I’m one of the lone defenders of True Detective’s second season. So far, I can count on one hand the people I know who actually liked it.
While I disagree with many of the complaints and criticisms that have been leveled and hurled against it, I’ll admit that some of the complaints were grounded in a truth I also see: too many main characters. The pilot felt cluttered, as did many of the episodes. The death of one protagonist (of the four) at the end of the seventh episode came almost as a relief, as it meant we would have fewer plotlines, fewer threads, fewer scenes to cut between in the finale.
There are those who say that, whether or not True Detective was good, you cannot say that it moved the detective genre forward in any meaningful way. I don’t necessarily get on board with that, as I think that this season had moments of devastating brilliance which I’ve already discussed.
What I do think is that the third season, in order to move forward, needs to look back. A story that is more classically noir, in which one character is the detective and this one detective is at the center of every scene. Something that resembles the works of Raymond Chandler or Dashell Hammett, the kind of first person hardboiled narrative emulated by Jonathan Lethem and Bret Easton Ellis, the kind of story where the only facts we get are the ones that we get through the eyes and ears of the protagonist.
And the actor for this third season? Christian Bale. One season of eight claustrophobic episodes following one detective attempting to discover the truth. Bale is a likely choice, although he does not need the same kind of career reinvention handed to McConaughey or Vaughn by the show so far.
We do not see this kind of detective story much anymore, which is odd, because it seems like such an obvious way to tell a story. One character. Our eyes and ears. There are few examples in recent years to mention. The Big Lebowski and American Psycho both come to mind, but both of those are nearly two decades old. Luther is another series that nearly gets it, but even there we break away from the protagonist’s perspective and follow tangents and give evidence to the viewer that the detective never has. Drive comes close. Nightcrawler might be the best recent example, although it’s noir and hardboiled without being a mystery. Chinatown and The Conversation are some good examples of neo-noir made in the ’70s.
These good examples of noir should inspire the third season of True Detective. It should also take a step away from the world of police, and perhaps give us a journalist or private detective as our solo protagonist. Perhaps the protagonist isn’t even either of these but is more of a “victim of circumstance,” resembling The Dude or The Man Who Knew Too Much or the protagonists of D.O.A or North by Northwest.
Of course, this third season should incorporate some of the best elements of the first two seasons. Give us a reason for voiceover, whether it’s the protagonist being interviewed or recording his own private thoughts. Give us moments of tragedy, conversations of cynicism, characters with rough pasts and bleak futures.
Why is Bale such a good choice for this third season? Because he’s obviously capable. The next season should have have the same questions and surprises lingering around the cast announcements that the list one did. And if we are going to have one protagonist, doubling as narrator and anti-hero, it should be someone up to the job. Of course, the rest of the cast can still be padded with HBO regulars and “that guys.”
And what if Bale isn’t available? Well, a few options come to mind. David Schwimmer gets my vote.