True Detective Season 4 (Review)

I am of the opinion that the first season of True Detective is one of the best season of any series ever made. It had iconic characters, a very strong underlying philosophy, a crime mystery that intertwined with supernatural elements, and some of the most striking scenes that I have experienced in television. It came out of nowhere, and it was universally acclaimed, to the point where it made complete sense for HBO to keep investing in it. And so, the second season came along, to a very mixed reception. Which was understandable, cosidering the sheer impossibility to follow up successfully on such a masterpiece of a season. And by follow-up, I mean that thematically – because of course, the story was completely different, so were the characters and the general allure. Gone was the supernatural element in favour of deeper realism, and the season tried a bit too hard to preserve the same structure and elements, while doing someting different. This was largely no win-win territory – and despite not being liked by many at release, many have warmed up to it in the meantime. I thought it was okay then, and like it quite a bit nowadays. Season 3 was received much better, and I also liked it quite a lot – it was different enough, and the time distance from season 1 also did a few favours for it. And, after a significant break, came Season 4.

Season 4 starts quite well, I’ll give it that. Despite Nic Pizzolatto’s departure from the helm, and the rather different vibe it immediately gives off, I enjoyed the first episode. I welcomed Jodie Foster’s role as a police officer, after being fascinated with her performance in Silence of the Lambs decades before, and I found the dark Alaskan setting to be a perfect backdrop for what the show wanted to do this time around. I loved the return of supernatural elements, and was quite fascinated by the mystery created in the first episode. Sure, there were some iffy elements here and there – Billie Eilish’s main theme being one of them – but I expected some of them to be fixed later on in the season. Well, they were not – and it was all downhill from there.

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❝The characters are incredibly unlikeable.

In my opinion, Season 4 fails pretty much everywhere. First of all, the characters are incredibly unlikeable, and the two leads have zero chemistry with each other. Jodie Foster’s acting skills don’t amount to much, since her character is so unidimensional and boring. Both the most recent season of Fargo and Season 4 of True Detective went for powerful female main characters, but where Fargo’s Dorothy was absolutely exceptionally written in all regards, True Detective’s Chief Liz Danvers, is awfully written. Jodie Foster described her as ‘ an Alaska Karen’ – and she represents all the characteristics inherent in toxic masculinity. As does her partner, Evangeline Navarro. And while the back and forth between professional challenge and personal drama has its interesting points for the two of them, the complete lack of chemistry between them, and the superficiality with which they are depicted don’t do the show any favours. And yes, the show might succeed in pushing across its bleak view, drawn from the darkness and the harsh environment, and extrapolated to the characters’ inability to connect or understand each other in any meaningful way. But this might very well be a sort of accidental success, that’s not the result of any real quality.

❝It disrespects the intellect of its audience.

Other than that, Season 4’s attempts at being philosophical and deep are rather farcical – silly nods to quotes from Season 1 about time being a flat circle, and dramatic statements that are disregarded in following episodes, because they were leading nowhere in the first place, and were there only for shock value. There is one episode towards the final stretch that shows some glimmers of promise if you overlook the unrealistic decision-making of the characters and questionable consistency, but then everthing gets even even worse than it was before – in case that was even possible. It’s honestly one of the worst season finales I’ve ever seen, it says absolutely nothing thematically despite its almost 1h30min runtime, and manages to ruin all the mystery and promise built in the first episode with a completely off the rails turning point. I felt that through its structure and direction, it disrespects the intellect of its audience, which I never expected True Detective to ever come close to.

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The only positive thing about Season 4 is that it seems to not be the nail in the coffin for True Detective, as it has been renewed for a fifth season. For now, I have rather mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, the promise of a completely different story gives it a chance at redemption. However, with showrunner Issa Lopez still at the helm, I doubt whether a change of direction under these conditions will deliver what the series needs. Just to show how bad Season 4 is – I doubt that anything else could get much worse.





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