The second season of HBO’s True Detective is almost over but many questions still remain. Probably the most pressing is, which Bob Dylan song from the 1980s best describes the show?
The answer is “Brownsville Girl.”
“Brownsville Girl,” an eleven-minute yarn from Dylan’s 1986 album Knocked Out Loaded, may not help us completely understand True Detective Season 2, but it should put it in some kind of perspective.
It’s a long story song, something like Blood on the Tracks’ “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts,” except it’s not exactly. If that’s what you were expecting, you will be disappointed, kind of like if you were expecting Rust Cohle and got Ray Velcoro. To be sure, during this time period Dylan was having a difficult time filing his own shoes and True Detective finds itself in a similar situation this year, as viewers and critics can’t help but compare it unfavorably to its first season.
“Brownsville Girl” opens with the description of a western–the only genre with more mileage than cop drama–starring Gregory Peck. From there it branches out in about a million directions, and somehow never reaches a destination. It’s loaded with tropes, types, and interesting characters in strange situations, but the overall point is elusive. To viewers of True D Seas 2, this may sound familiar.
But as the song winds on something unexpected happens. “Is this so bad, it’s good?” you ask yourself. There’s a kind of cheap-wine aesthetic, unapologetic about its many flaws. The result is a pulpy confused mess that you can’t stop listening to.
The fact is, no matter how “bad” True Detective gets this season, I can’t stop watching. There is a distinct vibe and style that transcend its problems. And among the plainly bad moments have been some truly great ones. I wish Rachel McAdams’ Ani Bezzerides had a more compelling mystery to solve, and generally that there was more interplay between her, Colin Farrel, and Taylor Kitsch.
Having Vince Vaughn play a character who’s so serious is just frustrating, though. Here’s an actor who has an innate ability to turn any dialogue funny, and watching him squelch that is painful. It’s kind of like listening to a reverb-soaked Bob Dylan with backup singers, but anyway.
Toward the end of “Brownsville Girl,” Dylan observes, “Strange how people who suffer together have stronger connections than people who are most content.” He could be talking about Bezzerides and Velcoro, tasked with solving a mystery nobody wants solved, or the people in the town of Vinci, living under corruption and among industrial waste, or it could even be about sadomasochism.
However, it’s more likely he’s talking about the strong connection of the people who have suffered together watching this season of True Detective, frustrated, but refusing to look away.