Almost True Detective


Like many, I wanted True Detective, Season Two, to be a masterpiece to match Season One. I wanted it so much that, like a horrible boyfriend with a superior intellect, I made excuse after excuse for the impossible-to-track plot. "His intentions are good!" "But I loooove him (TRUEly)." "It's leading somewhere" -- NOT to me twitching and checking my cellphone as if I have Tourette's and blurting "You don't understand him" at inappropriate intervals. And not to me cribbing Slate's plot synopsis before the finale, because I could not remember who was who, where we were, and why. When I watch The Wire, or any of David Simon's work, I relax into the confusion, because I know Simon has everything in hand, and, if I trust the storyteller, it will pay off. Omar is always coming. With TD2, I tried to live in the story moment, but, much as I hate to say it aloud, I wound up with a mind full of meh.

Disappointment is flabby and cruel. TD2 is done, and I feel as if I ate a hunk of papier-mache sushi out of a restaurant display case.

[Exception: the extraordinary shoot-out scene at the end of Episode Four should be required watching for all TV writers.]

There was so much to love. The thought wrinkles between Bezzerides' eyes as the noose tightened around her and her cohorts. Velcoro's bond with his (or maybe not his) kid - a holy relationship that a lesser writer would have taken in any of a number of more stereotypical directions. The empty David Lynchian bar with the sad singer that, for me, was story home base. The arial shots of bleak California cloverleafs, unsung lives, and toxic wastelands - so Chinatown. And Taylor Kitsch. (Long live Tim Riggins.) Taylor Kitsch's tortured sexuality. Oh and Taylor Kitsch - I mean, Woodrugh.

One of my acting teachers used to nail me with a code we had. "You're playing the quality," she'd caution. It meant I was feeling really awesome and act-y in my scenework. I was conscious of the way I thought I came across, and it was Tony time in my mind. Only it never was. When I feel like I'm going over great, it's a guarantee that I'm not coming across at all. I'm not really in it. I haven't gone to the place from which good work is made. We had that code - an acting safe word - and when Zina said "playing the quality," I knew how to open the trap door and drop into that raw and real source, where it became impossible to feel myself coming across the footlights, because I was looking out of my character's own story. It's the same when I write.

True Detective, Season Two was a spectacular example of playing the quality. But I look forward to another season, because I appreciate the anthology structure, and I am enamored by the broken beauty of Pizzolatto's characters. They hold. We kept watching, after all. And the disappointment wouldn't have been so deep if we hadn't been invested. I'd watch again, just for Bezzerides' thought wrinkles. And the ginger kid. And Taylor Kitsch.

My hope is that HBO gives Nic Pizzolatto the chance to open that trap door and return to the place where he found Rust Cohle and Marty Hart's story. That's his sweet spot. It takes trust to write from there. Maybe the difference was writing with the acceptance that what you are building may never get made, and the conviction that that doesn't matter, as long as it's true.

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© 2015 Leslie Nipkow