True Detective Season 2 Episode 1 Review: The Western Book of the Dead

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Something happened.

That's not a phrased used in the premiere, but it comes within the first three episodes, which I've had an opportunity to see, and it speaks to the theme a bit. Something happened to the people we're introduced to in True Detective Season 2 Episode 1 to bring them to this place in their lives.

They're all pretty dark. Only one of them seems to be grasping at the light, and after the events of the premiere, you get the impression that any remaining light is about to be yanked away. 

Conducting Business? - True Detective

This is not a two man show, but a true ensemble cast. The stars are going to have to set themselves apart, but still shine as one complete group in order for the season to really take off. Let's take a look at how they'll get their shot to do it. 

The four lead characters all have pasts. Three are still running, while one has already attempted to erase his. The cops all burdened with emotional and physical scars, and they're skirting the criminal element with the help of the law. The former criminal overlord is making a play at going legit by way of a buy-in into a major rail project that will unite their tiny corner of the state in ways that promise to change the landscape of their town, and their futures, forever.

Colin Farrell leads the charge as Ray Volcoro, a lonely and desperate man whose past is just itching to catch up with him. His anger issues may or may not stem from his wife's beating and rape during the time they were trying to get pregnant years earlier. She ultimately gave birth to his son, Chad, nine months later, and Ray never questioned his kid's parentage.

Now Ray has an awkward child who doesn't fit in, and while he can't stand for him being bullied, he's not above doing it himself if the moment suits. As he has with pretty much every role he's been granted since the start of his 20-year career, Farrell is positively electric. He's bristling with pent up anger like a bomb waiting to go off, but we don't hold it against him. We can't. Somehow, even without all the information, we understand. 

Rachel McAdams plays Ani Bezzerides. Ani lost her mom when she walked into the ocean never to return. She blames her father, a guru who runs the commune on which she grew up, and judges both him and her sister for moving on in ways she doesn't accept. For some reason, she has festering issues with sexuality that are waiting to boil up to the surface. 

McAdams is virtually unrecognizable from the high-end rom com roles for which she has become known, and that's a good thing. There's no question this is her moment to break out of the mold, and she's not the only one with the opportunity.

Taylor Kitsch is Paul Woodrugh, a war veteran with a questionable past "before" that, who finds his solace riding his bike on highway patrol. It's also a way he wouldn't mind dying if times get too tough, which is how he discovers the body of City Manager and missing man, Ben Casper.

Although Kitsch delivered a performance with wide range on Friday Night Lights, he's been pigeonholed ever since into beefcake or heroic roles that didn't quite take root. Here he'll get the chance to prove FNL wasn't a fluke. By the third episode you won't question why he was selected for the role, and you'll forget a little bit about Tim Riggins. It won't even hurt that much.

Finally, Vince Vaughn plays career criminal Frank Semyon. Frank's life was intertwined with Ben Casper's at the time of his death in such a way that he'll be hard pressed to keep his present course on the straight(ish) and narrow. Frank helped Ray when his wife was attacked, and Ray has been indebted to Frank and acting as his fixer ever since. Frank appears to genuinely care for Ray, so it doesn't seem a entirely lopsided relationship.

Vaughn, too, has been cast against type. He's not the funny man here, and he's often just shy of the philosophical rants we'd expect from the lips of Rust Cohle in True Detective Season 1. It's somewhat disconcerting, at times, but that's not to say Vaughn can't pull it off. 

It's easy to understand why Vaughn would be driven to a more serious role, as this is his chance to break away from the pattern to which he's become accustomed. But Farrell, too, has been known to take on a comedic tone in the past, even when he's been at his most gritty and emotional.

McAdams and Kitsch have also skirted with lighter fare. All of the pieces are there for the actors to do some of their best, most wide ranging work (and the writing could sustain it with minor tweaking), but the choice instead, at least at the beginning, it to lean toward the darkest. Thankfully, dark is good here.

Of course, Season 1 was split up into what felt like chapters of a novel, with the focus shifting throughout. With what we've seen so far, something happened to give all of these characters a bit of a death wish and putting them on a collision course with one another. We weren't given a lot to work with outside the introductory phase, and I'm not ready to call who will break out of the pack and become this year's potential Emmy darling. There's time for that.

We couldn't ask for a better cast of actors to embody the characters introduced in "The Western Book of the Dead." They are some of the very best of our generation. Whether they'll find the same simpatico rhythm that Rust Cohle and Marty Hart found by the end of Season 1 remains to be seen, but all of the elements are certainly within this group for magic to happen.

The Western Book of the Dead Review

Editor Rating: 4.3 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.4 / 5.0 (57 Votes)

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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True Detective Season 2 Episode 1 Quotes

Frank: You're Deptuy Velcoro, right? This 'filth' hurt your woman. You know this guy.
Ray: Tell me.
Frank: Sometimes, everybody's not always on the same side. Fine. It's business. But this. No. Fuck that. Somethings don't stand.

Harris: You were with LA sheriff's department eight years before Vinci PD. Anything there going to hurt you?
Ray: No. I welcome judgment.