not in our stars, but in ourselves
Some sketches of thoughts I’ve had throughout these first three episodes of the second season. Spoilers ahead, obviously:
– While last night’s episode (“Maybe Tomorrow”) seems to have changed their collective hivemind, TV critics were acting like they were personally betrayed by the fact that season two isn’t season one. Not that it wasn’t as good – just that it wasn’t the same thing. I don’t understand how these people are paid professionals, but who asked me. I’m just some loser with a blog. (Notable exceptions to my contempt for/jealousy of paid internet critics: Grantland and Vox have been pretty consistently thoughtful, interesting, and critical without being dismissive.)
– All of that being said: no, this season isn’t as good as the first one. It’s not bad – not yet – but it’s clearly got some performance anxiety. I don’t mind, and I won’t hold any of that against this season. It’s trying to be a California noir, with all sorts of levels of conspiracy knotted together, and as long as it succeeds in that aim, I’ll consider it a season well spent. However, I do miss Cary Fukunaga’s surefire sense of what works and what doesn’t work onscreen. I’d never consider myself an auteurist, but I appreciate when the director knows what he’s doing, and guides the material – acting, writing, cinematography, score, etc. – towards a cohesive whole. This season, I think, suffers on a couple of counts, none of them damning, but potentially troublesome: first, we don’t have one sure hand guiding this season. We had Justin Lin for the first two episodes, and now Janus Metz Pedersen for the third. I have yet to see any of Lin’s claim to fame (some movies in the Fast and Furious franchise), but I felt distinctly aware that Nic Pizzolatto – the writer – was the one calling all the shots. If he wants that kind of total control, he should stick to writing novels, or learn to direct. His writing isn’t bad during this season (although his more extensive speeches, thoughts, monologues, soliloquies, etc., found a much more natural home in Rust Cohle than they’ve found anywhere in this grimy version of Los Angeles and its cops and robbers) – but a surer director would have been a help. Pedersen’s episode last night was pretty good, for the most part; I especially liked the David Lynch vibes of Velcoro’s dream sequence. (I had initially called it as a Twin Peaks homage, but others better versed in Lynch have leaned more towards Mulholland Drive. Something like that, anyway.) Whoever directs the next five episodes will, I hope, stay faithful to the spirit of Pizzolatto’s writing without letting it fence him (or her, idk) in.
– There are signs of hope. I do find our detectives – Ray Velcoro, Ani Bezzerides, and Paul Woodrugh – interesting in their own right, without paling in comparison to Rust and Marty. (Well, everyone pales in comparison to Rust, but that’s just a fact of life.) Ray wasn’t all that interesting to me until last night’s episode, when he quit drinking and started focusing. He seems to be aware that he’s never been what you might call “natural police” – but if he can’t be any better than a mediocrity, he seems to want to make himself useful, finally. Ani is obviously Pizzolatto’s attempt to prove that he can write “strong” female characters; strong she is, albeit perhaps not as complex as he’d like to think. Still, she’s compelling enough, and I respect the show for not making too much of an issue of her womanhood so far: i.e., she’s not suddenly all dolled up and using her pretty face and slammin’ bod to rattle perps’ minds. That’s always the most tired trick a police procedural can play, and so many of them play it. Kudos to Pizzolatto for resisting that trope thus far. Woodrugh is another bold move by Pizzolatto, writing a tortured gay man, and we’ll see how his arc plays out. My guess is in disgrace with a rent boy (a term I very much prefer to the dull American “hustler” or just plain “male prostitute”), but I hope it’s not going in quite such an obvious direction.
– On that female note: I realize I am almost always a feminist killjoy, but I disagreed with criticisms of season one and its imaginary “woman problem.” Season one was about two cops hunting for a serial killer. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Louisiana law enforcement were, largely, a boys’ club. (Not exactly a southern-only phenomenon.) Marty’s wife, Maggie, wasn’t the star of the show – but that didn’t make her one-note or badly written. She was smart, feisty, tough, and not afraid to give Marty a taste of his own medicine before she sent him packing. I’m glad we have a female lead this time around, but I hope she’s not just there to be A Female Lead.
– I am not surprised to report that, while Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, and Taylor Kitsch have all been basically fine thus far, Vince Vaughn is the weak link. He used to be a good actor, I hear. I’ve yet to see it. His fight scene last night, despite ending with him prying the gold teeth out of some foe or other, was about as convincing and compelling as Britney’s dancing. The Awl called it nearly a year ago, when HBO announced that he was one of the two leads:
Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell? All your dreams came true, except they’re the dreams where your face gets sucked into the drain at the bottom of the pool. I mean if they wanted a guy that looks like Vince Vaughn but can act, they should have gone with Jon Favreau. I feel like these dudes are expecting to have a McConaissance. There is no Vaugnaissance happening.
Nope. Still not happening.
– I really do like the new opening credits. Songs from the devil’s point of view = usually pretty good.
– I miss Rust 😦