Did Season Two of True Detective frustrate us on purpose?

I’ve enjoyed Season Two of True Detective. I may be in the minority…. Articles like this (Wired) and this (Digital Spy) outline some of the mixed audience and critic reactions to the season.

One of the big criticisms has been that the ‘who’s who’ and ‘what’s what’ of the show has been difficult to follow. (A quick search for “True Detective Season Two explanation” will generate quite a few hits.)

However, as I was reading the criticism and reflecting on some of the season’s imagery I started to wonder if that confusion is exactly the point.

Dave Tach, the author of this article (Polygon), shares some of my thinking (and/or vice versa) in that I don’t think all of those shots of the layered, intersecting, interweaving yet separate L.A. freeways are purely there to establish location. I wonder if they may in fact have directly inspired the structure of this season.

After breaking down the opening titles Tach focuses in on the title card and writes:

“The show’s name superimposed over a rat’s nest of cloverleaf onramps and offramps implies much, but perhaps nothing as strong as intersection. If you think of us as viewers, the people behind the camera at any given moment, peering into this world, this shot sums up our role perfectly. We watch from above and outside as the characters travel and intersect.”

Although Tach is mainly focused here on the symbolic idea of intersection and the perspective of the audience (a reading of the titles that I find very persuasive) I’m also struck by the idea from the point of view of the script and the construction of the storyworld via these separate, overlapping characters.

Looked at in these ways commentary and criticism such as this: “I maintain that just because this season went so far off the rails, doesn’t mean that subsequent potential stories under the True Detective umbrella will be this meandering and pointless.” (K.M. McFarland, Wired) can perhaps be re-interpreted as a response to the deliberate, effective communication of that structure (rather than a response to a failure or weakness in the storytelling). Meaning that that frustration, that ‘stuck in traffic that doesn’t appear to be going anywhere’ feeling may have been intentionally invoked.

It’s interesting too to consider the mention of the season going “off the rails” in light of the storyline about the things that are sacrificed and endangered in the pursuit of the high speed rail line. If the story had been simplified, if the transit from point to point had been streamlined, would Season Two of True Detective have given us the high speed rail line way of travelling instead of the messy danger of the freeways? And would the bargains that were struck in the pursuit of that clean, direct narrative have been as dirty?

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