‘True Detective’ season three unoriginal, falls flat

Mahershala Ali plays Wayne Hays and Stephen Dorff portrays Roland West; two Arkansas detectives.
Mahershala Ali plays Wayne Hays and Stephen Dorff portrays Roland West; two Arkansas detectives. Image By: Courtesy of Rolling Stone

Sometimes a TV series just doesn’t know when to end. The first season of HBO’s “True Detective” from 2014 starred Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in spellbinding performances that redefined crime storytelling for the ages to come. It was dark, gritty and rooted in the questioning of the nature of humanity. Each episode was more gripping and intriguing than the next.  

The second season was your typical cop story — Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn and Rachel McAdams playing depressed detectives in a cliché corruption story that was boring from start to finish. 

The third season starring Mahershala Ali looked promising, advertised in a fashion that channeled the nature of the first season, yet revealed to us that instead of trying to revive the glory of the first season, it was better for the show to have ended after one season and leave it at that.

"While Ali is phenomenal, “True Detective” fails to excel in both excitement and narrative."

To begin, Mahershala Ali gives another terrific performance. After winning his second Academy Award for best supporting actor for “Green Book,” Ali has proven to be a powerhouse actor who is just entering the height of his career. In “True Detective,” we see him portray Wayne Hays, an empty detective presented in three different stages of his life. Two of these stages occur during his career as an Arkansa detective who investigates the disappearance of two children alongside his gruff partner played by Stephen Dorff. 

The third stage follows him as an old man dealing with dementia as he tries to recall and reflect on the case years later. Ali’s versatility is infectious, his portrayal of an elderly man utterly convincing due to his tremendous talent and shocking makeup transformation.

While Ali is phenomenal, “True Detective” fails to excel in both excitement and narrative. Wayne Hays doesn’t transform at all throughout his story, instead wearing the same unpleased face and mumbling his every word. Hays is intriguing at first, as is the entire story. Yet as the season progresses, Wayne and his storyline become less and less interesting. 

The season is too rooted on his cliché marital struggles with his wife Amelia (Carmen Ejogo), whose character is used simply to add a strong female character, but in reality adds nothing interesting to the story. She’s just there to irritate Wayne and distract us from the case overall, a plot point that feels forced and unconvincing. The case itself this season becomes less interesting by the episode with far too many plot points added in to confuse us. 

There’s no sense of focus in the third season. We feel as if we’re watching a bunch of spewed ideas executed on screen that eventually get crumpled into a disappointing and lame ending.

Actors Stephen Dorff (left) and Mahershala Ali (right) lead the cast in season three of "True Detective" on HBO.

Stephen Dorff gives a terrific performance as Detective Roland West. He adds an entertaining and complementary touch to Ali’s emotionless character and should have been used more instead of just a sidekick. If we were to be able to explore the interpersonal struggles of Roland and not have him be just a tough guy, maybe the season would have played out better. The character development is lacking in this season big time. We follow two men for eight episodes and feel by the end of the season that we don’t see any real growth in them. 

After three seasons, it’s time for “True Detective” to call it an end. Season Three tried to mirror the style of Season One, and in doing so it fell short of capturing the brilliance and authenticity the first season offered us. This regurgitated bunch of episodes falls short of delivering anything gripping or exciting and falls flat on its face after the first few episodes. 

There’s no going back after two average, mediocre seasons that failed to deliver emotional or entertaining depth, and despite the consistently strong performances, there’s nothing fresh or original that this show can offer anymore.

Final Grade: C-

Dominic LeRose is a staff writer for the Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here. 

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