When “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” hit theaters, I was there for opening night with the rest of the Jedi and stormtrooper impersonators. The loudest moment of the movie-watching experience came when the crowd saw Han Solo’s spaceship, the Millennium Falcon, which felt like a relic considering it hadn’t been in theaters since 1983 when “Return of the Jedi” debuted. To make things worse, Star Wars’ episodes IV, V and VI were underwhelming. I think that’s why the Falcon’s presence in “The Force Awakens” stirred loud cheers and applause in the theater on opening night.
This isn’t an article about Star Wars. It’s about the feeling everyone got in the theater when they saw the Millennium Falcon. It’s about the feeling I imagine everyone is getting while watching season three of HBO’s “True Detective.” The show’s second season was discouraging and, perhaps, a waste of time for everyone involved. Writer Nic Pizzolatto’s decision to focus on the real estate scene in Los Angeles felt a lot like George Lucas’ decision to focus on intergalactic senatorial debate in the prequel Star Wars movies.
And just like Stars Wars, the “True Detective” sequels cannot possibly match the magic of the original. (OK, now I’ll stop talking about Star Wars. I promise.) That doesn’t mean the writers shouldn’t try. That doesn’t mean they should count on the relentless fanatics to carry viewers’ interest.
In season three, we’ve got a troubled, borderline-alcoholic detective in Wayne Hays who struggles as a father, husband and person like Rust Cohle — but (so far) Hays isn’t a coke-snorting, tequila-guzzling masochist like Ray Velcoro. Hays and Cohle can handle their traumatic pasts in ways that are slightly more coherent and productive than Velcoro.
Hays doesn’t quite dive intellectually into Cohle’s idea that “time is a flat circle” — instead, Hays lives it. His memory problems seem to have flattened reality to a place where he’s almost traveling through time. And that’s, in part, because of the non-linear storyline, which dissects this puzzling case from three different timelines. That non-linear storyline, of course, is familiar from season one. Both seasons one and three jump between time periods. Both open the show with unfinished business — a long and unresolved case, which haunts the protagonist.
We’ve also heard the phrase, “The Crooked Spiral,” which sounds like an apt description for the insignia drawn on the victims in the first season. While Pizzolatto has said there isn’t a connection between seasons of “True Detective,” I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that this is an indirect origin story of Carcosa. And even if the seasons aren’t connected in terms of plot and characters, we can see they’re rooted in the same philosophical discussion.
Best of all, we haven’t seen Bird Man shoot anyone with salt from a shotgun, one of the worst twists in all of “True Detective” — if you can even call it a twist. Instead, we’re puzzling over a fractured and contorted narrative that tells us far less than we want to and need to know. Season three’s pace is slow — and got slower than ever in episode three — but the payoff feels like it’s bound to be more rewarding than the second season.
So I imagine that if I’d watched this season of “True Detective” in a theater, there probably wouldn’t have been a Millennium Falcon moment, per se. But everyone would have cheered when they realized we were diving back into more existentialist pondering and more muddled narrative in a show which did not include Ray Velcoro, Frank Seymon or any of the other forgettable characters and moments in season two.