There’s a shot in the first episode of True Detective’s two-part season three premiere where Mahershala Ali is in the Arkansas wild, starring into the distance with a sense of fear, ferocity, and confusion etched across his face. The chorus swells, as we know impending doom is on the way.
At that moment, you realize that this is the follow-up the masterwork that is the original season of True Detective so rightfully deserved.
We’re brought back to the austere back country of the South. It’s a region filled with fearful, and fearsome locals, police who smoke and drink too much, and long-buried secrets. The series reintroduces the multiple timeline structure of the first series, the stark color scheme, innovative film editing, and terrifying score that were trademarks of season one.
In short, this feels like more of a natural continuation for the series than the L.A-based Season Two did.
Now before we jump into the criticism of Season Three, let’s just address the sophomore season. The hate has gone way too far with it. Yes, it was an utterly ambitious mess of a season that definitely was rushed to satiate the thirst of loyal True Detective fans. Look beyond that and you will find some strong performances, and some terrific moments — they were just too few and far between.
Onto Season Three.
Like the original season, the straw that stirs this drink is the lead actor. This time around it’s Oscar winner (and potential two-time nominee) Mahershala Ali. Ali is handed a complicated a role — a man at three different times in his life who is at a constant war inside his head own.
In 1980 he’s battling the unresolved trauma he experienced in Vietnam combined with the haunting loneliness of his life and career. In 1990, a timeline we only dip an emotional toe in, deals with him battling possible mistakes and sins from 10 years prior. In 2015, he’s a man literally fighting a losing battle against memory loss (either Alzheimer’s or Dementia) while trying to recount his story to a documentary news team.
Ali, like McConaughey, gives a performance that engulfs everything around it. He’s so engrossing that you cannot take yours off every slight movement he makes, or word he utters. However, unlike McConaughey, there’s wild speeches about time being a flat surface. It’s a quiet performance that speaks volumes. Through his body language you see the aforementioned wars raging inside of Ali’s Detective Mays. He’s a man on fire, but the fire only burns inside.
As of now, it looks like both Carmen Ejogo and Stephen Dorff will play the Woody Harrelson to Ali’s McConaughey — so to speak. Dorff is the natural comparison to Harrelson as he plays Mays’ partner. It’s been a minute since we’ve seen Dorff in a major role, and he does a fantastic job as a grizzled chain smoking cop. Ejogo, so far, is the only other character we see in multiple timelines. She’s given some decent lines to work with, however her best work seems to be lying ahead in future episodes.
If there’s any knock on the two episode premiere, it’s that it seems to be trying a bit too hard to prove that it’s just like Season One. The setting, some of the smaller moments, even a possible sign of the killer are a little too close to Season One. However, these are all minuscule complaints.
True Detective Season airs Sunday nights on HBO. You can watch the premiere for free (if you’re a non-subscriber) here.