Welcome to True Detective season 2, with an entirely new mystery, location and cast of characters. Say goodbye to Rust, Marty and the Yellow King and hello to the seedy underworld of a fictional Los Angeles suburb. The basic premise: three detectives from different police departments investigate the disappearance of a city manager who has ties to the local gangster trying to go straight.

Despite the fact that True Detective is considered a drama series to the Emmys (rather than a miniseries), I’m going to try and not compare this season to last because at its heart, this is an anthology series with several themes. I’m sure there was a lot of overblown hype for season 2 given how much critics and fans loved Rust “Time is a Flat Circle” Cohle, but this is its own beast.

At its best, True Detective combines well-written archetypes with great performances. The series’ one-man writer, Nic Pizzolatto, has a particular voice and stylization that borrows heavily from detective archetypes; he isn’t writing anything revolutionary, contrary to popular opinion from last winter’s debut season. But he’s writing something that’s written well, if not familiar, and executed well by a star cast.

Let’s be real — part of True Detective‘s appeal is to see movie stars “slumming it” on television for eight weeks. Of course, television is in no ways inferior to film anymore, but you’d be lying if you said you weren’t intrigued to see movie stars’ presence on the big screen, just like you get stoked to see the best TV stars on the big screen. So since you’re watching for Pizzolatto’s particular writing (which I love, and love to mock a little bit) and the movie stars anyway, here’s what’s going on this season.

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Colin Farrell, the Dirty Cop

Remember when Colin Farrell was the bad boy of Hollywood? Nic Pizzolatto sure does! That explains why Farrell was cast into the role as Detective Ray Velcoro, a part-time dad and full-time dirty cop for the town of Vinci’s local gangster. When we first meet mustached Velcoro in the season 2 premiere, titled “The Western Book of the Dead,” he’s dropping off his chubby, adorable ginger son at school.

Then we cut to a True Detective-looking scene as Velcoro answers questions from his custody lawyer. It’s a nice little fake-out and then it dives straight into the meat of the problem: Velcoro’s son probably isn’t his son. Nine months before Velcoro Jr.’s birth, Mrs. Velcoro was raped. Did they find the perp, you ask?

“They never caught the guy”… which leads to another fake-out of season 1 proportions (last one, I swear) where we flash back to a super duper young looking Farrell (as Velcoro) meeting with the local gangster, Semyon aka Vince Vaughn (more on him later). Semyon’s got the dirt on the scumbag, but as you guessed, it comes with a price. So within minutes of season 2 starting, we get the “origin” story of how these two came to work together years before and also a nod to season 1.

What you need to know about Velcoro is simple: he’s a bit of a drunk and he takes every situation from 1 to 11. Every single time. Case in point: his son is getting bullied at school, he aggressively threatens necessary information out of him. He also straight-up attacks his son’s bully and father out of vengeance. Basically: dirty cop’s got issues.

Mainly, it’s that Velcoro is a dirty cop and a drunk and that he “welcomes judgment.” He’s tasked with investigating the disappearance of Vinci City Manager Casper by the Vinci City police force. And he’s also tasked with beating up an investigative journalist digging deep into Vinci’s seedy underground, which is led by…

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Vince Vaughn, the Gangster Trying to Go Straight

For those of you who only know Vince Vaughn’s career as “affable funnyman,” get ready to learn that Vaughn played pretty dark and loathsome characters back in the day. Like, straight-up psychopaths. So if you’re worried about him as Frank Semyon — the gangster trying to go straight — worry a little less.

Semyon is sort of difficult to crack thus far in terms of his personality (he’s clearly Rust Cohle-lite), but he’s on a mission to make his business legitimate via the Los Angeles Railroads or something. Basically, he’s looking to profit off of a new freeway, which explains why there are so many freeway shots on this goddamn show.

Semyon is kind of boring, save for his wife, Jordan — played by the lovely Kelly Reilly — and he has a staring match with Velcoro in a bar that feels like it’s 100 minutes long. He’s our only criminal, but he seems like the most descent of the four thus far.

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Rachel McAdams, the Greek Tragedy Cop

Okay, confession time: I’m really excited for True Detective this year because of Rachel McAdams’ character. First of all, McAdams is an excellent actress who deserves excellent work and, two, the character is literally named Antigone Bezzerides, a woman defined by her daddy issues and sexual hang-ups. Subtly is off the table and I’m lovin’ it.

Bezzerides works for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department and competes for the title of biggest mess among her male characters. She misuses department resources to bust up her sister’s legal performance porn, gets drunk and kicked out off a casino, and has issues with men, according to her hippie father, whom she’s based her entire personality on by being the opposite of him. As a cop, she probably fulfills the “great at her job, crap at everything else” archetype.

What’s interesting about Bezzerides, though, is precisely that she’s so masculine. Everything from her appearance to her job to her relationships is rejecting gender norms; her story is easily the most fascinating one that will unfold.

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Taylor Kitsch, the Army Vet Cop

He’s Tim Riggins no more. Kitsch is well-suited for the cop drama, with his intense and silent brooding faring much better on television than in his film projects. He brings that intensity here to army vet Paul Woodrugh, California Highway Patrol. Sporting some nasty burns, scars and other bruises, Woodrugh needs little blue pills to have sex — thanks to some crappy PTSD, one would think. He’s also been suspended with pay following allegations that he traded sex to look the other way on a ticket.

He’s also a bit suicidal, deciding to ride the highway sans helmet and headlights before finding the body of Velcoro’s missing person, Vinci City Manger Casper. Thanks to him, he’s gathered the rest of the cops for what looks like a messy investigation, especially since Semyon was working with the deceased person.

And that’s mostly it for the premiere. Again, I’m not trying to compare this season with season 1 too much, but while it definitely still feels like an iteration of True Detective, something’s almost missing. There’s an escalation of violence that shows, instead of implies, that the mystery of the City Manager — whose eyes have been gouged out by chemicals — is not as visually interesting as the murders of last season. Still, it’s a solid entry for a hopefully very compelling mystery.

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Other Thoughts

— I laughed too loud at the line about the “eight-part series” meta reference, in regards to the journalist’s investigative expose. That’s probably the closest Pizzolatto has come to writing a joke.

— The most Pizzolatto line of the night: “I welcome judgment.” I also want to be clear that I really dig Pizzolatto’s writing from what I’ve seen, but it is by no means immune from a little mockery.

— Did you know Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey still have Executive Producer credits? Who da thunk it?

Bird’s-Eye Shots of the LA Freeway: eight? I counted eight. More scientific numbers in the coming weeks.

True Detective airs Sundays at 9pm on HBO.

(Image courtesy of HBO)

Emily E. Steck

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV