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5 Things You Must Know Before Watching True Detective Season 2

The second season of HBO's gritty murder mystery is nothing like the first – and that’s okay.


No one could have predicted the cultural juggernaut of True Detective. We’re sure the satanic detective thriller was a fascinating read on paper. But it wasn’t until those intense car rides with Rust Cohle hit the screen that it became clear creator Nic Pizzolatto truly caught lightning in a bottle.

So can he do it again? Jury’s out on that one, as critical reception of True Detective season 2 is a mixed bag of praise and sass. But don’t let sour words harsh your excitement. Hell, if we took every critic at his or her word, we’d all think Alien was just some empty-headed horror movie.

That said, there are some things about the new season of True Detective you need to know before diving in – some things that may horrify you. But once it’s out, you’ll be able to tune in with an open mind, free of expectation. So here we go.

There are no parallels to season one’s creepy tone

None. Time is not a flat circle. If you’re looking for the same supernatural, Southern Gothic sensibilities as the inaugural season, stop it. There’s none of that here. True Detective season 2 takes place in California, stars an entirely new cast of characters who have absolutely nothing to do any Louisiana police department, and is grounded in 100 percent reality.

This is no buddy cop show

Sorry, friends: last season’s bromance ended when Marty and Rust hobbled into the night after a belly stabbing from the Lawnmower Man. This season, the show employs an ensemble cast – Colin Farrell plays Ray Velcoro, a detective at the mercy of a mob boss-turned-businessman named Frank Semyon, played by Vince Vaughn. Rachel McAdams is Ani Bezzerides, a detective whose uncompromising ethics keep her at odds with the system she serves. And Taylor Kitsch plays Paul Woodrugh, a motorcycle cop with a dirty little secret.


The treasure hunt is over

The days of pausing mid-show to hunt for Yellow King Easter eggs are gone. It’s heartbreaking, we know. But, hey, even though Pizzolatto claims there are no hidden messages, some critics still detect a storyline influenced by obscure lit. Esquire‘s recent review puts it this way: whereas the first season used Robert Chambers’ trippy The King in Yellow as its source material, this season is guided by Hagakure, an ancient spiritual guide for samurai warriors. An interesting idea – especially since the show’s flashy new posters are plastered with the wise-yet-bleak philosophical nugget: “We get the world we deserve.”

There are no occult elements

When Pizzolatto said the second season would be about “bad men, hard women and the secret occult history of the U.S. transportation system,” the Internet blew up with speculation – Black magic Illuminati members disguised as bus drivers? A deadly Freemason plot to build a functioning public rail system in America? Well, no more. Apparently, he jettisoned the spooky storyline in favor of an existential character drama and a “more grounded crime story.”


There are no references or homages

As plot descriptions were released, theories likening the upcoming season to Chinatown clogged the interwebs. But Pizzolatto denies the speculation. Despite its California setting, the creator claims the new True Detective is not an homage to west coast noir – though we’re still convinced the name of Rachel McAdams’ character, Ani Bezzerides is a direct nod to famed noir film scribe A.I. Bezzerides (screenwriter of Kiss Me Deadly). Pizzolatto does, however, call out Sophocles, comparing his latest detective story to Oedipus Rex, saying “the detective is searching and searching and searching, and the culprit is him.” So there’s that.

True Detective season 2 premieres Sunday, June 21, at 9 p.m., on HBO.

All photos via HBO