The Overlooked Beautiful Noir Melancholy of True Detective’s Second Season
True Detective‘s first season started somewhat of a cult following, or at least earned almost universal praise, and rightfully so. The second one…not so much. And while Season 1 had all the prerequisites for a thrilling crime mystery that can keep fans yearning for each new episode, it was the show’s second season that left a stronger emotional trail, at least in my heart. It was Season 2 where creator Nic Pizzollato’s indisputable talent for noir unfurled. The equivocal, broken lead characters and the brutal, corrupt and dour world where their personal dramas unfolded made for a haunting reminder of everything we love about this rather forgotten niche in the mystery crime genre.
It was Season 2 where creator Nic Pizzollato’s indisputable talent for noir unfurled.
And this was not the only beautiful noir universe born from Pizzolato’ss mind. His debut novel Galveston shared much of that same DNA, with familiar character traits and themes, pinpoint truths, and an overall beautiful melancholy.
Not Everything’s About the Plot in Noir
Surely enough, Season 2 of True Detective had its flaws in terms of plot holes and inconsistencies, but by exposing them with a magnifying glass, critics and casual viewers perhaps forgot to watch the actual show. Because this is part of noir’s beauty – sometimes plot isn’t the most important, as paradoxical as this may sound when talking about a crime mystery. Noir is defined best by the feelings it evokes and the atmosphere that lingers long after the story is over.
I remember reading Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler when I was little. I got completely lost within the first two chapters with no idea about what was happening in the actual story. Everything was just too tangled up for my young mind, and as it turned out when I gave it another try again, for my taste as well. But I still kept trying and trying to read it. Why? I just loved Phillip Marlowe, Chandler’s trademark and beloved character. I kept powering through it just to get to those, now signature for the genre, inner monologues, witty remarks, and quality prose which just enveloped my being with their poetic and subtle blues. It was like digging for gold.
…sometimes plot isn’t the most important, as paradoxical as this may sound when talking about a crime mystery. Noir is defined best by the feelings it evokes and the atmosphere that lingers long after the story is over.
But in the second season of True Detective, no digging is needed. It has these kinds of moments by the dozens, but within much darker, grittier, and amped-up frames. It’s the equivalent of a night spent looking out through the window on a stormy night – you don’t get up to much, but you have all the time to reflect and soak up a different, darker side of our world’s beauty.
Controversial Characters You Can’t Help But Root For
This is perhaps the most distinctive and evocative trait of the noir genre which also charged True Detective’s second season with so much emotion. Good guys, bad guys – they all play by a very similar set of rules, defined by a cruel game. However, this doesn’t mean the characters are indistinguishable or overly vague. If anything, this was rather true for the first season – none of the two detectives possessed anything deeply human, at least not enough to make you really relate. In Season 2, the overarching sense of every character’s fundamental nature and how it has been altered by life’s dire circumstances is what makes them so hard to stay indifferent to.
Colin Farrell’s character Ray Velcoro is a walking disaster, a ticking time bomb, and a man desperately fighting for the one thing left he has to lose. “When it rains, it pours”, and in his case, the rain never stops. In fact, it’s as if he has had his own personal cloud following him around ever since his backstory. Whatever efforts he makes to reverse the avalanche that is engulfing his life only ends up adding to its incoming momentum. It’s as if Pizolatto sentenced him to misery from the very beginning. But it’s exactly this sense of doom that makes his acts of valor and desperate shots at redemption all the more special. His character is somewhat reminiscent of a flawed hero from an ancient elegy.
Keeping his composure against all odds and safeguarding his dignity the way a lion protects his cubs, Frank might be the most vivid embodiment of a gangster’s sturdy will and overall class, especially for someone from this walk of life. A classic case of a bad guy whose faintest hints of goodness is all you need to forgive his mortal sins. His speeches are like sneak peaks into a rich inner world and a troubled past, while his relationship with his wife reveals a softer, gentlemanly side, and his interactions with Ray, another timeless noir trademark – a beautiful display of honor among thieves. As if this wasn’t enough to root for him no matter what, the way he goes out has to be one of the most bad-ass, gracious deaths in modern television. Gangster or not, Frank possesses qualities which not only add layers of depth and strength to his character, but can also do the same for anyone who looks past the kind of persona they are inherent to.
Roy Cady from Galveston
…Galveston shows where his talent is the most potent – in novels.
If Pizzolatto’s ability to craft screen characters whose complex, yet almost primal humanity provokes instant affinity, Galveston shows where his talent is the most potent – in novels. His protagonist Roy Cady practically blends Ray and Frank in a troubled, damaged, criminal, violent, sinful, dying, and nevertheless innately good and deeply human concoction.
It’s hard to say which True Detective character borrows more heavily from Galveston. There’s a moment in the book where episodes of his childhood come back to haunt him, and his memories bear a striking resemblance to Frank’s pre-death visions. It becomes quite clear where Pizzolatto draws inspiration from, being that one of the most precious glimpses into Frank’s past – the one where he’s staring at the water stains on the ceiling, also makes a short appearance in the book, but that time, it served as a forecast of the storm that is about to break out inside the lead female character.
The book is a written ballad, a beautiful tribute to the ever-fleeting nature of memories, to hope and innate goodness, however faint, and to the ones who never really stood a chance, but nevertheless gave it their best shot.
Either way, looking through Roy’s eyes is an experience, colored with the most nuanced shades of noir a fan could ever wish for. The book is a written ballad, a beautiful tribute to the ever-fleeting nature of memories, to hope and innate goodness, however faint, and to the ones who never really stood a chance, but nevertheless gave it their best shot.
For those who did enjoy Season 2 of True Detective and hope Season 3 is along the same lines, Galveston is a true masterpiece to make the wait a bit easier.