But that was way too late. I found myself invested in the finale, sure. And I was even able to accept the fact that the story, despite the time the season devoted to the labyrinthine criminal web of conspiracy, was not about the case. In a purest Cali noir sense - borrowing from classics like The Big Sleep, Touch of Evil, Chinatown, and L.A. Confidential - the story was about underdogs trying their hand at justice and failing. Getting crushed under the enormity of human greed and corruption. Sin that runs so deep, with conspiracy layers that can be peeled away forever, that it can't ever be uprooted. But the show first had to make us care about these underdogs. And those first four episodes were crucial.
What we got instead were four severely broken people, and no chaser. It's as if there was a decision made to start off with four Rust Cohles. As in, McConaughey's performance was so good and Rust's angst was so potent back in Season 1, creating a TV character for the ages, that the idea became to amplify that. And it didn't work. Someone needed to open up. There had to be a character who wasn't drenched in self-loathing. But there wasn't. And so we got more than half a season of "partners" remaining closed off, putting up walls, and mumbling at each other. With no true bond forming until the third act.
I think another big mistake here was the non-twist that happened during episodes two and three when Ray got shot. It would have been a big moment to take Colin Farrell out of the show like that. I'm not saying that it would have fixed everything, but it would have shown a lot of viewers that this season was looking to upend expectations. Instead (even though I liked "The Rose" dream sequence), Ray returned to the fold as grumpy as ever. I get that this the near-death experience was supposed to shock him sober and call him into action more. And it did, but only somewhat. Not enough to warrant the lame trickery (though it wasn't a full fake-out since we knew he'd be back due to the scenes shown in the trailer).
In fact, non-twists tended to hurt this season more than you might think. Aside from Ray getting shot, there was also the case of his son, Chad, who was set up to look so obviously not like his son that we spent the whole time believing that he wasn't. And that one of the red-headed dudes on the show was the father. It seemed like it was (rather clumsily) setting us up for a turn, but in the end we discovered that Ray was the father. So we spent the whole time not bothering in trying to invest in Ray's love for his boy because we thought something else was going to drop.
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