Just the Lady Parts is a new TV review series wherein Jezebel reviews just the lady parts.
The first season of Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective was, in its weakest moments, a series about men processing and internalizing the pain of women. This crime drama cliche was forgivable because at its strongest the show was breathtaking, thanks mostly to the gorgeous, meandering camera work of director Cary Fukunaga and career-defining performances by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.
Fukunaga, McConaughey, and Harrelson are gone in Season Two (though all three are still credited as executive producers) and Justin Lin has stepped in as director, his dark and aggressive style existing in stark contrast against Fukunaga’s evocative and gentle use of light. That we’ve been yanked away from the hazy Southern setting of True Detective season one, dropped onto the hostile concrete of Los Angeles County’s highway system, and given an entirely new cast lead by Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch, and Vince Vaughn are among the more obvious reminders that season two is a whole new world—except for when it isn’t. True Detective, I’m sad to say, still hasn’t figured out how to treat women.
Sunday night’s premiere, “The Western Book of the Dead,” relies heavily on two conversations between Farrell (playing troubled, mustachioed detective Ray Velcoro) and Vaughn (as Frank Semyon, a building developer with criminal ties) for its emotional weight. The first is a flashback to when Velcoro, then a young sheriff’s deputy, goes to Semyon after his wife is raped—and possibly impregnated during the attack—to learn the name of the perpetrator. The second, set in the present, is when the pair meets at a bar for business (Velcoro, though still in the force, is now as a thug for Semyon) and Semyon reveals that he and his wife Jordan (Kelly Reilly) are trying to conceive via IVF.
It’s curious, albeit entirely unsurprising that True Detective puts these conversations—both centering around the predominantly (though not entirely) female experiences of pregnancy and being raped—into the hands of men, a trend that only becomes more irritating when you see the way that Velcoro’s wife’s trauma gets used to develop Velcoro’s character and not her own (as of yet, she hasn’t even been introduced on camera). It’s a depressing reminder that in the True Detective universe, a woman’s experience is nothing compared to the weight that’s carried by the men who love her, hate her, or want to avenge her.
While Velcoro’s absent wife gets a particularly unfair shake in the premiere, the women considered worthy enough to appear on camera don’t have it much better. A large part of their minor roles are devoted to hungrily eyeing the male leads—Jordan is practically licking her chops as she watches Frank give a presentation, a starlet with an ankle monitor offers highway patrolman Paul Woodrugh (Kitsch) sex in exchange for not reporting her traffic violations (he turns her down, but don’t worry—he’s later given a blowjob by his eager girlfriend), and even Velcoro—a mean, unhinged, and entirely unappealing drunk—receives flirtatious glances from the waitress who’s bringing him is booze. All these women are desperate for the True D, no matter how unworthy that True D might be.
Of course, we can’t talk about the women of this show without discussing Rachel McAdams as Antigone (Ani) Bezzerides, a high-strung cop with a complicated family life and a gambling addiction. When we first meet her, she’s passively arguing with her sex partner after he rebuffs her attempt to have... anal?...try pegging? Either way, her liberal attitude towards boning seems to stop at butts, as we see when she accidentally busts up a fully legal camgirl operation that, as it turns out, happens to employ her sister, Athena. (In Greek, Antigone roughly translates to “in place of one’s parents.”)
The way the series treats Ani will say a lot about Pizzolatto’s (so far seemingly limited) ability to write women. What’s good is that of the Season Two premiere, she has been given as much overwhelming baggage as the male leads, showing that showrunners are at least trying to build a rich backstory story for her. Then again, while her male counterparts are mostly allowed to express their pain through recklessness and violence, her pain is treated as unnecessary and frivolous.
“You should spend less time in a state of resistance making up problems for yourself... You’re angry at the entire world, and men in particular, out of a false sense of entitlement for something you never received,” says her father, a spiritual guru, when the hunt for a missing woman brings her to his spiritual center Panticapaeum. Whether her dad’s ham-fisted scolding is true or more of a reflection on his character than hers (or if it’s aimed at the show’s more critical female viewers), it’s a bullshit sentiment.
Optimistically, it’s worth noting that we’re only one episode in. Frank and Jordan’s relationship will likely grow more complicated, Velcoro’s wife will likely show up, the cause of the impotency that keeps Woodrugh from receiving all the blowies in the world will be brought to the foreground, and, ideally, Ani will be given the room to lose her shit and shrink and grow for a much better and richer pay-off than “she hates men.”
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Image via HBO.