About halfway through the first season of True Detective it should’ve become obvious that Nic Pizzolatto was royally screwed. He and Cary Fukunaga had already written and shot his entire series of eight episodes which meant that he couldn’t make changes to it even if he wanted to, and yet the internet had grabbed hold of his creation and claimed it as its own, elevating it to something far beyond even the oddly esoteric police procedural it started out as and turning it into a cultural phenomenon. It was great for Pizzolatto in terms of making him a star and likely guaranteeing a second season from HBO. But as that first season still barreled ahead and expectations rose for a blockbuster ending that would tie together all the clues the internet’s amateur sleuths had ascribed tremendous importance to, only Pizzolatto knew the truth: The ending was going to be a let-down. It was going to wrap-up the way any standard procedural would. Put simply, True Detective had been wrested from the hands of its creator during its first season, a guy who couldn’t have possibly foreseen the fan frenzy he’d create when he was first mapping out the show. He wrote for himself, not for the fans because he didn’t know fan service would be an issue.
Fast forward to season two. Sure, it’s obvious that even more than in the first season True Detective was a novel brought directly to television, but the important details of the show were so spread apart and so easy to miss that it infuriated fans. The labyrinthine plot — which aimed for a Chinatown/L.A.Confidential feel — confused viewers because it was almost impossible to follow, with each episode requiring repeat viewings just to be able to figure out some of what the hell was going on. The whole thing was so dense and meandering that toward the end of the season Slate famously put together a comprehensive break-down of the plot up to that point and even that got a bunch of things wrong. Whereas in the season one, there were red herrings and clues dropped at will that seemed to lead nowhere, somehow it was more forgivable to a lot of people because the overall effect of the writing, direction and acting was so mesmerizing. Personally I really enjoyed the second season and I know a lot of others who did, but there’s little doubt that it was missing the “magic” that turned the first season into an obsession.
That magic is a tough thing to define, but when it comes to the complexity of the plot, well, can you really blame Pizzolatto for expecting viewers to pick up on every single detail he threw out there in season two and recognize the importance of it? After all, they did last season. The first run of True Detective saw Redditors gnaw the entire show to the bone looking for each and every little secret, only to be dissatisfied in the end because so few of the show’s central mysteries were actually answered in the season finale. Why wouldn’t Pizzolatto assume the same fervor would accompany his second season, with the internet’s at-home detectives following the show so closely that it wouldn’t matter how complicated or convoluted the plotting was? In season one, the killer turned out to be a guy the detectives talked to briefly in an early episode; in season two the killer also turned out to be a guy the killers talked to briefly in an early episode. And yet somehow the first season’s revelation was creepy and brilliant and the second season was hackneyed and a let-down. Pizzolatto even telegraphed the death of Ray Velcoro during his Lynchian dream sequence at the top of the third episode of season two, with his father telling him, “I see you running through the trees… men are chasing you… you step out of the tress… they kill you, they shoot you to pieces” and yet very few seemed to pick up on it or theorize about it. Pizzolatto was, even more so than last season, laying nearly indiscernible clues he expected viewers to latch onto rather than be lost within.
Last season his show was appropriated by its legion of fans and Pizzolatto never saw it coming, so this past season he had to believe the same would happen, that no matter how confusing he was the fans would sort it all out just like they did before. It makes sense that he would’ve written the way a novelist does because that’s how he writes — he began as a novelist — but he probably thought social media would dissect every note of the show and therefore its bizarre complexity wouldn’t be an issue. Only Nic Pizzolatto knows for sure what was going on in his head while he penned this past season of True Detective, but it’s not outrageous to assume that fan service — or at the very least fan zealousness — would play into his plotting decisions. Granted, that’s lazy writing — or as smart critic Matt Zoller Seitz calls it, “disorganized, mannered, and altogether scatterbrained” — and it truly does feel like Pizzolatto wasn’t always entirely sure where he was going. But could this be because he expected his audience to pick up the slack and create out of it whatever it wanted, same way it did last time? We’ll probably never know the answer for sure. Seitz wonders whether the lack of time to clean up what felt like a rough draft of the script was the culprit, but again, I’m left wondering whether Pizzolatto just figured the internet would take control and do his work for him.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.