Prepping For True Detective Season 2 Brought Out Rachel McAdams' Inner Cop

Season 2 of Nic Pizzolatto's HBO series "True Detective" was a frustratingly disjointed affair. It played like the first draft of a James Ellroy L.A. noir: it was emotionally overheated and graphically violent, but the inciting incident and ensuing intrigue never caught fire. The quintet of compromised main characters, who worked in different Los Angeles law enforcement agencies, were fascinating in their own right (save for Taylor Kitsch's overmatched California Highway Patrol officer), but the stakes were strangely un-engaging. Imagine "Chinatown" with Perry Lopez' Lieutenant Lou Escobar getting a full arc to give more oxygen to the Hollis Mulwray investigation from the LAPD's perspective, and that's this season of "True Detective" in a nutshell.

Season 2 was a rough sit, but it had its pleasures. The narrative never locked into place, but the actors punched their weight. Colin Farrell clawed his way through the scarred skin of Detective Ray Velcoro to give an arresting portrayal of a karmically doomed dirtbag (with a heart of tarnished gold), while Vince Vaughn weaponized his caddish charm as the viciously corrupt businessman Frank Semyon. But the reason I didn't give up on the season early in its run was because Rachel McAdams was giving the performance of her career as Antigone "Ani" Bezzerides, a self-destructive investigator for the Ventura County Sheriff's Department. Though Pizzolatto was, in literary terms, putting a 10-gallon hat on a 10-gallon hat via the moniker combo of Sophocles' tragic heroine and the noir maestro of "Thieves' Highway," McAdams underplays the role to smoldering perfection. And while Bezzerides is a hard-drinking, heavy-smoking mess, McAdams had a ball getting under her skin.

Rachel McAdams: Policewoman

In an interview with Marie Claire's Kimberly Cutter, Rachel McAdams revealed that she thoroughly enjoyed her preparatory ride-alongs with the Ventura County Police Department. "We had a bit of a high-speed chase," she enthused. She also dove into crime investigation manuals and learned how to properly carry a sidearm. McAdams walked away impressed with the cops' dedication to their job (when an actor is involved, the police are very good at PR). "I don't know how they do it every day," she said. "I was like, 'I'm going to get a hash brown from McDonald's and go to bed.'"

She was also thrilled to play a complicated female character who isn't "the girlfriend or the wife." As she told Cutter:

"She doesn't really care what everyone thinks; she feels no responsibility for other people's feelings. She's not trying to be charming, which isn't always the case with a leading lady. There's [usually] sort of a responsibility to be a little bit likable. [...] Not that you want to be a horrendous character, just a little more human."

A study in steady self-destruction

Bezzerides is an enigmatic character who's both capable and inclined to make horrible life choices. She isn't as full-blown of a disaster as Velcoro, but you can see how the case is wearing her down via small, unspoken decisions, like going from vaping to smoking cigarettes again. It's a subtle, yet oddly bracing performance from one of our very best.

The second season of "True Detective" was a bumpy ride, and didn't resolve itself in a particularly satisfying manner. It felt like a bit of a rush job. But it's worth watching for the moments of brutal honesty from Rachel McAdams and Colin Farrell. The central mystery isn't compelling at all, but the bond that forms between Bezzerides and Velcoro — two people who know they're screwed up and, sadly, no good for each other — winds up being an acting master class. Had Nic Pizzolatto turned this season into a lightly plotted character study, he probably would've torched the franchise. But it truly feels like this is where he wanted to take the season.