Critique – True Detective S2E1
One thing writers need to have a firm grasp on is critiques. They need to be able to take critiques from other writers or readers, and they need to be able to critique their own work objectively. It’s not always easy to do, but it’s critical for understanding how to craft your writing into something more than just words on a page. Sometimes certain paragraphs or scenes just don’t belong in a book, or a show, or a story, and you need to be able to identify those passages, and then, more importantly, CUT THEM OUT.
So, in an effort to help other writers understand this process, I’m going to start posting some critiques here on the site. Sometimes it’ll be written works, but to start with I’m going to give you all an insight into what I’m thinking when I watch TV or movies. After spending so much time editing my own stuff, as well as Alistair’s and Patrick’s, I kind of can’t help myself now. I critique EVERYTHING.
Keep in mind one thing, however… critiques are not made to bash the writer. They are a legitimate attempt to help make the story better. They come from a place of love, not hate. Also, critiques are personal opinions mixed with a bit of accepted practices. You don’t have to agree.
We start with the first episode of True Detective, season 2.
FYI, spoilers are below…
– I would have either cut the flashback scene where we see Vince Vaughn’s character, Frank Semyon, provide Colin Farrell’s cop with info on the man who supposedly assaulted his wife, or I would have saved it for later in the series. I think it’s far more effective to wonder what demons lurk under Farrell’s character for a while, especially when we see him go nuts about (and to) his son. Even more importantly, I would have preferred to have our first glimpse of Vaughn’s character be that shot of him outside his house, and then getting ready for some event. I like the idea of seeing him first as maybe a businessman, and making assumptions about him based on that, and then later on seeing the seedy side slowly emerge. I think the flashback scene ruins both of those possibilities, without providing anything useful to the overall story.
The scene itself strikes me as one of those things a writer writes, but just can’t cut. I do the same thing. I have a scene or a passage that doesn’t quite feel right, but I can’t convince myself to cut it because it ‘does something important.’ In all honesty, the flashback scene doesn’t do anything that can’t be revealed later on with a single line of dialogue. But sometimes, as writers, we fall in love with our writing, especially with parts that just don’t fit in the narrative. And I think that flashback scene is a perfect example of that.
– I know it’s hard to make characters compelling in just the first episode of a show, but man… each of the main cop characters just feels like a bland, overdone archetype. Farrell is the dirty, hard-drinking cop, McAdams is the girl with something to prove, and Lautner is… well… beyond some vague death wish, I’m not even sure. They’re all broken somehow, but none of them seem to be realistic in their brokenness. The first season was helped tremendously by Rust Cohle’s ‘way-out-there-ness’. It was like watching a traffic accident in slow motion. And it’s really hard to recreate that magic. But these characters all feel like variations of the exact same thing, and it’s all done in a misguided attempt to capture a little bit of that magic. By contrast, Vince Vaughn’s character is played far more subtly, and as a result, he’s BY FAR the most interesting one. You see hints of the issues in him, and inquisitive people like myself want to find out more. But the other main characters are so IN YOUR FACE about their issues that I’m almost turned off by it. I see them do something and I’m like “yeah, I get it, he/she’s got some issues.” And I find myself not caring. That’s not what you want from your main characters, i.e., people we’re stuck with throughout the season.
– Not a fan of the random, lingering shots of faces. It happened a few times, but the best example is the shot in the bar near the end, when Vaughn and Farrell are sitting across from each other at the table while the woman sings. The first part of that scene feels like someone, either the writer or the director, is trying really hard to MAKE A POINT about something, and it does so at the expense of narrative momentum. In fact, this entire episode is guilty of that. We spend the entire hour getting to know characters that aren’t that interesting, all so they can come together in the final minutes, which is when we finally get to the actual crime that drives the story for season 2. Here’s a key question when it comes to editing/critiquing your work – If the season didn’t start until the actual discovery of the body, i.e. the last 5 minutes of the episode, would we miss anything important or worthwhile? We won’t really know until the season progresses quite a bit more, but my suspicion is that we won’t. And that’s how you know when to cut something from your story…