After True Detective’s sensational first season, built around a grim and compelling murder mystery set against the backdrop of rural Louisiana, season 2 was destined to be at least a little bit of a disappointment. But no one was prepared for just how severe the show’s sophomore slump would be.
Instead of giving audiences another version of detectives Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson), creator Nic Pizzolatto took a sharp left turn, ditching the archetypal Lethal Weapon-style buddy-cop pairing that made the first season so watchable, in favor of something far more inscrutable and ultimately less satisfying. And without the benefit of having season 1 mastermind Cary Fukunaga behind the camera, the show’s visual identity suffered as well.
In the end, the second season failed to win over both critics and audiences, putting the future of HBO’s once-beloved crime anthology in serious jeopardy. But because the first season of True Detective was one of the last vestiges of the monoculture—and in the current fractured landscape of Peak TV, that kind of cachet is just too valuable to discard—there was no way network executives were going to potentially let one of its rivals revive one of its marquee properties. So in August—a whole two years after season 2 aired—HBO officially announced that it was moving ahead with a third run.
Since then, a steady stream of information emerged, most notably that Mahershala Ali would play one of the titular gumshoes. And on Wednesday, season 3 came into even sharper focus with the news that Ali’s partner will be played by none other than Stephen Dorff.
So what else can we expect from TD3? Let’s take a closer look.
Time really is a flat circle. Rust Cohle was right—everything that happens is destined to repeat itself, especially in idea-starved Hollywood. After a quick L.A. detour, the show is returning to America’s backwoods. Season 3 will unfold in the suddenly trendy Ozarks and will once again revolve around a “macabre crime” that penetrates the lives and careers of its protagonists over the span of three decades.
Meet the good guys. Their names are Wayne Hayes (Ali) and Roland West (Dorff), the Arkansas state police investigators who cross paths with a “schoolteacher with a connection to two missing children,” played by Selma’s Carmen Ejogo. So what should we make of our new sleuths? Well, Ali was probably flooded with offers after his Oscar-winning performance as a drug dealer with a heart of gold in Moonlight, so his involvement bodes well for the upcoming season. And while Dorff’s casting might raise some eyebrows initially, remember that Matthew McConaughey was still in the midst of his career transformation when he was cast as Cohle, and the same goes for Vince Vaughn, who played against type as a brooding mobster in season 2.
Dorff has shown that if given the right material, he’s as good as anybody. He dazzled as a disillusioned movie star in Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, but that was all the way back in 2010, and he’s been stuck in B-movie purgatory ever since. He also looks like he’s had more than his share of late nights, so in a universe where everything is lubricated by liquor, Dorff should fit right in.
An actor is only as good as the material. That brings us to Pizzolatto, the former bartender-turned-novelist who’ll once again write the entire season himself, with the exception of episode 4, which he co-wrote with Deadwood creator David Milch. No matter how you feel about Pizzolatto—who has the tendency to come off as the prototypical megalomaniac writer-dude in interviews—it’s hard to argue with HBO’s decision to leave him to his own devices. And with a seasoned veteran like Milch on board, Pizzolatto will have someone around who can keep his more self-indulgent tendencies in check. HBO programming president Casey Bloys gave Pizzolatto a vote of confidence in July, telling reporters that he’s “very, very impressed and excited” about what he’s read. “I don’t want to give away the storyline, but I really think they’re terrific.”
Don’t make the same mistake twice. After season 1 became such an unexpected sensation, HBO executives decided to fast track season 2, which meant Pizzolatto had to hire a team of writers to help ease the workload. The result was a convoluted string of episodes with very little narrative coherence. HBO head Michael Lombardo admitted that they made a mistake in rushing Pizzolatto, and it looks like the network is intent on not repeating the error of its ways.
That also means abandoning the director-by-committee approach that failed so spectacularly in season 2, and returning to season 1’s auteurist roots. Jeremy Saulnier, who demonstrated a real knack for visceral storytelling with 2016’s ultra-violent thriller Green Room, will handle directing duties alongside Pizzolatto, who will make his directorial debut. Fukunaga was behind some of season 1’s most striking moments, and Saulnier feels like a more than worthy successor.
What we don’t yet know is when season 3 will air. A site called Omega Underground is reporting that the show is set to begin filming in Arkansas this February, which means it likely won’t premiere until sometime early next year. And based on all the pieces in place, our guess is that it will be worth the wait.