The difficult second album has nothing on the difficult second season, it seems. After a year in the murky, swampy backdrop of Louisiana with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, True Detective wiped the slate clean before season two, promising a new cast, a new location, and a new narrative to mumble through. Unfortunately, not many people like it.
Some of the criticism this season is undeserved. The creators should be commended for wading into the unknown rather than banking on what worked last year when shows like Homeland, Desperate Housewives and Lost all suffered messy second seasons for that exact reason.
But the show’s more unexpected moments feel engineered, such as the revelation in the most recent episode that the show’s moody cop (well, one of them), Paul Woodrugh, is actually firmly locked in the closet and battling against the weight of his sexuality.
In true television fashion, the clues were all there, though they were initially pointing towards other things. Woodraugh’s regular death-defying motorbike rides; his casual use of homophobic slurs; his munching on Viagra like they were coming from a Pez dispenser – all could have told us one thing about him (i.e he’s a dick) but now, in light of his conversation with an old military colleague, we can finally hone in on the dark secret coiling inside him.
The revelation is supposed to fortify Woodraugh’s character. It’s supposed to be a twist. But it doesn’t make him a better written character, and if ‘oh but he’s gay’ is intended to add some much-needed depth it is failing.
In fact, a character feeling suicidal, depressed, bitter and angry at the world because he can’t deal with coming out is something we’ve seen on telly countless times before, and a tortured gay soul is not going to do anything for a show that’s struggling to avoid stereotype-infested waters.
Despite the origins of the word ‘gay’, it’s remarkable just how many LGBT fictional characters are miserable. And it’s not just by coincidence; most of these characters are miserable as a direct result of being gay. The result: homosexual relationships end up being framed as inevitably disastrous.
It’s not as if this isn’t true to life in many ways, but 2015 was already looking like an exciting year for the representation of gay characters on screen, from the sun-kissed twentysomethings in Looking or the diverse world of Russell T Davies’ triple-threat Cucumber, Banana and Tofu.
Even ITV’s Vicious – a show that has the comic timing of a dolphin launching itself onto a woman and shattering her ankles – is some kind of victory, even if it is more concerned with reimagining something from a bygone era than doing something new and clever.
It’s interesting to see where True Detective will take this latest 'twist'; in an interview with Salon, Woodraugh said his character is a more focal point of the next few episodes. But is this new revelation dooming the character to a weary TV trope? Gay characters are like catnip for writers wanting to show inescapable angst, and we’ve already seen True Detective’s bent cop (well, one of them) fake a heterosexual relationship, repress a homosexual encounter, reject his sexuality and contemplate suicide.
True Detective has proven itself capable of doing interesting things in the past, but it’s a show that has also revelled in the inevitable tragedy of human life.
While showing a gay man being just as miserable as the rest of his hetero brethren might seem like a good example of equality, I’m really hoping that Woodraugh jumps on that motorcycle and gets the hell out of dodge. I hear San Fran is nice.