Yesterday, word filtered out that HBO and Nic Pizzolatto were likely scrapping plans for a third season of True Detective. The much maligned second season, a big, bloated, confusing mess for the most part, was met with a collective head scratching and overwhelming disdain from fans. The first season was a tremendous self-contained story, full of moral dilemma, supernatural madness, and terrific performances from Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.
Season two saw the impressive cast grow, the story shift from Louisiana to Los Angeles, and the promise swell following the early previews. But then, everything seemed to fall apart under the weight of an overwritten and poorly constructed plot. Performances from Vince Vaughn and Taylor Kitsch never came together, and each episode had potential to be brilliant or maddeningly idiotic, with no rhyme or reason as to which direction it was headed. It was a mess, mostly because of the departure of Cary Fukunaga and complete control being left at the feet of Pizzolatto.
So HBO is deciding to, more than likely, abandon ship. But they shouldn’t. True Detective is worth saving.
For starters, not everything in season two was a disaster. Colin Farrell’s disturbing performance, as hamfisted as it turned occasionally, was often soulful and engrossing. Rachel McAdams held her own, and a few individual episodes rivaled some of the best hours of television around last summer. As is the case with several shows and films, all the good has overwhelmed the bad in my brain. I’m left with oddly fond memories of season two, but the super weird nonsense is still tucked away in storage. It wasn’t all bad, and could have been fixed had Pizzolatto been told no from time to time.
But the merits of season two don’t really have anything to do with a potential season three. That’s the beauty of the structure of True Detective; the creators have the ability to wipe the slate clean. We wouldn’t be revisiting this convoluted world with these characters (because, well, they all pretty much died), but we’d be heading in an entirely different direction. The show isn’t about continuing stories, but continuing moods and themes. It’s a crime-drama and a pitch-black noir at heart, and TV can always handle one or two of those. These seasons have explored the deepest darkest parts of the human soul and framed these explorations around police procedural. It’s a timeless narrative, and it deserves a spot on TV. Name another hardboiled noir cop show. Is there one?
As for Nic Pizzolatto, well, he has good ideas for the series. We’ve seen them. He certainly missed the presence of Cary Fukunaga in season two and he’s built a reputation as a difficult collaborator. But now that season two fell flat, he doesn’t carry the same clout. Pizzolatto can either bring on a team with different ideas and approaches, or he can move along and another lead can come soon board. It’s worked over the years with things like, say, the Mission: Impossible films. And if we remember, M:I 2 was fairly disastrous in its own right. Imagine if Paramount had pulled the plug after John Woo slow-mo’d us all to death; we would have never gotten the incredibly solid later pictures.
Give True Detective one more shot, HBO. If it doesn’t work the third time around, by all means pull the plug and move on. But abandoning the series now seems like knee-jerk overreaction of the highest order. Lessons were learned during and after season two, so there’s no reason why these lessons couldn’t be applied to a third season. Streamline the story, shrink the cast, and don’t leave everything in the hands of a creator who clearly was in over his head last summer.