Photo via Warrick Page/HBO
TV audiences have been presented with a slow, macabre and ultimately disappointing third season of the acclaimed show “True Detective,” written by novelist Nic Pizzolatto and starring Oscar winning actor Mahershala Ali and reintroducing the forgotten powerhouse, Stephen Dorff.
When “True Detective” originally premiered, it was an instant classic. With the acting clinic put on by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, combined with an incredibly violent, tenebrous and Lovecraftian script by Pizzolatto, it was bound for success when the first episode aired. The show reached massive acclaim, skyrocketing Pizzolattos’ career and garnering him the ability to do a second season. Regardless of the massive cast in season two, it was an absolute flop, hastily written with no real direction. It missed all the marks of the first season while trying to find itself in all the layers of scripted darkness. The main theory of the success of the first season is due to director Cary Joji Fukunaga, famous for his work on the Netflix show “Maniac” as well as films like “Beasts of No Nation.” The first season was also written over a long period of time, while the second and third were written in nearly a quarter of the time.
The first couple episodes of season three were directed by upcoming festival circuit director Jeremy Saulnier, who creates a stark yet muted color palette, and these winding long-take shots that show the complex-yet-desolate environment of the shows setting in the Ozarks. After the first three episodes, Saulnier left and incredibly subpar director Daniel Sackheim took helm, making Saulnier’s atmosphere turn into a flat portrait with a cheesy Hollywood look.
The third season revolves around Officer Wayne Hays, a.k.a. “Purple Hays,” a Vietnam veteran and now ace detective played by Mahershala Ali, and his partner, a gruff-yet-humorous detective by the name of Roland West. From the get-go, the two actors put on an Emmy worthy show, taking the premise of the show, a double-homicide of two children, and creating this stark realism.
The show takes place over three periods of time, but eventually branches into nearly five different timelines, creating a certain level of confusion, with no real sign of what period it is other than the aging makeup applied to the actors.
As the murder unfolds into a much bigger case, we find the show taking a lot of themes and concepts that made the first season so fresh, and reusing them to try to regain some of the original momentum, and it really begins to come across as a serious lack of direction from Pizzolatto.
Much of the premise of each episode feeds off the previous episode in a traditional manner, while introducing new characters, new plot points and new timelines, but out of eight episodes, it slows down by the fifth. For every question the show poses, the answer is cleared in less than five minutes of screentime, and it’s cheap. Wrapping itself up in a neat little package massively undermines the emotion and plot buildup of the entire show.
Although there’s a deep level of disappointment from the overall crafting of the season, it is most definitely worth watching for the stellar performances, decent cinematography and a couple of really witty one-liners.