+ Recommended – TV-MA, Drama, Crime, Thriller (55 minutes)

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Season 1 of True Detective was phenomenal. A stellar cast (including Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson) with a thrilling narrative that paved the way to some of television’s best moments in recent memory. There have only been a handful of shows that have stuck with me long after I watched them, and Season 1 did just that. Critics did not have the same response when Season 2 of True Detective aired. It was established as an anthology series and followed different lawmen (and women) with Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, and Vince Vaughn. The show’s second season was panned for being shallow, and deviating too far from the authenticity of its predecessor.

But audiences can rest assured knowing that Season 3 is back to the basics. While it seems as if the first season will be far superior to every other one, even this one, what I experienced at the advanced screening gave me hope. The dynamic between the two lead cops, Mahershala Ali (Detective Wayne Hays) and Stephen Dorff (Detective Roland West), feels very reminiscent of the magic between McConaughey and Harrelson without artificially replicating what came before. Not to mention, the chemistry between Ali and Carmen Ejogo (Amelia Hays) is unmatched compared to most cable television.

After watching the first two episodes, it’s clear that Ali was the correct choice to play Detective Hays and it’s kind of odd to think that he wasn’t showrunner Nic Pizzolatto‘s first choice. In these two episodes he commands the screen; portraying the same character over three different decades—adding a different flavor to each of them—and in doing so, his character avoids becoming static. Without spoiling anything, there’s a twist to Hays’ character that I’m sure will be utilized more in the coming episodes, and is very exciting.

There’s still plenty to learn about Dorff’s character, too, and his relationship to Hays—these episodes hold back many key plot points needed to complete the puzzle, but not in a frustrating and contrived way. Much like the first season the story seems so cut-and-dry, and yet, every time the detectives uncover a clue it leads to another discovery with no resolve; a grand cat and mouse game. You’re handed plenty of new information and leads per episode to satisfy your inner detective, but not enough to solve the case.

With a shorter episode count (eight for True Detective), it’s easier to craft a well-focused story—at least in my opinion. At the pace Season 3 is going, it seems as if that assumption is true. Of course, it doesn’t always work that way (just look at the second season). What was missing has been found; with the opening credits evoking a similar feeling to that of the first, I was thrust back into this dark, brooding world. The aesthetic that we’ve come to love is on full display: off-beat camera angles, muted colors (albeit the different decades progress in vibrancy), and, of course, the Southern Gothic elements.

Season 3 returns to HBO on Sunday, January 13th.

Image via HBO
Image via HBO

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