What Went Wrong with Season 2 of "True Detective"? Cautionary Lessons for Writers

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 11.00.05 AM

Most of the time, I try to use great writing as examples of what TO DO. But, some writing fails so epically, the best use of it is as a cautionary tale for other writers. We can use it to study what NOT to do.

True Detective Season Two does just that. I hate writing this because Season One was a masterpiece, and all I can think of is that maybe Nic Pizzolatto was a victim of his own success. It would be very daunting to top Season One. Scratch that. It would probably put most writers in a padded cell from nerves.

So what the heck went wrong?

This entire blog is nothing but a spoiler alert, but trust me. I am saving you ten hours of your life you can never get back. Before we talk about some of the basic writing issues that derailed the series, I believe there is one core reason this post fizzled faster than a bottle of New Coke.

Pizzolatto forgot the audience and remembered the critics.

Despite resounding praise for Season One, a handful of critics did take shots at Pizzolatto because they are critics and it is what they do. I wish Pizzolatto would have appreciated that most T.V. critics are being paid to watch the show and paid to have an opinion. They weren’t really his audience. The audience LOVED Season One. They bought t-shirts and quoted lines and tweeted and those were the people who mattered because it is basic math.

Fans waaaayyyy outnumber professional television critics. More fans means fans matter more.

This reminds me of the trouble we can get into as writers. This is actually one of the big dangers of attending a critique group.

Thing is, everyone at the table actually could love your pages, but I promise you that there will be ONE dude who will say something negative even if he doesn’t believe his own critique because he is like that jerk teacher who never gave an A because, “No one is perfect.”

Then, instead of the poor writer listening to twenty freaking people who thought the story was written with long-sought-after unicorn tears dripping from the quill made from a feather of a phoenix? Writer tries to appease Jerk Critic who just wanted to have something to criticize because he simply cannot stand the fact that someone in the group might have more talent.

Same with reviews on books. Unless an overwhelming percentage of people are complaining about the same things?


I feel this is what happened to Season Two of True Detective.

Instead of appreciating the glowing feedback from fans and basking in the knowledge that his series fundamentally changed television…he listened to the critics and changed Season Two to suit them. Maybe not consciously, but yeah. And since I don’t want to spend too much time here, check out this Ben Travers’ fantastic article about it; How Nic Pizzolatto’s Temper Tantrum Toward Critics Ruined ‘True Detective” Season 2.

When we write for critics, more times than not, we end up with Franken-Novel, which I wrote about in my post Franken-Novel, Perfectionism & The Dark Side of Critique Groups.

So, About the Writing…

Every time I write about the “rules” of writing, inevitably, I get at least ONE commenter who wants to toss out the rule book, which is fine. But, I will reiterate that we can break rules but we do so at our own risk. Rules exist largely for readers (the audience) which I hope will become clear as we go through this.

Limit the Number of Characters

O…M…G. I lost count of how many named characters were in this series. I felt like I was trapped at family reunion, smiling at people and pretending I knew them and that I actually recalled that they were the second grandchild of my third-cousin-by-marriage.

Even in the finale, I had to pause because I had NO IDEA who the hell was killing off one of the main characters.

Is it the Russians? Who IS that? Honey, does he look Mexican to you or Armenian? I thought he was cool with the Armenians. Wait…nope, those are Mexicans. What the hell are THEY doing there?

Really, I was Being Serious…Limit the FREAKING Characters

Especially POV characters. I’ve run into this before with my writing classes. Some new writer who wants to get all “literary” demands she has seven POV characters. Oh-kay.

I used to argue. Now?

Have fun storming the castle *waves*.

Thing is, like meeting every person on the planet who is alive and who happens to share our DNA at ONE TIME (family reunion again) we cannot care about that many people. Not at ONE time.

Season 2 had four POV characters and only eight episodes. Basic math tells us this is a bad plan. When we try to cram too many POV characters into a story, we end up with extra parts that don’t matter because we simply don’t have time (and audiences lack the cranial bandwidth) to explore these characters.

Eight episodes is NOT enough time to fully develop a sympathetic mob boss with a barren wife, a hardboiled detective who is the daughter of a hippie guru who allowed her to be sexually abused as a child, a raging alcoholic dirty cop with guilt issues and child custody problems, and a disgraced CHP with a shady past in Afghanistan, mommy issues, and who is struggling with his sexuality.

Have mommy issues. Feel free to have daddy issues. Go for BOTH at your own risk. Every single POV character trying to reconcile extensive and complex child abuse?

Mob Boss Frank Seymon—abandoned and verbally, physically and emotionally abused.

Detective Bezzideres—emotionally abused by guru father, abandonment issues, was abducted and sexually abused (we think, because she never *really* remembers or if she did I forgot it)

Detective Ray Velcoro—emotionally and verbally abused by his father (in convenient flashback-dream-sequence-hallucination thingy)

Officer Paul Woodrugh—extreme verbal abuse by mother and hinted at sexual abuse by mom who is a bitter dancer pissed off that she gave birth to Paul and it cost her her dance career.

*head explodes*

What becomes problematic (other than the sheer NUMBER of POV characters) is that rather than the characters simply being deep (I.e. we can “get” they were abused in their past without the deets) the series teased out details of each character’s past as if these details were salient to unraveling the plot mystery.

We are given all kinds of details in a way that “suggests” we need to pay attention. Instead of Chekhov’s Gun? We got Osama Bin Laden’s gift-weapons-cache from the CIA circa the 80s.

If you show us a gun plot trail in Act One Episode One, use it by Act Three Episode EIGHT.

The same went for the problems these characters were facing in the present. Not only was the audience saddled with unraveling the past mysteries, but we had the characters’ present-drama dumped in our laps as if THIS stuff was salient to unraveling the plot mystery.

Hint: No. No it was not.

I waited SEVEN episodes for that Hollywood bi*&% who tarnished Woodrugh’s reputation to get her comeuppance.

*rails at the heavens*

Nope. They kill him off and just…stop his story.


What happens when we try to develop everyone, is we develop no one. By the end, most of the characters were forced, contrived paper dolls. In fact, Officer Paul Woodrugh was a third-wheel. We could have cut his character and his storyline with zero negative impact to the overall kind-of-sort-of-plot.

Limit the Plot Layers

Some speculate that Pizzolatto was being reactionary to critics who claimed Season One wasn’t deep enough or complex enough. Here’s the deal. There is a difference between complex and complicated.

Lord of the Rings—> COMPLEX

Star Wars Prequels—> COMPLICATED

Complexity is birthed from simplicity. Complication is the child of confusion.

As we see when we try to create a log-line for each.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

A naive race who has never left home must travel vast distances and fight innumerable dangers to drop an evil ring in a special volcano located in the heart of enemy territory before darkness consumes the world.

Star Wars Prequels

A snarky slave kid who works on robots and races pods and who does something, then leaves home, maybe because Mom dies then something about Metachlorians and kid’s INFESTED with them. Then a dude with a painted face and Jedi and clones and much whining and more whining and then kid-now-whiny-adult-Jedi has no other choice but to slaughter a bunch of kids to save preggo wife and hell… I got nothing.

When it comes to the end of Season Two of True Detective, I haven’t been so confused since I forced myself to finish the Star Wars prequels.

Bluntly, I still really don’t understand the plot and don’t get who killed Casper. There were too many layers and subplots and hints and players in action. Maybe I am simply not smart or savvy enough for this series because…

I cannot unravel the Russian mob, the Mexican Mob, the Armenian underground, crooked cops, crooked politicians, crooked U.S. soldiers, crooked shrinks moonlighting as crooked plastic surgeons, crooked Hassidic Jews (NO, I AM NOT KIDDING), a land grab, toxic waste and environmental crimes, prostitution rings, secret sex parties, a missing five million dollars, sex trafficking, multiple coverups, several missing persons, blackmail, government fraud, gender issues, a missing hard drive, diamond theft, trafficking illegals, real estate fraud, and two orphaned kids with multiple identities out for the-most-complicated-revenge-plot-in-history in EIGHT EPISODES.

All we were missing in Season Two was the plot tangent about jaywalking. And some abused clowns juggling secretly gay ferrets.

And I hate picking on Pizzolatto because he is still my hero and is breathtakingly talented. ANY of these Season Two characters on his or her own could have been vastly complex and interesting and remarkable. But ALL at ONE time? That was the mistake.

Characters Should Stay in Character

Should characters be predictable? No. Can characters do unexpected things? Yes. Should characters do unexpected or stupid things simply because we (the writer) need them to? NO.

A ruthless mob boss who has survived into adulthood by being a master tactician and who GLORIOUSLY takes out the Russian mob in one showdown should NOT die because of rookie mistake/decision. He would give up the suit and then kill them all another day. He’d kill them, get back his diamonds and take all THEIR money, too.

When he refuses to give up the suit and some spear-carrying Mexican gang member not even important enough to warrant a NAME kills him?

We call foul and it ticks us off.

Characters Can’t BE Something They Aren’t

The whole sow’s ear/silk purse thing. Ray Delcoro’s son was as interesting as tax law no matter how many lines of Ray’s dialogue tried to tell us otherwise. The fact that Delcoro died (pointlessly) still trying to reach out to the World’s Most Uninteresting Kid still kind of ticks me off.

Someone NEEDS to Arc

Personally, I am with Blake Snyder. Everyone arcs! In True Detective Season 2? Other than Ray Delcoro being sober, every protagonist was the same in the end as in the beginning. No one was inherently changed by the crucible of plot.

The Plot Problem MUST Be Resolved

After gutting it through seven episodes, I was hoping that the season finale would finally tie up all these loose ends and that I would finally understand. Finally, there would be justice.


Almost everyone dies for no good reason and the bad guys win. Casper’s murder becomes an afterthought and I can’t even tell you the names of his killers only that his murder is never officially solved. All the shady politicians get what they want and the dirty cops go on being dirty cops.

The season ends with Ani (one of the investigating detectives) in Belize (I think) talking to ANOTHER CHARACTER. A NEW CHARACTER. A reporter. She hands off all the evidence she collected for an expose (????) and is still uncertain anyone will see justice probably because she is as lost as the rest of us and hopes the reporter can figure it all out.

If we want to end our story like a French film and everyone dies? Ohhhh-kaaaaay, but we should give the audience a bone. The bad guys then should be punished. If we want the bad guys to win? I’m not fond of that kind of ending, but all right. It happens. But then we need to give the audience a personal WIN for the characters. Our protagonists cannot all die AND all fail. They cannot all die and fail the plot arc and the character arc.

If they do, the audience will want to stab our story IN THE FACE.

Why all of this is (to me) a shame is because there was so much rich material in this series to work with and it went to waste. I actually enjoyed Vince Vaughn as a bad guy and loved his character (cheesy lines and all).

But there IS some good news to this. When I watched True Detective Season One, it was so good I actually questioned if I could even write. After Season Two? I realize even geniuses like Pizzolatto make mistakes too 😉 .

What are your thoughts? Did you watch both seasons? Were you just as confused by Season 2? Were the dudes with the bakery who forged the passports Armenian? I never could quite figure that out.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of AUGUST, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Before we go, some upcoming classes. It’s BACK TO SCHOOL!:

Remember! Due to popular demand I am running my Your Story in a Sentence class THIS SATURDAY and participants have their log lines shredded and rebuilt and made agent-ready. Log-lines are crucial because if we don’t know what our book is about? How are we going to finish it? Revise it? Pitch it? Sell it?

This class can help ensure your story is COMPLEX, not COMPLICATED.

I am also running my Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages at the end of August. Beginnings are crucial. As a long-time editor, I can tell almost every bad habit and story flaw in five pages. I never need over 20. This class helps you learn to see what agents and editors see and learn how to correct most common writing mistakes. I am offering additional levels if you want me to shred your first 5 or even 20 pages.

I am STOKED about Back to School and am here to help! The first ten signups for Gold or Platinum get double pages (10 for Gold and 40 for Platinum).

In September, I’m teaching my Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist. This class is critical for PLOT whether we are plotters or pantsers. This class will teach you how to have a solid plot that captivates and satisfies audiences, whether for one title or a series.

All classes are recorded and the recording is provided FREE with purchase.

Can’t wait to see you in class and read your writing!


3 pings

Skip to comment form

  1. It’s so wonderful to see a writer who knows what they’re doing teach it back, blog it back, etc. Thanks so much.

  2. Reblogged this on authorkdrose and commented:
    So great to see writers who know what they’re doing share back!

  3. Oh I really like True Detectives..thank you for sharing this

  4. I also think a big part of the “downfall” of TD Season 2 was that everyone had such high expectations after season 1. You cannot “perfect” perfect! The show should have just gone in a different direction. I agree with you on so many levels. But one thing I’ve learned about critics. They are frustrated screenwriters…just as many food critics are frustrated chefs. The casting was a bit “off” as well. Vince Vaughn looks mighty uncomfortable outside of his comedic box. I’m glad someone FINALLY wrote about TD Season 2! Thank you!

  5. Agreed, the writing this season was so hamfisted, it’s hard to believe the same guy wrote both seasons. I also had problems with s2, which I rant about here: http://jeremyjohnparker.com/2015/08/10/if-that-ending-was-feminist-ill-eat-my-own-heart/

    1. LOVED your post! Thanks for sharing!

  6. You hit all the notes perfectly. Add to that the fact that 50% of the acting was atrocious, and it was truly 10 hours I rue never being able to get back. I hear there is going to be a season 3. Perhaps a different writer this time around….

  7. You are so on the money about Season Two! Thank you for sparing me the time – I keep going back to shlog through but can’t keep anyone straight. And honestly, don’t give a shit about any of them. Now season ONE – phew. I’m going to be referring back to this post for my own writing too. Great one.

    • Angel Payne on August 13, 2015 at 2:46 pm
    • Reply

    Have never watched this show–but dang, woman, this is why I never miss your blog. As usual, wonderful stuff. Thank you!

  8. I, too fell in love with the sheer genius of TD Season 1. You didn’t mention the acting but for anyone who hasn’t seen 1, it’s spellbinding. I’ve been putting off watching 2 due to unenthusiastic word of mouth. Thanks for saving me the 10 hours. Looking forward to Season 3 with the same writer to see what happens. He deserves another shot.

  9. I’ve seen a ton of disappointed people tweeting about how terrible this season was. I hate to hear that. Season One was amazing. Thanks for explaining the problems and keeping me from wasting ten hours of my life.

  10. 99% of the time, I prefer reading the book over watching the movie because I get to know that characters better. One memorable 1% time where I liked the movie better was Absolute Power — as you have just pointed out so well, there were too many characters in the book, which made it confusing, but this was streamlined in the movie.
    Okay, and I like Clint Eastwood, too. 😉

  11. Reblogged this on The Compass Locket.

  12. Also never seen True Detectives but love the way you make everything relevant to our craft. Very crafty of you.

  13. You had me until your comment about Vince Vaughn.

    Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh! He was totally not believable as a mobster, cheesey lines and all.

    And killing EVERYBODY (almost)? I was like, wow, even the wriers hate this effing season.

    Better luck next year, huh? But if it reinstated your thinking that you can write (which season 1 took away) then it was worth it.

    See? That was the happy ending from season 2.

    1. LOL. I just love Vince Vaughn so I am not a good judge. I admit I am biased :D.

  14. I too was so disappointed in Season 2. Season 1 was so great. The actors in Season 2 were great, but the storyline did not come near to the first. I’ll be surprised if there is a Season 3.

  15. Reblogged this on Lori Beasley Bradley my writing.

  16. Excellent about “complex” and “complicated.”

    I always go back to the words themselves. “Complex” is an adjective. It describes how something is, and some things are inherently complex (weather patterns, ecological systems).

    “Complicated” is also an adjective, but it’s derived from a verb. If something is complicated, then somebody complicated it. (It’s like on Facebook. When somebody’s relationship status suddenly becomes “It’s complicated” — that means somebody did something to make it that way. 🙂 ).

  17. I did not like Season 2 either, and I thought you made some great points, writing-wise. I tried to like it, and I liked pieces of the story (the child custody issue, Ani getting drugged and flipping out on that guy), but I liked what you said about all the complications not really being relevant to the central case. To get to the end of a detective story to have the heroes running and getting killed off one by one was not satisfying for the detective story genre, not that I needed a happy ending. I thought Vince Vaughn was miscast as that character, and the woman who played his wife was so dull. The custody ending drove me crazy, but OK, an ironic twist, I get it, but then the cell phone message to his son not going through? That’s just mean, like childishly mean, just thinking how can we kick this poor loser when he’s down, well, dead.

    Phew. I think you touched a nerves there.

    I loved Season 1.

  18. Great post, as always ;). On the section about limiting the number of characters, I was wondering what your thoughts were on Game of Thrones and the tidal wave of characters George R.R. Martin has and how, yes, you are supposed to remember them all. And it’s not like the characters have names like Bob or Steve. Okay, well, there is one guy named Kevin, but I digress.

    I looked it up on the official wiki, and apparently there are 45 major characters to care about and remember. And that’s just the major characters. There are tons of minor characters, too.

    Just asking since Game of Thrones is one of the most popular things ever right now. Does it get away with it because it is a fantasy? Or does it get away with it because it is George R.R. Martin?

    1. Probably both and that genre comes with a massive cast. In high fantasy, the PARTY is the character so (because I have not seen Game of Thrones) each “house” is a cast member with interchangeable parts. Also, the problem with True Detective 2 was that they tried to cram ALL of that into EIGHT episodes. Also, it is NOT high fantasy.

  19. I liked Season One because of its links to the Yellow Sign and Cthulhu Mythos.

  20. Hah! Great post! Yes, this suffered the way most Batman movies did – too many people! hubby and I were able to keep most things straight throughout, but it would have been nice if they’d focused a character or two, rather than for. Hubby still calls foul on the cop waiting outside the tunnels and took out Woodrough. With all those tunnels, the guy could not possibly have guessed where he’d come out.

    Of the four main characters Bez seemed the only one with a complete arc. For the first time ever, she opened up to a man, and actually envisioned having a relationship with him, rather than just a fling.

    Towards the end, I kept thinking they were going to make the mobsters wife a traitor, I kept hoping they wouldn’t do it, and they didn’t, so it was a nice surprise, because it would have been an easy cop out.

    While we knew the bar owner lady with the scar was sweet on Ray, they also decided to make her look decidedly unhappy as she realized Ray was sweet on someone else. They were definitely trying to fake us out.

    Who killed Casper? It was the crazy boy whose parents were killed during the original diamond heist. Them throwing in that Casper and the mother had been having affairs and that they killed them because she was getting too clingy, was just ugliness to throw around and made the whole mess even less believable and if it had been just plain greed. 😛

    There were things I liked and things I definitely did not. Though that song at the beginning almost made it all worth while by its lonesome. Heh heh. Definitely did not hold a candle to season 1.

  21. I feel so much the same. It’s really strange how true to the critique you are.

  22. Great comments on True Detective Season 2. I watched season one in a binge over Christmas Break. Loved it’s setting (I’m originally from Louisiana). You are right about too many characters in TD2. I liked them, really liked all of them. But there were times that I had to stop the DVR and my wife and I tried to remember who was talking about what and why. Maybe if this were a long running series like The Wire, main characters could ebb and flow through the various plot-lines. This 8 episode form is becoming an interesting structure. TD1 managed it well. So did Fargo. TD2 left me with more “Okay, I get … what?” moments. Excellent critique and good comparison to the Star Wars Prequels.

  23. ROFL – this was the best description of Star Wars Prequels EVER!! LOL!! Thanks for that!!!
    *still chuckling*
    And thank for this critique for writers. I haven´t watched the show, but now I will, just to compare both seasons. And I will have your words in mind… 😀

  24. Reblogged this on writersback and commented:
    Awesome post by Kristen Lamb on why “True Detective Season Two” didn’t deliver.

  25. I liked the characters, especially Ray; however, Mr. Pizzolatto needed another eight (maybe 4) episodes to unpack everything he had built up to let his characters arc and then he had to end it; no more time. It felt like one of those 60’s artsy films where resolution is basically non-existent because everyone is gone. I thought Ana was an intriguing character, lots to work with and then she was the victim till the end (but now she has a baby-so…). So sad – her arc could have been really powerful for other women in abusive upbringings. I have not seen TD Season 1. I’ll take the time to watch it. Loved your post and your colorful summaries.

  26. We got the True Detective Season 2 we deserve?

    This question has been on my mind since I watched the finale of season 2 of True Detective. WE GET THE WORLD WE DESERVE, the catch phrase of this season, has now got me wondering what we all did to deserve such a cut off ending to a series full of innuendo and mystery. What is the writer trying to tell us? That there is no mystery whatsoever in life, that it is all in our minds, that we are all basically evil and deserve every bit of pain given to us? Or was the writer promised 20 episodes and halfway through the network changed their minds because of the urgency of getting it finished as soon as possible due to public demand and told him: “Just cram it all into eight episodes”? I am left with a feeling that the writer does not like me. And I got exactly what I deserved.

    • nightsmusic on August 14, 2015 at 7:45 am
    • Reply

    I loved, loved, loved season one! This season? I kept watching in the hope that something down the line would explain just exactly what the heck was going on! Too many players, too many backstories, too many…too many! Caspere’s murder which was the opening catalyst, or so I thought, for the season, got lost in the shuffle, there was no justice meted out at any time and the whole thing pretty much sucked. I don’t love Vince Vaughan and I thought he was brilliant in this! The one bright spot in a nothing season.

    And tropes! Holy cow, there were a ton! Frank’s life flashing before his eyes, Ray’s looking up into the trees and “gee, this is a decent place to die,” Ani having a baby (typical old time romance epilogue,) Frank not noticing there was a car stopping in front of him for no reason, Ray finding the tracker and ‘leading the badder guys away from his family,’ and I could go on. That was cheap, forced writing to get to some kind of end of the story by the end of the allotted time. And it sucked.

    Thank you for a perfect summary of everything that was wrong with this season. I didn’t necessarily expect better than the first, but by gosh, I expected way better than what we got! Because that’s 10 hours of my life I’ll never get back…

  27. Thanks, Kristen,
    I thought it was me. I, too, am a Nic Pizzolatto fan and yet, every week after I watched the newest installment of True Detective I wondered if I’d fallen asleep in the middle of the show — I was so confused. I must have missed “something.”

    So I re-watched each episode and still didn’t get it. I tuned in to the finale expecting it all to be made clear. In the middle of the torturous 90 minutes, we had a power outage. What a relief. At least the lights came back on in the house because they didn’t for the show. Haven’t even re-watched to see what I missed. I doubt those five minutes will make a difference.

    And Vince Vaughn – give me James Gandolfini any day

    • nightsmusic on August 14, 2015 at 8:55 am
    • Reply

    I came back to point one thing out I’ve not seen much talk of anywhere and that’s, hardly anyone noticed that the opening song lyrics changed every week. I couldn’t understand them all and so far haven’t seen a translation (whoever was doing them wasn’t enunciating enough for my old ears!) but they changed each week according to the episode. Maybe that’s where our explanation of this season lies. If so, it still sucks.

  28. I’ve heard groans about TD season 2 , so thanks for breaking it down. You’re so right about throwing out the rulebook. Usually rule breakers who succeed are breaking maybe one big rule, but keeping those other storytelling pieces in tact. Mr. Robot on USA this summer is a good example. They’re doing some kind of out-there stuff, but it’s all couched in some pretty conventional Hero’s Journey plotting. It’s fun to pick out the tropes underneath the show’s unique characterization and arty format.

    I think this is the same reason so many fans were disappointed in Dexter. The whole series is about this serial killer who kills under the nose of his colleagues at the Miami PD. It plays with your view of morality–if Dexter kills bad guys, is it OK? So [mild spoilers] the end of the second to last season is HUGE moment of discovery. What do the writers do? The final season flashes forward six months and they bring in new characters and new plot arcs. They had everything already! All of the mistrust and characters we cared about, swept to the side for new stories. Made no sense.

  29. I’m just laughing through your entire post. I’m not the only one who’s confused!!! Good to know.

  30. True Dective 2… is a good script and makes good TV viewing.
    Sound quality erratic as usual.
    The story line weakened around Collin Farrell’s exaggerated drink problem, unlikely ( impossible to consume and remain coherent) drinking habits and his unlikely traumatic emotional condition seemingly created by a failed marriage and failed bonding with his son. Hard men move on, softer personas repeat the knocking on ex wife doors.

    The hard man / woman image cannot sustain a soft center family heart and this is endemic through all the main characters.
    That ending must have been rushed off at a bar counter, very late at night, on the back of an envelope, by the bar tender.The Author signed off on it for a night cap.
    A good script destroyed and the farce ends with Collin Farrell committing suicide. That exposure out of cover …?
    Then an unexplained gathering of all female survivors who also adopted the new born child and faded out. What was that about?
    That bar tender must have been tippling while serving.

      • nightsmusic on August 14, 2015 at 12:21 pm
      • Reply

      The baby wasn’t adopted. It was Ray and Ani’s son. That much I got by the comment she made to the reporter at the end.

      1. Correction given that the child was not that of the motor bike cop?
        Not adopted then the child made an appearance as one of the all female survivors. A baby girl then?
        All males were eliminated and the survival gene belongs to feminism. Of course.the strong heroines.


          • nightsmusic on August 14, 2015 at 2:28 pm
          • Reply

          When Ani was talking to the reporter, she made the comment that she ‘owed that much to Ray’s SONS.’ Since Ray only had one, and she takes the baby from Frank’s wife and swaddles it for the trip, we are lead to believe that the only time she and Ray had sex, the baby was the result.

          If I’m misunderstanding what you’re asking, I’m sorry, but your existential form of posting is difficult to decipher.

          1. No misunderstanding
            Maybe Mis- reading
            There are no questions requiring responses.
            Write and let it fall wherever.
            Writers cannot interpret for every reader … An impossibility and why ?
            When every reader generates their own definitions based psychosomatic influences.
            Refer to Dandahan4.com introduction for further enlightenment or not …

            • nightsmusic on August 14, 2015 at 2:45 pm

            No, thank you. Your inability to write clearly (and no, I cannot mis-read what isn’t there to begin with) will simply make my head explode so I’ll pass.

          2. Nightsmusic
            My blog is not interactive.
            Threads deteriorate into abuse and more invariably.
            A writer cannot respond to each individual reader.
            Please ignore what you failed to understand. It is of little consequence.
            Kind regards

          3. Of course you will
            You were not invited to respond
            Or not
            One on ones are for emails, letters, phones etc
            This is WWW

            Kind regards

      2. I did too. What is this? Comment Dadaism?

  31. Great post! I haven’t watched True Detective, but I’ve seen this happen in other TV shows. I put down books that introduce thirty-seven characters in the first two chapters. Give me a few (FEW) main characters to care about. I agree on the overly-elaborate plots, too. Some shows just get too hard to follow. My brain doesn’t want to work that hard when I’m watching TV.

  32. True Detective is a story and comments are interpretations.
    Then is it not sad that inability to read comments invariably creates a basic tendency to lash out against the writer or commenters.
    Inability to comprehend writings may best be assisted by asking a friend to explain the difficulty of interpretation.
    To attack a writer is wasteful.
    The Internet never forgets and failure to understand coupled with disparaging repost is not wise.
    Write and let it fall where ever.

  33. Dadaism … an artistic movement or a nihilistic art concept.
    Beware … writing about writing
    Why not write instead of discussing … yap, yap, yap …

    Kind Regards

  34. I agree with your assessment, after watching only 2 episodes and deciding not to go any further. The detectives in Season 1 were complex and layered. I never knew what crazy thing they were liable to do next, but I was dying to know, and when I found out, I believed it. The guys — and guys and guys and guys — in Season 2 were a yawn that had nothing to do with the actors. A role I would have given to Vince Vaughn? Oh, heck no, but he could’ve done great with the right material. This is a rookie mistake for Nic P. I’d be quite happy to see him learn from it and come back with a dazzling 3rd season or something new.

    • Rick on August 14, 2015 at 5:48 pm
    • Reply

    Thank you. I loved season one, counted down the weeks for S2. Had to re watch episodes because I couldn’t get it in one take. I soon realized it wasn’t me.

    • WannabeWriter on August 14, 2015 at 6:45 pm
    • Reply

    I am so glad to see that so many other people struggled to understand Season 2. I was beginning to feel dumb!
    I felt that there were far too many characters, with way too much going on their depressing lives.

    I thought this flow chart explains everything really well:

  35. I agree with what you said. Critics only criticize because they do not create. You should always write for your audiences, However, why do you always bad mouth Star Wars Prequel. It was not complicated at all. While Jar Jar Binks was an abomination, the original trilogy has the Ewoks who brought down an entire empire. I’m not the prequels are better, not even on the same league, but they did their job. Also, there are far more WORSE movies to compare: James Cameron’s Avatar, The Last Airbender (movie), Prometheus (if you really want to talk about a sucky prequel), etc.

    1. I use the prequels because I have discussed them before, so it is easy to hyperlink to a previous post to expound, rather than just spouting off an opinion. Also, the other movies you listed? Haven’t seen any of them. The Prequels work well for this argument because we are comparing two separate series, thus using Star Wars allows me to keep comparing apples to apples ;).

      1. If you’re an Alien franchise fan, don’t bother with Prometheus, it’ll make you sad. LoL! As for the others, James Cameron’s Avatar plagiarizes from Star Trek Insurrection, Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves, but most embarassingly, Fern Gulley: The Last Rainforest. If you ever wanted to write an article on copycats that get hype, Avatar is the film.

  36. Wow, the people in my real life are so complex that I can hardly keep up with their REAL shocking details. I can barely watch TV.

    1. (Oops–hit “post” accidentally on my iPad–no second chances!) Real life is so tragic and convoluted and unbelievable and traumatic that I need to go to books (or nature) to escape. Excellently-written books provide blessed pacing, the right amount of plot vs. resolution, connection to my wounds and others’ wounds with deep understanding, as well as time to absorb/process everything. Or…they are so far removed from reality that they are a welcome escape (if written excellently).

      When I find writers who really know what they are doing and resonate with my soul, I buy every one of their books & read them all. I never even turn on my TV anymore. I can keep up with “important” world events by reading all the headlines and articles and video clips from social media (after wading through the utter glut and muck over every little thing).

      Great writers provide pure and wonderful relief from the overwhelming, exhausting complexity of real life.

  37. Thanks for saving 10 hours of my life… but I am still the tiniest bit curious to see the second season (which won’t happen for me until it’s release on Netflix), if only to reinforce the lessons you have outlined here! I could think of it as a 10-hour writing workshop. Also wondering if you have seen the Netflix original Sense8 by the Wachowskis. I think it brilliantly carries off multiple POVs and a large cast of characters. But then I’ve learned my tolerance for such things is larger than many readers/viewers.

  38. This. Exactly this. I was so frustrated and infuriated by Season Two, and couldn’t verbalize exactly why. Thanks for taking it apart so clearly and explaining my frustration to me. Way too many POV Characters for only 8 episodes. I would also say the setting didn’t help at all. As soon as I heard it was set in California, I was skeptical. It’s such an obvious and overused setting for TV cop shows, you had better do something spectacularly different with it. And that did not happen.

  39. Reblogged this on B. Shaun Smith and commented:
    Great points on Season 2 of True Detective

  40. I haven’t watched an episode of True Detective, but read every word of this. Great piece!

  41. Fantastic post! I haven’t seen True Detective yet, but I’ve been dying to watch. I will take your word on the 2nd season and only enjoy the first some day soon. I’m sure I’ll learn from the writing of the first season as well.
    This has got to be one of the best quotes ever : Complexity is birthed from simplicity. Complication is the child of confusion.
    Love that!

    Thanks for your wisdom and have a great day!

  42. Great advice about writers’ groups and the one naysayer – it’s so easy to give weight to the negative, instead of thinking carefully about what the critique is and whether the person actually “gets” your writing. As writers, we should believe in ourselves and understand what is a critique that will help us improve and what is someone just being a jerk. [oh, and I LOVE TD season 1, glad to learn a bit about why, perhaps, I shouldn’t bother with season 2.]

    1. Alternative thinking derided as a naysayer and spirals downwards rapidly to name calling “a jerk”.
      Then critique from one writer is degraded to negativity from the “jerk”
      Sweetness and light and niceness and candy coated nonsense is PC dictat … Be nice, or we of the holding hands introverted cloned ones will not let you play in our doll’s house.
      Write and let it fall qherever with whatever consequences to PC nice.
      Not writing to order
      Regrets to nice PC World dictators.

      1. Write and let it fall wherever

  43. Anyone seen House of Cards season 3? I thought 1 and 2 were contenders for best show in history (I’m not exaggerating). But 3 was awful.
    I wrote my own opinions here: http://fosterhaskell.com/blogs/Apr24th2015.html
    Wondering what other people thought.

  44. Right on! Loved Season One of True Detective and couldn’t wait for Season Two. Halfway through the first episode, I was so disappointed that I deleted the show from my Season Pass list and never looked back. Thanks for confirming my decision.

  45. I really liked what you replied to a commenter about the PARTY or HOUSE being a character in Game of Thrones. Or any other high fantasy like LOTR, HP, etc. It helps me compartmentalize them in my brain to think of one group as a set with similar alliances rather that individual characters. Thanks!

  46. Thanks for writing this article. I’m 16 and it’s my dream to write for TV. I didn’t watch season 2 of true detective, but I thought season 1 was phenomenal (and McConaughey’s hair and beard were amazing).
    I’m keeping a blog to help me become a better writer. It’s basically just something that will keep me writing everyday and find my voice as a writer. If anyone would read it and post some feedback on what I can do better or just give me some advice in general that would be great. I’m trying to hone my craft as a writer because I would like to make a career out of writing when I am older.
    Thank you.

  47. Great article, I agree season 1 was better than 2, having said that I would say if you can take season 2 in isolation without reference to the first season it is quiet enjoyable and not a bad series at all. I did like the closing sequence with Frank in the desert, no spoiler if you havn’t seen it. I saw an interview with John Cleese recently in relation to Fawlty Towers season 2 and expectations being very high for it. Early success can be a problem funnily enough in terms of hitting the mark again.

  48. This post is HILARIOUS. I love when anyone disses terrible writing – maybe I shouldn’t, but it’s a guilty pleasure.
    TV always seems to suffer from either 1. developing too many characters or 2. failing to develop ANY characters. It drives me crazy that TV shows so often suffer from terrible writing. I don’t get it at all. Don’t TV show writers have to be really good at what they do to get a job? I get that TV show is all about the ratings so you have to try to please everybody but many of the shows I watch, I just think “HOW could the writers be proud of this?”
    Which is why I want to write books, not TV shows.

    1. I don’t think it is the fault of the writers/creators. I think it is the money and advertising that start driving stupid decisions. It’s like when a business becomes beholden to shareholders over customers and the quality suffers.

  49. Kristen Lamb criticized the writer in her introduction to this post. Now the spotlight shifts to other influences, directors, producers, profit motives etc.
    Writers suffer when their creative work is savaged by just about every other decision maker involved.
    Some ( few) writers will protect copyright and probably starve.
    The writing for TD is good , where it is obvious that the director / editor did not or could not destroy, distort or mutilate the artistic work, further.
    The enigma for viewers is … how can anyone involved in TV or Film make so much rubbish.
    Are they consistently deaf, dumb and blind?
    It may be argued that relegation … of the writers’ work in weaving an audio visual language into a drama, story etc …by producers/ directors/ editors and backers, must result in the sort of crap churned out like a gigantic flood. Viewers drown in a perpetual flow of utter drivel.

    1. …which I just said. Also, I began that the creator wrote for the critics (because critics can affect sales) which was a mistake. I think money does affect the writing. It becomes a “show by committee.”

        • Rick on August 29, 2015 at 8:33 am
        • Reply

        Hi. I’m a guy who really, really liked season one. I am a frustrated writer/actor; that said– I love to watch good acting and hear good writing. So I,m on my couch, popcorn on one side cold beer on the other–ready for a master class in all the above. After 8 weeks I was thinking ‘there must be something wrong with me.’ It wasn’t working. It was a festival of ‘chest voice’ acting. Vince Vaughn was like ‘Iago’ all of a sudden. Who talks this way? Half the time I’m thinking “What did he say?’ I’m thinking ‘why do we even need this CHP guy?”
        Then, like you said, Russians, Armenians, Mexicans Huh….whaaaa??
        And the kid? And then kill them all and….oh crap.

        Bottom line. You made me feel better with this blog, and your clarification of all my thoughts.

        Rick Miller

      1. The writer is relegated to writing on instructions of everyone else involved.
        Or a different writer or writers are instructed.
        A deteriorating spiral of non creative piffle results.
        The creative original writer is at the the bottom of the pile of non creative non writers.
        Resulting disasters emerge and invariably flop onto our screens.
        Reinstate the original writer, move creativity to pole position.

        1. Word to that.

    • Maria on November 12, 2015 at 10:48 am
    • Reply

    My God Kristen, thank you! I managed to watch 1 1/2 episodes and thought there was something wrong with me. I hated it. I understood nothing. Now I feel so much better for not having wasted any more time on the second season.

    The first season? Brilliant! I was confused sometimes but things got taken care of. The acting was superb. The writing superb. I was thinking, dang, if I could do this some day…I’d be okay as a writer. I’d be happy. 🙂

    Personally, I’m not sure they are going to find anyone else to equal or top the first season. IF they get a chance at a third.

  1. […] What Went Wrong with Season 2 of “True Detective”? Cautionary Lessons for Writers by Kristen Lamb. […]

  2. […] Kristen Lamb explains what went wrong with True Detective, season 2. […]

  3. […] Kristen Lamb: What Went Wrong with Season 2 of “True Detective”? Cautionary Lessons for Writers […]

I LOVE hearing your thoughts!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.