Archetypes: Television: ‘True Detective 2’: The Three-Legged Chair Theory



With two episodes to go, the second season of “True Detective” could use some love. Viewers can’t seem to get season one’s dyad of Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) out of their heads. Two oddballs – Cohle and Hart fit that bill extraordinarily well – are much easier to stack up against each other.

In contrast, this year’s Nic Pizzolatto “True Detective” scripts, set in the corrupt, fictionalized, southern California city of Vinci, flirts with a less-easy-to-pin-down triad of law enforcement officials.

There’s Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), a Vinci cop who has a side gig working for local criminal Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn). There’s Ani Besserides (Rachel McAdams), a detective from Ventura, who has both knife and sex fetishes, as well as some unsavory abuse-related baggage. Finally there’s Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), a highway patrol officer who possesses great fighting skills thanks to his having served in the war, but is confused about his sexuality.

Many viewers had issues with this season’s episodes delving unnecessarily deeply into these three characters’ backgrounds, rather than dynamically advancing the story, which hinges on the disappearance and murder of a city manager.

But the more these episodes described how damaged these people were, the less this season became one of character exploration. Instead, it’s as though Pizzolatto decided he’d have a field day with structure.

Here’s where the “three-legged chair” theory comes in.

Ray, Ani and Paul are like three legs of a chair. Internally they’re broken and, even if they work together with some degree of rhythm – as has been happening over the past two episodes – they’re unable to give the entity to which they’re affixed any equilibrium. The Saturnine stabilizing factor is still missing.

Elemental descriptives come in handy here. Ray, full of threats, short-fused aggression and the capability to commit murder, is all fire. He’s now undergone a sort of epiphany and has surrendered parental rights to his son to his ex-wife. Ani, with her intense physical desires and tactility with those phallic knives, is earth, and she pushes those inclinations by going undercover into the pit of a sex club. Tormented Paul – split between becoming a “normal” husband, while fending off the controlling instincts of his own mother and mother-in-law – is water, representing the unconscious which generates his emotional outbursts and erratic moods.

So, although these three have somewhat pulled themselves out of the mire, we’re still left with that three-legged chair. Over the next two episodes, I suspect we’ll get a better sense of the fourth pillar, the most obvious add-on being Katherine Davis (Michael Hyatt). Davis is the ambitious, no-nonsense state attorney out to prove dirt and collusion in the city manager’s murder, and who’s now working under the radar with the trio, each of whom has been removed from the case. She’s elemental air, which typically represents strong negotiating skills and good instincts about knowing what terms will satisfy each deal maker.

Of course, one member of the triad might get killed off. Ray has already experienced a certain Zen resignation and, if he’s bumped, Frank, perhaps fueled by an urge to do the right thing, could step in. If Ani falls, her sister Athena (Leven Rambin) might take her place.

Such structure-play, if this indeed was Pizzolatto’s intent, is likely not what audiences were expecting. But those aerial, clover-leaf highways don’t always lead to the familiar.

Archetype: Stability. Equilibrium. Functionality.

Astrology Archetype: ♄  (Saturn)

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