How Taylor Kitch’s Paul Woodrugh Should Have Been Introduced in True Detective

So far, so good, for Season Two of True Detective. Except for one aspect of the first episode that didn’t work for me.

There are four main characters in this season, double the number of the first season. None deserve the label of protagonist. And of the four, none serve less of a purpose in the first episode than Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitch)… right up until the very end of the episode, when he serves a crucial role.  That pivotal moment serves as the apparent catalyst for the upcoming season of television: after driving his motorcycle very very fast, Woodrugh decides to stop driving it so fast and pulls off the highway. Then, he finds a dead guy. The dead guy is what brings together the plotlines of our four main characters (although the first two, Colin Farrell’s Ray Valcoro and Vince Vaughn’s Frank Semyon, have been connected since Vaughn’s first scene.)

One of the many moments before his character becomes relevant.
One of the many moments before his character becomes relevant.

The trouble is that the first episode feels bloated, confused, tangled, and that Woodrugh’s unrelated storyline is the least compelling of the four. He feels shoehorned in, and it’s obvious that his scenes (until he finds the body) exist only to give us context for when he does become relevant.  

I’m not saying his character should have been written out entirely. But he is too obviously what one might call a Chekhov’s Gunman. His character reminds me, more than anything, of David Palmer’s character in the 1995 film Heat. If you don’t recall, I’m referring to the character who gets out of prison, gets a job at a diner, and basically putzes around in a series of scenes that are completely unrelated to the plot… right up until he happens to see the bank robbers in the diner where he works, and they need a getaway driver, which he used to be, and so then he becomes their getaway driver and immediately dies. Which also serves as a brief, poignant commentary on recidivism in the ’90s.

To make it worse for poor Paul, his storyline just isn’t quite as compelling as the storylines of the other three main characters. It seems that we are supposed to care about him just because of how bad things seem to be: he might get fired, he isn’t allowed to ride his motorcycle at work anymore, he has burns all over him, and he isn’t sexually attracted to his girlfriend. Sure, that stuff would normally be pretty interesting, in a typical show, but it doesn’t really grab one’s attention from the plotlines of the other three, which are all completely fascinating and messed-up and intricate and beautiful.

Whattya think?  This guy have a few demons or what?
Whattya think? This guy have a few demons or what?

It could have been much simpler: introduce Paul Woodrugh as he drives down the highway.  Show him find the dead guy. Then we can get to know him in the second episode, as we see his sad relationship with his girlfriend, his weird mother, his hostile tension against gay people, his potential closeted sexuality, his possible history of sexual abuse, his mercenary background, his scars, his work situation. Best of all, we wouldn’t have had to suffer through the obvious waiting game of “I know all these plots are interconnected. When will I find out how?”

So, okay, it’s not as bad as the David Palmer plot in Heat. But it’s still a weak point in what is otherwise a great start to what I hope is a great season of a great television show.

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