True Detective season one was a revelation. It set off an avalanche of Rust Cohle-centric memes, conspiracy theories and people pretending they’d read The King in Yellow before it was cool. But however great that first series was, there was one criticism that kept coming back to haunt it: it was a bit of an all-boys club. If a woman was in True Detective’s first series she was either a victim, or peripheral to one of the male characters.
So when True Detective 2 started up, Rachel McAdams’ character, Ani Bezzerides, was a breath of a fresh air. As McAdams told Marie Claire magazine, “I love that she’s not the girlfriend or the wife. 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.”
Indeed, Bezzerides is not just a well rounded female character in what had previously been a male dominated show – she’s the sort of female character that we barely ever get to see on TV.
Good Enough to be Flawed
Think of the female cops you’ve seen on TV. What adjectives jump to mind? Competent, sexy, kick-ass, they’re more often than not “strong female characters” in the sense that they exist purely to show “Look! Girls can do this stuff too!”
Bezzerides is not that sort of character. In fact, in many ways she’s a total screw-up. She gets angry too easily, she lets the job get to her but is unable to show her vulnerabilities, she has a string of meaningless flings, and some of them are inappropriate and she gets called out on that.
In other words, she’s less like some kind of manufactured role model than she is the complex, flawed, male detective characters that populate the rest of noir and crime fiction.
Whether we’re seeing her in the epic gunfight at the end of episode four — or desperately trying to find her way out of that dark, seedy party in episode six — she is capable, bad-ass, independent, but also prone to screwing up, having problems and getting hurt.
Bringing Bezzerides to Life
And it is Rachel McAdams, who over recent years has been known mainly for being the object of the affections of at least two time travellers and a world’s greatest detective, who makes Ani Bezzerides breathe. Too often she has played characters who exist only to further the plot or give motivation to the male protagonist, but in True Detective she shows that she can carry the story all on her own.
Season 3 of True Detective has yet to be confirmed (although that hasn’t stopped the rumour mill doing what it does best) and if it is brought back everyone seems to agree the series will need a major shake-up to match the critical acclaim of the first series. But one thing the makers of True Detective would do well to bring back for season 3 is the sort of complex, flawed, yet also heroic female protagonist that Bezzerides represents.