For fans of True Detective, it's been a pretty rough year. What started out as last year's buzziest show quickly became this year's punchline, as evidenced by Andy Samberg dropping a ton of zingers at TD's expense whilst hosting the Emmys. You might have been in the small but vocal segment of the audience who actually enjoyed season 2, or you might have been a part of (what felt like) the majority who loved to hate on it. If you did enjoy it, you've probably been mocked mercilessly by just about anyone else you've spoken to. But it's probably time we let it go now, and focus on what's to come in the True Detective universe.
I was perusing the darkest, dampest, meanest corners of the internet (so, Reddit) and reading up on peoples' suggestions and expectations for season 3, whilst forming a few thoughts of my own the other night. With that in mind, here's how True Detective can shake off the spectre of season 2 and bounce back in style in 2016.
The crime needs to be something we care about
In season 1, Cohle and Hart investigate the murder of a prostitute who's body has been decorated and dumped. Season 2 hinged on the the investigation into who killed a decidedly corrupt city manager. It's easy to care about the murder of a vulnerable woman, harder to care when the victim is some old white guy who we never knew and whose family don't figure into the show either. At times even the detectives didn't seem too bothered about figuring it out.
If you look back at successful recent police or law enforcement series, the best - like The Killing (Danish version, obv) - hook you in emotionally. The crime needs to have an element of relatability. White collar crime and corruption in the upper echelons of local politics and law enforcement has to be really well written to work (as in LA Confidential, to give one superior example) and True Detective can't match that.
Not that it necessarily takes the death of a pretty young girl for the audience to invest. Season 2 demonstrated Nic Pizzolatto's interest in the shady criminal underworld, but Frank Semyon was a badly conceived "gangster" character. He wasn't all that interesting, wasn't particularly threatening either. Season 3 could give the criminal underclass another go, but this time dive in deeper - perhaps the protagonist could be a gangster with a Judas figure in his own inner circle, who therefore turns "detective". It would give a greater degree of moral ambiguity to the series and there's a vast wealth of classics to take inspiration from - everything from Scarface to The Sopranos, Layer Cake to Goodfellas.
Introduce a detective with the local police force who's been engaged in a cat and mouse with our gangster for years, but who we're invited to view as the villain of the piece, and you've got yourself an intriguing reinvention of the TD premise.
Use mythology to get people talking
One realm in which season one excelled was its use of mythology to whip up audience speculation about the nature of the crime. Dora's corpse was found with a crown of deer antlers. Birds flew in an eerily perfect circle. Symbolism was liberally employed, and fans speculated wildly about the possibility that the crime had a supernatural element.
Season 2 displayed some early signs of treading a similar route. Ray Velcoro (a revelatory Colin Farrell) was shot by a man in a crow mask. But neither the man nor the mask was seen again until the end of the series, and both were irrelevant to the overall arc of the story. There was one surrealist scene in episode 3, right after Ray had been shot, in which he converses with his father in a bar, but again, no follow-up. And that weird dive bar where Frank and Ray go to meet, with the singer (Lera Lynn) forever strumming morbidly on her guitar to an audience of precisely two, could have functioned as some kind of non-physical, metaphorical place that didn't really exist, but was actually just a normal bar, sans patrons.
The key to sustaining interest in a series like this is to get your audience talking, speculating, so next time, they should probably be given something to talk about.
Take inspiration from what's gone before
As lovely as it would be if True Detective could do something truly original, the crime genre has been so well mined by Hollywood for almost a century that finding an original premise is all but impossible. And there's really nothing wrong with taking cues from other aspects of pop culture. Gaming is a huge industry which has yet to establish a truly successful crossover with TV or movies (film adaptations of video games being universally, notoriously awful), but the potential is there - a game like LA Noire, for instance, is a perfect fit for the bleak tone and hopeless worldview True Detective has conquered twice now.
Whatever happens, season 3 is bound to get people talking... at least for a little while. But the real test will be whether it can reinvent its reputation after season 2 took such a battering, or whether audiences will simply decide to move on - but hopefully it won't come to that, because this series has too much potential. With any luck, we'll start hearing more in the way of rumours and early casting buzz before the year is out.
Are you stoked for season 3 of True Detective, or still too burned by season 2 to care? Leave a comment or write your own post about it...