Time is a Flat Circle: How Best to Approach the Next Season of 'True Detective'
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Time is a Flat Circle: How Best to Approach the Next Season of 'True Detective'

By Brian Byrd | TV Reviews | February 26, 2014 | Comments ()


However you quantify your favorite television shows, there’s little argument that True Detective belongs in the medium’s upper echelon. Rarely has an original freshmen series arrived so justifiably self-assured. Nic Pizzolatto’s creation is, six episodes in, arguably operating on a creative level Golden Age stalwarts like The Wire and Breaking Bad didn’t reach until seasons three and four, respectively. Equal parts dense, brooding, literary, thrilling, obsessive, and hypnotic, True Detective is the first series in years that vigorously challenges television’s creative boundaries through a potent mix of writing, acting, and directing.

With only two episodes remaining in the Rust Cohle/Marty Hart saga, our attention is beginning to turn toward the show’s inevitable sequel. Who will step into the gargantuan loafers left behind by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson? And how can a second season possibly clear or even meet the ridiculously high bar set by the first?
Those are certainly fair concerns. That said, I’m struck by both the fixation on next season’s cast and the assumption that the story will again follow two detectives’ hunt for a killer. For a show this steeped in symbolism, mythology, theories, and allusion, it’s surprising that cast — not plot — is the question we most want answered.


The actor obsession is understandable. McConaughey, through a performance alternately subtle and showy, created an iconic character in Cohle. It sounds clichéd, but there truly isn’t anyone on television like him — a remarkable achievement in today’s crowded marketplace. Attempting to replicate Rust can only end in disaster. And Harrelson, while occasionally overshadowed by his partner’s showpiece scenes, brought Hart’s flawed, driven policeman to life in three vivid dimensions. The two actors’ (who are friends offscreen) natural familiarity gave their strife-ridden relationship the sort of authentic, lived-in feel rarely seen on television. Escaping their long shadow will be difficult for whoever inherits the mantle.

But solely attributing the show’s popularity to McConaughey’s and Harrelson’s performances shortchanges the phenomenal writing and directing. Yes, the acting serves the story. But the reverse is also true. Almost more so. Time-capsule-worthy lines like “If you get the opportunity, you should kill yourself,” and “I’m just a regular type dude with a big-ass dick,” didn’t just come bubbling out of the psychosphere. Pizzolatto crafted those gems alongside unsettling esoteric monologues wrapped inside a hyperliterate overarching narrative. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga owns the establishing shot and masterminded that ridiculous project raid tracking scene. This isn’t meant to slight either lead actor’s ability — those juicy lines are dazzlingly delivered. It’s merely a reminder that brilliant acting is just one component of a layered, meticulously constructed tableau.


Time may be a flat circle, but imitating this season’s plotline in the hopes of recapturing lightning squanders the anthology format’s main creative advantage — flexibility. Regardless of whether Hart and Cohle unravel the Yellow King mystery or the murders remain unsolved, their story ends in two weeks. Like game night at the Cohle residence, that’s both depressing and potentially exciting. We’ll have to bid farewell to Cohle and Hart, but next season can focus on almost anything provided it’s a compelling, multi-layered story tangentially tied to crime. That’s the only pre-requisite. And that’s why the show can thrive even as Hart and Cohle become memories.


Can you imagine how liberating the anthology format must be for the creative team? Pizzolatto and Co. get to start fresh — new actors, locations, plotlines, and mythology — while leveraging the brand’s cache to attract elite actors and premium resources. If more fertile television ground exists, it hasn’t been farmed. Ideally, the same team would write and direct each season. Creative continuity has paid tremendous dividends so far. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Pizzolatto and Fukunaga need to overburden themselves. Remember, Pizzolatto is a novelist. Other than penning two episodes of The Killing back in 2010, this is his first foray into screenwriting. Compressed deadlines rarely stimulate literary, exacting writers. Better to slow-cook that meal. While the show is Pizzolatto’s baby, there’s certainly no shortage of talented storytellers out there with six- or eight-hour yarns to spin. If HBO needs content ready to go by summer, they could cycle Pizzolatto and Fukunaga in every other year and use the brand as a showcase for other genre writers and directors. This would alleviate the creative pressure while still keeping the brand fresh years into the future.


Or maybe not. Sorry, Nic.

Anyway, in this expansive environment, it’s difficult to overstate where the series can go from here. Past, future, alternate history, other worlds — nothing is off limits provided the writing supports it. To wit:

  • Four lawmen (Tom Hardy, Kevin Costner, Michael Fassbender, Bryan Cranston) team with a mysterious Native American (Johnny Depp, Benjamin Bratt) to track a child killer with perceived supernatural powers through Cheyenne Territory in 1859.

  • 145 years from now, the first manned mission to Mars returns with great fanfare. The exuberance quickly fades when it’s revealed that only one (Sam Rockwell) of the 14 astronauts who left the Red Planet 588 days ago made it home. The lone Low Orbit Homicide Department detective (Sean Connery) must solve the case before a second mission — already in transit — reaches Mars.

  • In 1980, a Midwestern sheriff (Hugh Jackman) is murdered while investigating a series of disappearances in small-town Iowa. The crime is never solved. Thirty years later his daughter (Brie Larson), new to the force, uncovers information that implicates other family members in the abductions and her father’s death.

  • Longtime cops (Ryan Gosling, Jeffrey Wright, Edward Norton, Chiwetel Ejiofor) who moonlight as thieves face pressure on both sides after botched robbery leaves one member dead and another held hostage by a ruthless crime lord (Denzel Washington). Season unfolds in real time.

  • Deshawn Hariston (Michael B Jordan), the nation’s No. 1 basketball player, previously accused and cleared of assaulting a young girl, faces a life in prison when a woman announces on the eve of the NBA Draft that Hariston raped and murdered her mother five years ago. A veteran reporter (Cate Blanchett) and district attorney (Richard Gere) investigate.

  • Following the attempted assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., a young black lawyer (Chadwick Boseman) and an aging white Memphis homicide detective (Jeff Bridges) try to determine who tried to kill the legendary civil rights leader.

  • Abel lay dead in a field and all the evidence points to his brother, Cain (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). But is there more to the story than what appears? Investigator Adam Stevenson (Don Cheadle), personally requested by the Lord himself, has seven days to learn what happened before Cain is forever banished to Hell.

  • A trio of teenage killers (Elizabeth Olsen, Shailene Woodley, Saoirse Ronan) — who murder simply to see if they can avoid detection - may have finally met their match when a task force led by one victim’s husband (Christian Bale) begins closing in.

    This list took 20 minutes to brainstorm. Imagine what someone with talent and, like, twice as much time could accomplish.

    As tempting as it is to approach the second season with lowered expectations, True Detective is better positioned to repeat or improve upon its initial success than almost any recent prestige drama.* Thanks to the anthology format, the showrunners aren’t trapped by convention or forced to continue exhausted plotlines. Yes, this is the end for two spellbinding characters and their bleak, foreboding world. But next year’s ensemble has a massive canvas on which to create more of both. Wherever the story heads after next Sunday, with whichever actors sign on to help carry the series to its next milepost, there’s no reason to believe it can’t be just as transfixing, rich, and fulfilling as it is now.

    Brian Byrd is just a regular type guy with a big-ass cat.

    *Game of Thrones is the obvious exception. However, the dynamite source material laid down some pretty sturdy track to for David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to follow.

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  • Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

    • Cheryl Merritt

      Maybe they will do like AHS and use some of the same actors. If that happens, i expect Michelle Monaghan will have a bigger and jucier role. That may be why she took such a small (though pivotal) role this season.

    • Crabpaws

      The best way to approach the next season of True Detective is with lowered expectations.

      My guess is that Nic Pizzolatto will be executive producer and hire other good writer and director teams to create each season. The entertainment industry must be seething with them.

      Over the years, series writers tend to get tapped out. Bringing in new talent every season will keep the franchise fresh.

      Pizzolatto already has taken other projects to write.

    • Evan

      HBO will always do a deal for multiple seaons with the shows creator/showrunner - at least a two season lock. Nic has a lot of time to write other stuff - HBO is slow rolling things out and these are only 8 episode arcs. Since it is an anthology they may want another director to give it a new look or more likely Cary is the hottest name in town right now and is probably getting big feature offers which is every directors end game desire.

    • e jerry powell

      Nah, that Cate Blanchett spot has already been filled by Laura Linney once before.

      Rather than indulging in all this fantasizing about new scenarios (including the umpteen-trillionth reworking of Leopold/Loeb that you want for Christian Bale), how about we just bring Daniel Knauf back to HBO?

    • Chesticles

      Dude. Can I just say how much I would totally watch ALL of those things you just listed. If that took twenty minutes, maybe you should call Nick and ask for a fucking job. Awesome.

    • John W

      I can't wait for the next season.

      To me the best thing about season 1, besides how %$#@ good it's been, is that it had not one but two Academy Award nominees (maybe one winner) starring in it.

      Which means hopefully it will attract other great actors you don't normally see in these types of shows. Meryl Streep? Anthony Hopkins? Daniel Day Lewis? Jennifer Lawrence? (I know she got her start in TV but now that she's a huge star maybe she come back for a while)

    • Lloyd_The_Bartender

      Are we sure Pizzolatto and Fukunaga are going to be doing the next season? I thought I had read somewhere that there would be all new crew as well as cast...
      btw - I am completely absorbed by this show. I don't even care whodunnit, I only hope that the last two episodes stand up to the first 6 and that the climax is as face-melting as the build up.
      .... although I don't think I'm going to get through my copy of "the King in Yellow" before the show ends, slow ass reader that I am ...

    • Art3mis

      I just want some good female characters next season. Beyond that, I'm open to anything.

    • "That said, I’m struck by both the fixation on next season’s cast and the assumption that the story will again follow two detectives’ hunt for a killer."

      Well, the series name lends itself to that, I think (of course, unless the detective is us). But it's what we like (murder, cops), and everyone in television knows it.

    • I think Marty's going to kill Rust.

    • Guest

      Why? If Marty wanted Rust dead I think Rust's mowing Marty's lawn would have been enough motivation for him to have done it by now.

    • e jerry powell

      There's just something about McConaughey mowing lawns, I guess...

    • Something that happens in the next episode?
      SPOILER for the last episode:

      He checked his gun right before he left to meet Rust, preview show Marty pretty pissed, and it's just a feeling I have. The next episode is called "After You've Gone." And Pizzalotto tweeted after "Haunted Houses" that it was Rust's last monologue.

    • Guest

      Boo Pizzalotto Boo!

      I hope that's not true.

    • Just speculation for now!

    • Guest

      Still Boo!

    • lowercase_ryan

      Someone told me Fukunaga won't be back next year, but I haven't bothered to confirm that.

    • http://blog.zap2it.com/fromins...


      In my defense, I wrote this on Monday. So, like...there.

    • lowercase_ryan

      No worries at all. Nick is the driving force, imo, and he's not going anywhere.

    • True.

    • Guest

      I'm for any scenario as long as Garret Dillahunt is one of the law men.

      *P.S. Not that I want R.H. cancelled in fact I want it to stay but I think the writing's on the wall for the show.

    • Mrcreosote

      A mismatched group of cult based killers gradually becomes aware of a pair of detectives searching them out. As the season progresses, the killers attempt to stay ahead of their adversaries, going deeper and deeper into the hinterlands.

    • e jerry powell

      ...into the bayou...
      ...into Joshua Tree...

    • ...to the windows...
      ...to the walls...

    • e jerry powell

      "She was up in da club, singin' 'bout balls..."

    • cruzzercruz

      Time is a flat circle.

    • Melina

      I think I'm going to take some of these ideas and have my fiction writing class try to spin a story. So what I'm trying to say is, nice work.

    • That sounds great. Feel free. It's fine. Toooooooooooooooootally fine.

      /calls intellectual property lawyer

      "Herb? It's Brian. Sorry to bother you, but it's Melina. Yeah, she's at it again."

    • ColonHell

      I dunno. I think episode six did a lot of damage to the series. All those tropes the show was subverting or at least rethinking blossomed into turd cliches.

    • manting

      I think the series will stay in the gulf. HBO loves filming in Louisiana (huge tax breaks, great scenery, and a myriad of different types of locations) and I believe the series has lead into Cthulhu territory which will be expanded next season.

    • Evan

      I kinda hope they will still be within the larger mythology of this season but with an all new cast and characters pursuing a different case - maybe in an earlier time period like the 1980's or 70's. To go to an American Horror story type format where you are totally different each season is another option but I enjoy that less. If they are saying an all new crew - that means more than an all new cast as it indicates they are probably moving states and have to use that states crew for the tax credits....they very will could pick up a story in Houston with the DEA/HIDTA mentioned in Rust's backstory for example. I'd like to see a cool 1970's Houston crime story.

    • manting

      Something Like Lone Star - that reminds me - next season bring in Chris Cooper

    • Evan

      Lone Star is a perfect example. I wonder if they will tease the character at the end of this season.

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