True Detective “Black Maps and Motel Rooms” Review

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2015 has provided television viewers with plenty of excitement, plenty of joy, and sturdily taped boxes full of drama. It’s been a very fun year to be a fan of this medium.

And then there’s been True Detective.

For seven weeks, we’ve discussed Nic Pizzolatto’s drama and as we sit six days away from the finale, I’d like to apologize to all of you. I don’t know many of you by name, haven’t ever corresponded with you, but my goal as a writer is never to waste your time and not to lead you astray. The truth is, with the exception of last week, an episode I still believe was enjoyable, I haven’t been anywhere near as hard on this show as I should have been. Last night reminded me for 64 painful minutes of just how shoddy this show has become. It wasn’t a bad episode, but this show is OVER next week. What the hell have we been watching for much of the last month and a half?

There’s a scene around the halfway point of “Black Maps and Motel Rooms” where Ani, Ray, and Paul are going through a bit of a timeline and piecing information together as they’re hidden away from the rest of civilization. As they go through all of this, dropping several names, none of which were foreign to me, it became even more crystal clear that I just don’t care. While last night was compelling respective to the protagonists and their crumbling situations, it all fails when I don’t give a damn, and I don’t. Osip: don’t care. McCandless: don’t care. Davis’ death: don’t care. Blake: don’t care. Chessani: don’t care. And, the biggest of all, and the reason for almost all of the shrugs, Caspere: couldn’t care less.

When Paul Woodrugh was shot in the back and killed, a moment that seemed predestined and it being a penultimate episode, particularly of an anthology series, fairly easy to see coming, I guarantee Nic Pizzolatto wanted me to emotionally react. This was the first major death he’s written over the two seasons of True Detective. Taylor Kitsch was the first “star” to die on the show. My reaction at that moment was appreciation because I knew it meant the episode was over and I could move on to something entertaining. This was all way too little, far too late.

I apologize because I should have been reviewing Halt and Catch Fire every week, instead of just doing a Season 2 preview article. That show is one of the best of the year, with an absolutely phenomenal second season that wrapped up yesterday. I apologize because I should be reviewing Mr. Robot every week, which as VOX’s Todd VanDerWerff has written, is everything True Detective isn’t and in effect is everything we wanted it to be. I apologize to all of you because I’ve sugar coated more than I should, and I’ve always tried to say positive things, but this show is mediocre and sometimes terrible. It isn’t acted poorly, but it isn’t acted in some kind of blow away fashion either. It’s just not interesting and the writing has been sub-par 85% of the time. Nic Pizzolatto is a talented guy, but it hasn’t worked out this time around. He’s 1-1 right now. He has a .500 record.

This week at the TCA’s, HBO execs came on stage and seemed shocked at the response to True Detective. They remarked that the season finale next week will be immensely satisfying and they came across oblivious to the criticism the show has taken this year. I’ve wanted to stay measured and continually give the show a chance, and while many will argue that last night was when the season actually turned around, I felt the opposite, because as much drama as “Black Maps and Motel Rooms” provided, there’s one point that damns it all.

This was the penultimate episode of Season 2, which is a story that will end next week. There will be no future for any of these characters on screen. If there’s a Season 3, we will be somewhere else with a bunch of other people hopefully doing better things. So, when you’ve been watching three-fourths of a story and almost all of it has either been mediocre or just flat out dull, there’s no possible way to celebrate a good week. I tried to do that last week, which I did enjoy. This week returned to the same concept of two characters staring at one another and talking in threatening, pretentious ways about recent history none of us should care about. There was far more blood and far more purpose, but the clock is almost up. When Frank set fire to his clubs, making his final big move, I enjoyed watching the action, but that was about it. When Ani said her goodbyes to her family, even if temporary, it didn’t inject me with some sense of, actually of anything. When Paul put his horrible mother and his fiancé in the hotel, in order to deal with the case and also his blackmailers and whatever else, it was just a scene in a television show.

HBO has been so good for so long at doing this drama thing that Season 2 of True Detective can’t be acceptable. When your network’s lineage includes The Wire, The Sopranos, Deadwood, Game of Thrones, Six Feet Under, Veep, and so many others, it’s got to be better than this. If I wanted to watch middling action and a flashy, substance-light story, even with people I like, I’d watch Ray Donovan. I don’t even want to recap what happened in the episode in any more detail because, and I have no problem admitting this, I was lost through parts of the hour due to a lack of focus. I wasn’t pondering some deep truth…I was just bored or wondering why it took so long to try and make me care about the four leads. There are so many strands, even if intertwined, in this narrative, my only conclusion is that Nic Pizzolatto out-thought himself and no one was there to remind him to slow down and keep things relatively simple.  

I can’t wait for next week, because then we’re done and can move on to better sources of fiction and storytelling. Those of you who have enjoyed the show, I couldn’t be happier for you and I wish I could join you, because I don’t like the feeling in my gut right now. But, this has largely been bad television. I’m looking forward to an advanced viewing of David Simon and Paul Haggis’ six part Show Me a Hero this week, which I’ll be reviewing right here at Outkick. It should be tremendous and I want to write about positive things. BoJack Horseman will give me that chance over the next week as well, a series I highly advise you to watch ALL OF, and not stop when you think you know what it is, because you’re wrong.

I am often accused of being overly positive, but I just have very little love for Season 2 of True Detective. Just like the “finally, but this is awkward and unsexy, and not just because Ani’s hair is jacked up” romance of Bezzerides and Velcoro (which I’m glad happened, because it was the one thing we hadn’t seen but knew we would), it’s been a mess and even if the payoff is fantastic, the road to get there has been anything but.

One more week, and I do hope HBO’s early praise for the finale is true. I’d love a positive end, even if the beginning and the middle belonged in a restaurant booth disgustingly close to the trash area.

I’m @GuyNamedJason. I’m much more pleasant on Twitter. Usually, I’m much more pleasant here. One too many eye rolls last night I guess. Also no callback quote here, maybe I owe a second apology.


Written by Jason Martin