In September, HBO announced that Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn would play lead roles in the highly anticipated second season of “True Detective.” Farrell is detective Ray Velcoro, who negotiates between his corrupt police bosses and mobster Frank Semyon (Vaughn), who has his claws in Velcoro as he fights to stay in control of his empire. Today, the network confirmed three new additions to the cast: Rachel McAdams, as principled Ventura County Sheriff’s detective Ani Bezzerides; Taylor Kitsch, as Paul Woodrugh, a war veteran and highway patrolman trying to escape his troubled past; and Kelly Reilly as Semyon’s wife, Jordan, a former D-list actress.
Over season two’s eight episodes, Velcoro, Bezzerides, and Woodrugh unravel the conspiracy surrounding the the murder of Semyon’s legit business partner. Justin Lin (“Fast & Furious”) will direct the first two episodes. Production is now underway in California. Six months removed from the mystery anthology’s freshman run, the second season of “True Detective” finally seems to be coming into focus. Here’s a rundown of what we know, what’s merely rumored, and what we want from the next installment of “True Detective.”
Louisiana-born writer and series creator Nic Pizzolatto had a rough summer. He came off preening and thin-skinned in The Hollywood Reporter’s August profile, dismissing trenchant criticism of the first season’s tendency to deploy women’s bodies as little more than set decoration. (The oh-so-serious photos accompanying the story didn’t help.) Scholars Mike Davis and Jon Padgett accused Pizzolatto of plagiarizing horror writer Thomas Ligotti, particularly with regard to Det. Rust Cohle’s cosmic despair, charges that Pizzolatto denies. And at the Emmys, the series lost out to “Breaking Bad” for Drama, Lead Actor, and Writing.
As I wrote in defense of “True Detective” in February, however, Pizzolatto’s densely allusive style, a Faulknerian ramble through literature, philosophy, and the supernatural, made the series unlike anything else on television: “rich Southern Gothic for our premium-cable age.” Fittingly enough, then, director Cary Joji Fukunaga provided the one Primetime Emmy bright spot for “True Detective,” winning for work that adapted the Gothic romanticism of his superb “Jane Eyre” to the languid, overgrown landscapes of the Louisiana bayou. Though Fukunaga will remain attached to “True Detective” as an executive producer, according to THR, he won’t be in the director’s chair — instead, he’s returning to film with child solider drama “Beasts of No Nation,” starring Idris Elba.
It’s clear that Pizzolatto will continue to be the series’ guiding force — he’s once again writing all eight episodes — but the directorial speculation surrounding “True Detective” suggests that the aesthetic envisioned for season two is still in flux. We do know that there will be multiple directors this time around, a logistical necessity that could threaten the remarkable thematic and stylistic coherence Pizzolatto and Fukunaga achieved in season one. For a time, the rumored interest in William Friedkin (“The Exorcist,” “Bug”) held out the promise that “True Detective” would further embrace its undercurrent of psychological horror, but hiring Lin for the first two episodes may indicate a less ruminative approach. (Former object of speculation Andrew Dominik, who directed “The Assassination of Jesse James” and “Killing Them Softly,” had a scheduling conflict.)
Lin is a talented technician of high-octane action, and if we trust HBO exec Michael Lombardo’s comments at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour, in which he called the first two scripts of season two “more exciting than the first season,” the choice may make some sense. But while Lin’s work on NBC’s “Community” displayed a certain creative flexibility, the lion’s share of his prior experience seems ill suited to Pizzolatto’s narrative slow burn. I, for one, would love to see Michelle Maclaren, who’s handled dark, complex material with aplomb on “Breaking Bad,” “Game of Thrones,” and “The Leftovers,” take the reins for a few episodes, but that’s just wishful thinking.
The new season is set in California, but Pizzolatto and company have been tight-lipped when it comes to the details. HBO’s logline is similarly opaque: “Three police officers and a career criminal must navigate a web of conspiracy in the aftermath of a murder.”
We’ll see if the most extensive description thus far — from an unsourced report by Film Divider’s Charles Madison, relating a present-day tale with echoes of “Chinatown” — comes true. He described the murder of a California city manager that sets in motion a mystery involving rampant corruption in the construction of a high-speed rail link between Northern and Southern California. By Madison’s account, the protagonists include an angry, cocaine-fueled law enforcement official (presumably, Farrell’s Ray Velcoro), a younger highway patrolman “suspended for sexually exploiting a young woman he pulled over,” and a thirtysomething female sheriff with alcohol and gambling problems.
It’s impossible to assess the veracity of Madison’s article, but I will say that it does sound very “True Detective”: damaged, possibly dangerous cops; a Hydra-like conspiracy; an interest in playing with the conventions of well-established genres, like film noir; a firmly rooted sense of place.
As expected, it’s in the realm of casting that the “True Detective” rumor mill has churned into full gear, with the likes of Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Christian Bale, Michael Fassbender, and Cate Blanchett all mentioned at one time or another — usually with little more than gossip and cinephile fantasy as sources. That said, the cast is rounding into shape.
When rumors of Farrell’s involvement first emerged, Indiewire TV critic Ben Travers lamented the development as “a significant step down from the first season’s Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning leads.” I’m not as sour on Farrell as Travers: the actor turned in effective performances as raffish toughs in the ensemble drama “Intermission” (2003) and Martin McDonagh’s underrated dark comedy “In Bruges” (2008), and like Clive Owen on “The Knick,” he’s challenging himself with a meaty television role in an attempt to revive his career. With the films “Miss Julie,” “Solace,” and “The Lobster” all in post-production, “True Detective” may become the emblem of a fruitful era for Farrell: just look what the series did for Matthew McConaughey.
Deadline was right that Vaughn (another star in need of saving) was the likeliest choice for the third male lead; they reported that Pizzolatto wrote the character with Vaughn in mind. Though the actor’s career has lately devolved into self-caricature — in just about every film he’s appeared in since “Wedding Crashers,” he’s amplified his wild-eyed, chattering persona to the point of annoyance — there’s a jowly, unscrupulous aspect to Vaughn that might shine in a more villainous role.
While Garrett Hedlund had been rumored as a contender for the role of the highway patrolman, the role went to Kitsch, whom Hollywood just won’t stop trying to turn into a star. The face of big-budget flops “Battleship” and “John Carter,” the weakest link in HBO’s excellent “The Normal Heart” — he practically disappeared up against tremendous work by Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, and Julia Roberts — Kitsch has yet to prove himself in either Justin Lin-style action fare or passion projects by mercurial writers (like Pizzolatto and “The Normal Heart” scribe Larry Kramer).
Last but certainly not least, McAdams is a strong choice for the female lead, beating out the likes of Elisabeth Moss, Malin Akerman, and Jessica Biel, all of whom were the subject of casting speculation. Though Moss (“Mad Men,” “The One I Love,” “Listen Up Philip”) is one of the most talented actresses out there, it would be hard to top her performance as Det. Robin Griffin in Jane Campion’s “Top of the Lake,” which garnered Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe awards last year. The versatile, charismatic McAdams, having grown perhaps too comfortable in soapy romances (“The Notebook,” “The Vow”) and slight comedies (“Morning Glory”), can sink her teeth into a hardened sheriff unearthing high-level conspiracies: she excelled as a journalist in 2009’s thrilling “State of Play,” a sort of modern take on “All the President’s Men,” and as an immigration lawyer in this summer’s “A Most Wanted Man.”
However the second season shakes out, I’m already counting the days.