Yes, Virginia, Season Two of True Detective was Better than Season One

…but there is no Santa Claus.  If I’m gonna be controversial, might as well go whole hog.

Umm…obviously there are spoilers here, so if you didn’t watch all of Season Two yet, go watch it, and then come back and read and share your thoughts with The Spin.

True Detective Season 2 Highways

With the finale of True Detective’s Season Two now in the books, everyone is playing Monday morning quarterback.  Some, like Vox Culture’s marginally clueless Todd VanDerWerff, have gone as far as saying the whole season (finale included) was an utter disaster.  I have to ask what the hell he was watching?  While he does make a few fair points (that he then overstates), his point #3 that, “The plot was way, way too complicated” is utter hogwash.  Complaining that a noir detective series has a plot that is too complicated is like ordering a burger topped with a fried egg and complaining that the yolk got all over the meat.  The general consensus, however, is that it paled in comparison to Season One and for the most part (despite some intriguing individual sequences, like the shoot-out cluster-f*** or the much ballyhooed orgy party) was a mess.  Well, if it was a mess (and by some measures it was, especially in the early going), then it was one helluva entertaining mess: a sprawling, dark, lurid, occasionally brilliant, always fascinating, mess that was more twisted than the LA area highways crosscutting the seedy badlands (and fictional Vinci) where our characters lived and died.  Many complained throughout the season that the most intriguing character on the show was the LA highway system.  It was one of the characters, and like, hello, it was also symbolic. And, sure, the symbolism on the show hit ya with a sledgehammer sometimes.  But at least it had the brains to be symbolic.

Though it lacked the singular cohesion that director Cary Fukunaga brought the eight episodes of Season One, this new season still brought much of the same in tone and style (from the freaky opening credits done this time to the creepy Leonard Cohen dirge “Nervermind,” to the great music both in terms of score and Lera Lynn’s haunting bar tunes, to the stunning cinematography).  Sadly, “much of the same” is seemingly all most fans wanted, and even though creator, writer and producer Nic Pizzolatto made it very clear this was an anthology series where the seasons would all be stand alone self-contained stories with a fresh cast playing all new characters each time, people lamented the absence of Rust (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty (Woody Harrelson), whose chemistry, banter, philosophizing and ultimate bromance turned them into mythic pop culture characters.

Yes, here in Season Two we had more characters with more complications and a convoluted plot involving crooked cops, secret identities, repression, sex, politics, drug lords and cover-ups that made viewers work for the payoff.  And while the season started off confusing and meandering, all those twisted highways and plot points converged in a finale that brought everything to a rousing close.  Continue reading

Boardwalk Empire: Eldorado (Series Finale)

Boardwalk Empire Blank Opening Title Card

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – Eldorado

Season Five: Episode Eight (Series Finale)

Directed by:  Tim Van Patten

Written by:  Howard Korder & Terence Winter

The Spin:

AS ALWAYS, BEWARE OF SPOILERS:

Did anyone following the season’s arc really doubt it would end this way?  Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol) may have made the claim to Nucky that “there is still graciousness in this world,” but like any great anti-hero tragedy…there is more likely justice.  And there are the damned and the damned.

And justice was served in the series finale.  Capone (Stephen Graham), who just when he was becoming a painful caricature yet again, has a heartfelt moment with his deaf son (yet again) and then laps up the limelight of his tax-evasion trial while tipping his hat in gentlemanly fashion to the fed that successfully infiltrated his gang.  Real men (even royal scumbags) know when to fight and know when they’re beat.

Meanwhile, Luciano (Vincent Piazza) is sitting comfortably atop his throne and orders a righteous hit on that vile piece of sweet talking human excrement Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright), who finally gets what he deserves.  And in front of his blind blubbering followers, in public!  Oh, what sweet justice the lord hath wrought!

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Boardwalk Empire: Friendless Child

Boardwalk Empire 5.7

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – Friendless Child

Season Five: Episode Seven

Directed by:  Allen Coulter

Written by:  Howard Korder, Christine Chambers and Riccardo DiLoreto

The Spin:  Coulter masterminded his best Scorsese impression, harkening back to the style of the Marty helmed pilot, with montages and narration and a tick-tock-gun-shot-gavel-pounding score accentuating this written-by-committee penultimate episode.  It was a refreshing and impressive piece of workmanship coming off the jaw-dropping events of the previous episode and the scattershot nature of the season prior to this.

AS ALWAYS, BEWARE OF SPOILERS:  The gang war between Luciano (Vincent Piazza) and Nucky reaches a fever pitch that results in the nabbing of Ben Siegel (Michael Zegan) as a bargaining chip.  Luciano one-ups Nucky, however, by nabbing Eli’s eldest son (Ben Rosenfield) in return.  Continue reading

Boardwalk Empire: Devil You Know

Boardwalk Empire - Chalky and Daughter

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – Devil You Know

Season Five: Episode Six

Directed by:  Jeremy Podeswa

Written by:  Howard Korder

The Spin:  SUPER DUPER SPOILERS AHEAD – A skipping record plays over the closing credits of Korder’s masterfully penned slow-build to the two-fold finale, and Daughter Maitland’s (Margot Bingham) rendition of “Dream a Little Dream” haunts the hour as our dear Chalky (Michael K. Williams) makes a deal with the devil Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright) in order to give Daughter and her/his daughter a chance (even if only in a dream).  It’s been a roller coaster season of highs and lows and mostly frustration, but Korder, who has always been the most reliable of the Boardwalk scribes, operates on this one with the expert precision of a Shakespearian surgeon.  Did anyone ever really doubt this was a tragedy?

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Boardwalk Empire: King of Norway

Boardwalk Empire 5.5

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – King of Norway

Season Five: Episode Five

Directed by:  Ed Bianchi

Written by:  Steve Kornacki

The Spin:  The title of tonight’s episode refers to the picture of the king the Norwegian Mrs. Muller hangs in the kitchen.  Turns out she’s been having drunken afternoon tristes with Eli (Shea Whigham) who can only barely remember a thing.  Too bad his memory gets jogged by the mustachioed regent, and Mrs. Muller chose to reveal the tawdry details at a disastrous dinner where Eli’s pregnant wife had come to visit from Atlantic City, a dinner that could only have gotten worse if say, I dunno, the Feds had shown up.  Oh, they did.  The Muller formerly known as Van Alden (Michael Shannon) and Eli have been paired as a some sort of tragic comedy team this year where they try to one up each other with their sad, ironic life events.  Two former law men nabbed by the feds who now want their help getting the books on Capone so they can nail him on tax evasion – what a joke.  And sadly it was about the only interesting turn of events tonight.

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Boardwalk Empire: Cuanto

Boardwalk Empire 5.4

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – Cuanto

Season Five: Episode Four

Directed by:  Jake Paltrow

Written by:  Christine Chambers, Howard Korder and Terence Winter

The Spin:  There’s been a melancholic pall hanging over Boardwalk Empire’s fifth season.  Yes, it’s the last, which is sad enough alone, but it’s also strangely fitting that in the real world the actual current Atlantic City is on a generational decline with the closing of multiple casinos (most notably the lavish Revel) and nothing seeming to go the city’s way.  Watching the flashbacks to “The Education of Nucky Thompson” where the city was but one resort and a modest boardwalk before the turn of the 20th century reminds those localized to its current perils just how far the city has come and how long the way down is (I fear in the real world we ain’t seen nothing yet about how down and out AC can get).  You see this mirrored in the lethargy of 1930’s Nucky, a man who’s gonna have to wake up.  And could Capone’s warning call to Nucky about Luciano’s insinuation that the Italians should cut out Nucky from their empire at the end of tonight’s episode be that wake up call?  Nucky is a man who’s come so far (from Dickensian beginnings so painstakingly tailored in the flashbacks) and runs the risk of falling ever harder.

The episode oozed a calming dread in almost every scene.

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Boardwalk Empire: What Jesus Said

Boardwalk Empire 5.3_1

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – What Jesus Said

Season Five: Episode Three

Directed by:  Ed Bianchi

Written by:  Christine Chambers and Howard Korder

The Spin:  Plots thickened and women showed their cunning nature during crisis situations in this Chambers and Korder penned hour.  Early in the episode, Nucky and Sally (Patricia Arquette) share over the phone “Happy Days are Here Again” playing on the radio after he tells her about the presumed Kennedy deal, but are they counting chickens before they hatch?  On the run, our old friend Chalky White (Michael K. Williams) and his volatile chain gang compatriot pull off a sloppy home invasion of a mother and her teenage daughter.  Chalky shows his true colors as he’s still clearly ravaged by the brutal death of his own teenage daughter, Maybelle, years ago, but these ladies prove to be more resilient than either foolish man could know.   Out in Harlem, Luciano and Siegel begin to systematically threaten Narcisse’s operations in no uncertain terms.  Meanwhile, Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) is forced to pay a visit to the Rothstein widow (Shae D’lyn in a pitch perfect cameo) who has her own plot to hatch that involves the blackmail of…you guessed it…the Nuckster.

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Boardwalk Empire: The Good Listener

Boardwalk Empire 5.2

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – The Good Listener

Season Five: Episode Two

Directed by:  Allen Coulter

Written by:  Terence Winter

The Spin:  Director Coulter takes advantage of this being the last season by adding some compelling directorial flourishes, and was that a nod to Twin Peaks and Lynch in the opening “through an ear” dissonant audio-visual cross-cuts, which were bookended nicely in the end with an all-too noticeable missing ear?  It’s nice to see the regular series directors give it their all, but it has me worried that Winter felt the need for such a ho-hum filler episode when the there’s only six left to go after this.  This week we got (mis)treated to some bizarre sequences in a women’s sanatorium where Gillian (Gretchen) has been spending her days that played with our prurient-minded expectations, continued grim flashbacks to Nucky’s childhood, Nucky turning to Torrio to see who tried to nab him last week in Cuba, Lansky still plotting with Luciano and Siegel to up their game (at the Nuckster’s expense?), the Muller formerly known as Van Alden still making a mess of things at home and at work (with no help from a drunk-as-a-skunk Eli), Capone getting all Capone-y (seriously his character has become a clichéd bore after some shining moments in seasons’ past), young Will Thompson vying for an Assistant DA spot, and some distracting Look, Ma, who it is! guest-appearances by Joe Kennedy Sr. (Matt Letscher) and Eliot Ness.

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Boardwalk Empire: Golden Days for Boys and Girls (Season Five Premiere)

Boardwalk Empire - 5.1

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – Golden Days for Boys and Girls

Season Five: Episode One

Directed by:  Tim Van Patten

Written by:  Howard Korder

The Spin:  The final season opens with the haunting Gretchen Mol reading a voice-over from the children’s periodical “Golden Days for Boys and Girls” where she’s seemingly telling the young lads we see diving into ocean after coins, “Be honest and true boys!  Whatever you do boys, let this be your motto through life.”  A moving flashback to Nucky’s hardscrabble childhood in 1884 Atlantic City (which was merely a pier and one Corner Hotel on a tiny boardwalk) is expertly interwoven into a flash forward to 1931, where will the help of the effervescent and ever-saucy Sally Wheet (Patricia Arquette, all bosoms and moxy), the Nuckster has become Our Man in Havana, using a screwy senator as his pawn to talk a Rum King into hatching a deal to get Bacardi into the States as soon as Prohibition is inevitably repealed.  But trouble always seems to find our anti-hero, and Havana might be too hot to handle for the aging kingpin, who for the first time in his life is placing his biggest bet on a legal operation. Continue reading

It Happened Again on True Detective

True Detective - Rust and Marty in the Car

A Note to Readers: The following contains descriptions of events that have played out over True Detective’s eight-episode run and details on the finale.  Read with caution if you are afraid of spoilers before having seen the entire season.

“It Happened Again on True Detective”

About six months ago the initial previews for True Detective boldly announced The McConaissaince was coming to TV, and just look at how gristly Woody Harrelson had become!  It promised yet another slow-burning mystery…this one on the oilfield strewn and smokestack choked bayous of Louisiana (the cable network’s favorite homestead, seen also in True Blood and Treme).  The big boys at HBO were gonna show the basic cable boobs behind The Killing and The Bridge how it should really be done.  It all felt a little tired.  We’d seen this before.  And it was with a morbid curiosity that I tuned into the first episode.

The opening credits embraced the conventions with seductive glee.  A creepy folksy tune titled “Far from Any Road” by the Handsome Family spun tales of a “poisoned Creole soul” and brooded over a graphic artist’s phantasmagoria of overlaid images, like a deadly serious realist flip side to the trashy-kitschy credits of the supernatural True Blood.  It was stylish and admirable…but predictable…HBO shows are known for their innovative and signature opening credit sequences.

True Detective - Opening Credit Shot Highway Face

True Detective - Opening Credit Shot Burning Face

It wouldn’t be until later episodes that I realized the credits’ subliminal power.  The image of a winding highway superimposed over Woody Harrelson’s face, in particular, was something that began to creep into my poisoned TV soul and became more unsettling every time I saw it.

The first episode, too, catered to the conventions.  Two prickly opposites were partnered to solve the murder of a drug-addled prostitute named Dora Lange who was found with antlers on her head and other cultish mumbo-jumbo casting a pall over the scene.  The story was presented in flashbacks as the elder versions of our detectives were questioned separately in 2012 about the case from the mid 1990’s hinting at something larger…a new copycat killer perhaps…and a current riff between the former partners.  Episode One was slow…methodical…well acted…well directed…tinged with nihilism…yet where was it going and would anyone care once we got there?

Eight episodes.  A complete story.  An anthology series in the style of American Horror Story – a title that could’ve easily been used here.  True Detective, unlike Twin Peaks and The Killing before it, promised completion…no long drawn-out anti-climax stretched over multiple seasons.  The approach was like that of an eight-hour film with one director, Cary Joji Fukunaga (the mastermind behind two stylistically disparate but equally compelling films, Sin Nombre and Jane Eyre), who armed with the scripts from under-the-radar novelist Nic Pizzolatto created a consistent and quietly thrilling tone.  So I stay tuned in…and slowly but surely I became addicted.  The communal fervor for the show bloomed along with my obsession.  Continue reading