a major role in this new story. We also get a pair of other police officers to keep track of. The first is Rachel McAdams’ Ani Bezzerides, a deputy for the Sheriff’s office we first meet leading a raid on what she suspects to be a house of prostitution. It turns out that it’s not a whorehouse at all, but rather a perfectly legal and licensed establishment for women to perform on webcams for paying customers. The real reason Ani raided the place was to see what her sister, Athena (Leven Rambin), had gotten herself into. Ani thinks Athena is doing porn, but Athena insists it’s a legitimate way of making a living. The two sisters also have a rather quirky father (played by David Morse), who’s a long-haired hippie guru – the kind that you’ll only find in Southern California. His character is perhaps the most laughable in ‘True Detective’, and I suspect he only exists as a tool in which to spout off some of Pizzolatto’s more ridiculous bits of dialogue.

The other cop we’re introduced to is motorcycle patrolman Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), whom we first see pulling over an attractive blonde for speeding on the highway. The blonde is an actress who tries to get out of her ticket by luring Woodrugh back to her place for sex, only to have her turn around and accuse Paul of trying to solicit oral sex from her. Woodrugh winds up getting suspended by his captain until the situation is resolved, and returns home to his super-hot girlfriend – only to need to pop a Viagra and spend about 30 minutes in the bathroom before he can actually have sex with her. Later, we see Paul speeding down the highway at night on his motorcycle – doing about 100 miles an hour and then turning the headlights off to race blindly through the night. Yeah, this guy is pretty screwed up.

With the first episode doing so much to introduce us to these four characters (and how their paths cross), it was difficult to follow the set-up for this season’s main storyline, which involves the disappearance of Vinci’s city manager Ben Caspar, who’s supposed to be at a gathering Frank Semyon has set up, but never shows. We see Caspar in the back of a car (wearing dark sunglasses) throughout the episode, but it’s never made clear who’s doing the driving. When Paul blindly races his motorcycle at the end of the episode – and crashes it when he turns back on the lights – he comes across Caspar’s dead body propped up on the bench of a picnic table on the side of the road. His eyes appear to have been burned with some sort of acid. Both Velcoro and Bezzerides are called to the crime scene, and the first episode ends with the three main police officers getting together for the first time.

There is, of course, a lot of other stuff going on in this first episode, but I’m not sure how important any of it may be in the long run – other than to establish what kind of characters we’re dealing with. For example, there’s a segment where Velcoro goes to the home of a classmate of his son who was responsible for slashing up his kid’s expensive tennis shoes. Velcoro both cusses the kid out and beats the living daylights out of the kid’s father – which almost instantly assures that Velcoro is hated by the home audience.

In fact, that’s the biggest issue I have with this new season of ‘True Detective’. There’s not a likable character in the bunch. While Season 1’s Rust Cohle and Marty Hart certainly walked around with their demons, both men were worth rooting for. Here, however, we have four lead characters that seem to have very little in terms of redeemable qualities. Granted, that may change as the season goes on, but right now I care very little about any of these people or what may happen to them.

So what did all of you think? Am I totally off the mark (wouldn’t be the first time) or were you also tremendously disappointed by the Season 2 premiere?


  1. itjustWoRX

    The new opening credits are fine, I was expecting the same format as the first season…but that song is horrible. Ugh. I do have to say that I watched the episode as it premiered, and again a few hours later on demand. The second viewing was more enjoyable for me.

    The main problem with the pilot (which is basically what it is): too many characters. You go from having two cops and a whodoneit to four or five cops and some bad guys and a dead politician. And everyone is fucked up. Everyone’s pissed off and dark and gritty. The singing of Lera Lynn at the bar scene pounds that into your head even more, “This is my leeeast favorite liiiiffeee…”

    I do think things will settle into place. There is a story, we’re only ONE episode in. I think the people that are bashing this entirely new series the hardest are the ones that somehow expected it to be the same, if not better than the original. Well, Rust and Marty are gone. Only time will tell if Pizzolatto had anything left in the tank for this newest world.

    I went in with no expectations whatsoever. After the second viewing, my biggest disappointment was that damn intro song. The only time I found myself comparing this to the first season was when I thought about the last scene of S1E1 (You know…”the right fucking questions” line). Just about everybody watching thought to themselves, “Oh yeah…I’m tuning in next week.” Season 2 didn’t have one of those moments, but I’ll still be tuning in.

  2. cardpetree

    I found it interesting. I think it’s a little unfair to compare it to the first season of True Detective since not only was it a completely different show, but it was one of the best shows on TV of all time. I’m looking forward to the next episode and find myself wanting to get to know the main characters a little better.

  3. C.C.

    Good job. To save a nickel, you decided to shoot in L.A. and now you are nothing more than just ANOTHER L.A. cops procedural. You wen’t from special, to just another freakin cop show. Good job.
    And I hope people enjoy the inevitable Sepulveda dam and L.A. basin car chase that we have seen one billion times. I hope that saved money buys you True Detective: Miami.

    • I feel like people passed judgment on this season the second it was announced that it would film in California. The episode bends over backswards to shoot in seedy, industrial, out-of-the-way and non-scenic locations that don’t look anything like any other L.A. cop show.

    • Chris B

      To be fair, it’s not like the first season of True Detective was the only show to be set in the bayou. New Orleans in particular is a pretty popular setting for film and television these days.

  4. Anyway, I get the complaints about the characters not being very likable. That’s the reason I gave up on The Leftovers early. I just didn’t care about any of the people or what happened to them. However, it seems that people making that complaint about this episode greatly overstate or misremember how likable the characters in Season 1 were. Neither Hart nor Cohle were particularly sympathetic at first. Cohle in particular was basically a massive prick, and Hart had some pretty hateful behavior as well. It was only as the season progressed that we got to care more about them.

    I found the characters in the premiere interesting, at the very least, which is way more than I could say for The Leftovers. I also like that the story is more focused on political corruption than just another serial killer.

    I really don’t understand the hatred this episode has received. Is it as good as Season 1? Maybe not, but it’s far too soon to cast that judgment yet. I didn’t see anything “terrible” in it, which is a word being thrown around an awful lot. It really feels like people had already made up their minds to hate it before the first trailer even aired.

  5. I’m a little confused, Josh. You said you were “tremendously disappointed”, but then you don’t understand the hatred. You’re defending something you were tremendously disappointed with? 🙂

  6. Chris B

    It’s kind of interesting that everyone loved the first episode last season and then were mostly let down by the finale. Maybe this season will have the opposite trajectory and finish a lot stronger than the last one. I for one would prefer a show take a few episodes to find it’s groove and go out at it’s peak, rather than the other way around…

    • Maybe…critics who got the episodes in advance say the first two are pretty bad and the next two are better…we’ll see. I’m in for the full season, so I hope all my Sunday nights aren’t like this last one.

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