Creator: Nic Pizzolatto
Stars: Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch, Vince Vaughn
Last Year, crime-thriller TV series True Detective became a pop-culture staple of epic proportions. Beyond Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson’s insatiable charisma, lines including “Time is a flat circle” were uttered more than anything the big screen offered up. Showrunner Nic Pizzolatto’s neo-noir masterpiece, despite a few bumps along the way, rightfully sat atop many Best of… lists. So, with HBO and its rock-solid fan base looking over his shoulder, how could Pizzolatto ever top Season 1’s serving of blood, balls, and brains? Season 2’s first episode, The Western Book of the Dead, promises a more conventional, but still groundbreaking and energetic, detective-thriller anthology.
The Western Book of the Dead follows four major characters prone to jumping between both sides of the law. Our central ‘protagonist’, Detective Raymond Velcoro (Colin Farrell), still reels over his ex-wife’s rape. Shifting through the Vinci Police Department’s jurisdiction, Velcoro’s loyalties lay with criminal and entrepreneur Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn). Semyon, whose business partner Ben Caprese has mysteriously disappeared, must prematurely present his light rail plans in front of his wife Jordyn (Kelly Reilly), city representatives, and varying mob connections. Meanwhile, Detective Antigone “Ani” Bezzerides, neck-deep in a missing person’s case, stumbles across her sister Athena and father Eliot’s misgivings.
This episode resembles the four main characters – as slimy, retched, and enthralling with too much to keep track of. The characters, writhing in the grit and despair their professions entail, rarely display empathetic or endearing traits. Pizzolatto, in an effort to ‘dark and gritty’ his creation to an unholy extent, develops loud, brash ciphers of Rustin Cohle and Martin Hart. Their antics and emotional flip-outs border on parody. Velcoro, threatening his son and his son’s bully before eviscerating the bully’s father, has already become a mindless creature. The thinnest plot-thread, surrounding physically and psychologically damaged war veteran/California Highway Patrolman Paul Woodrugh, adds nothing but silly, overwrought stylistic interludes.
Pizzolatto’s blunt, pulpy screenplay delivers several confusing one-liners. Lines like “If you ever bully or hurt anybody again, I’ll come back and butt fuck your father with your mom’s headless corpse on this goddamn lawn” land with a deafening thud. Unlike Season 1, Season 2 has been handed to multiple filmmakers. Director Justin Lin, attempting to kick off a new season and live up to mind-numbing expectations, adapts to the anthology format efficiently. Lin, fusing his blockbuster-driven style with the series’ vulnerable sensibilities, is a valiant successor to Season 1’s Cary Fukunaga. Lin, however, never stretches beyond the conventional HBO-crime-thriller aesthetic. His handheld camerawork and attention to detail adds to the series’ immense thirst for nihilism and dread. The climax and resolution will leave its audience yearning for the next episode.
Though slightly disappointing and wildly all over the place, The Western Book of the Dead might not hold up on its own. However, as a “Welcome home” special, it makes for an intensifying first chapter for Pizzolatto’s beloved creation.
The next episode, Night Finds You, will air on June 28th.