Can you say: Monorail?

Spoiler alert for True Detective Season 2: It’s not very good so far. The failures range from plot (sprawling and opaque) to dialogue (forced and humorless) to acting (though Colin Farrell is kind of bringing it). The biggest disappointment for fans is the lack of higher artistry: at the end of Season 1, for instance, the stars against the black sky represented the eternal battle of good and evil; in Season 2’s latest, the field full of stakes seems to symbolize little more than viewer brain cells lost.

This time around the plot hinges on a plan to invest in land along the route of the planned California high-speed rail line, with the expectation that as the land rises in value, fortunes will emerge. Vince Vaughn’s character (painfully) explains:

LA Weekly chatted with USC transport policy scholar Lisa Schweitzer on how realistic that scheme is. Some of the details are way off (the feds didn’t guarantee cost overruns) while others are close enough (land values near the stations, if not the tracks themselves, will certainly rise). The plot’s bigger flaw is that “you guys let’s buy rail-adjacent land!” isn’t a terribly urgent stage for corruption, intrigue, and murder—even among HSR buffs. Here’s LA Weekly again:

By the by, we reached out to the California High-Speed Rail Authority for comment. Turns out none of them are watching the show.

So in Season 1 we had a prolonged manhunt for an occultist killer by an estranged cop duo, and in Season 2 we get … transportation and land use. Granted, we love these topics at CityLab, but in the hands of True Detective they’re just not working for us as dramatic television. Here are some transportation plot lines we would have liked to see instead.

The Monorail

Vaughn, wearing a porkpie hat and a bow tie, saunters into a public meeting in small-town Vinci to peddle a monorail system. “I hear those things are awfully loud,” says a concerned Rachel McAdams. “It glides as softly as a cloud,” Vaughn replies. “What about us brain-dead slobs?” asks Farrell. “You’ll be given cushy jobs,” says Vaughn. Eventually the locals break into song and hand over all their money. The rest of the season involves McAdams and Farrell visiting North Haverbrook, Ogdenville, Brockway, and other places where Vaughn has sold his idea—to discover that it’s a total scam. Their only hope now is to stop it before conductor Taylor Kitsch drives it off the elevated track. Special guest: Leonard Nimoy.

The Uber Driver

We keep Kitsch’s depressed veteran persona but instead of making him a motorcycle cop he decides to become an Uber driver. After easily passing the background check he falls for a prostitute passenger played by McAdams. Unable to convince her to give up life on the streets, our driver accosts her pimp (played by Farrell) who says he can’t help him because he’s not technically a sex provider—just an intermediary. After a wild shootout Kitsch gives McAdams a ride home for free, which is a pretty meaningful gesture because it was during surge pricing. With Vince Vaughn as Travis Kalanick and guest director Martin Scorsese.

The Carmageddon

The city is Los Angeles. The mayor is Antonio Villaraigosa (played by Farrell). The year is 2011. The season is summer. The sky is ... smoggy. DOT chief Vaughn announces some major traffic work and implores Southern Californians to avoid the roads during ... Carmageddon! Rachel McAdams (playing herself) tweets the news to her legion of followers and we get a montage of sad emoji replies. When the big day comes the roads are empty and everything is actually kinda nice, prompting Kitsch to trade in his motorcycle for a Metro pass. As he stands at an Orange Line BRT station—totally at ease because there’s a real-time arrival screen—the camera lifts to the sky and the smog reveals a thin wisp of white cloud.

The 2011 Carmageddon traffic scare ended up being kinda great. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Streetcar

Wary of high-speed rail's prospects after big GOP gains, a Hollywood club owner (Vaughn) invests in properties along a downtown street slated to receive the L.A. Streetcar. A rough and tumble investigative reporter (McAdams) finds out the streetcar's costs are ballooning out of hand and a young city planner (Kitsch) points out its questionable mobility value. The project gets cancelled and Vaughn visits the planner to get his money back—only to find that the preparatory street improvements have raised the value of the streetcar district even without the streetcar, making him a very rich man perfectly capable of funding the actual trolley himself. Farrell, as former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, gives a stirring speech on the merits of walkability.

The Hyperloop

We’re 50 years in the future, but Elon Musk (Vaughn) looks suspiciously like he did in 2015 as he announces the opening of his long-awaited Hyperloop between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The governor (Farrell) is given the inaugural ride and when he reaches the other side he looks completely different (Kitsch) and has a British accent (voiceover guest: Ben Kingsley), which everyone agrees is an upgrade. But decades of public obsession with the super-fast tube system have distracted from the deteriorating bus systems in both cities—and just then riots erupt among disadvantaged city residents as well as people with severe motion sickness. As Musk escapes in the tube a detective (McAdams) pursues in his abandoned Tesla Model S. But will she catch him before her electric charge runs out?

The Parking Space

Friends (just friends!) Farrell and McAdams return from a flea market in good spirits. Farrell bought a cowboy hat and got through the day without having to admit he thought the flea market would have fleas. As they arrive at the apartment of a mutual friend (Kitsch) to watch a major boxing match Farrell prepares to parallel park. As he extols his own parking virtues, a Google engineer in a driverless car (Vaughn) tries to go in head first and steal the spot. A standoff ensues with locals weighing in on the ethics of autonomous head-first street-parking. The stalemate is resolved when the city installs dynamic-priced parking meters that ensure there’s always an open space, but Kitsch has missed the fight and the real question is whether or not the friendship can be repaired. Guest writer: Larry David.

The Yellow King Returns

With word that the Yellow King from Season 1 has somehow returned, Rust Cohle (McConaughey!) and Marty Hart (Harrelson!!) hop into a car and head for California. The radio is broken but that’s just fine because the McConaissance is on. Here’s hoping it takes them several episodes just to get there.

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