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Entertainment Weekly


The lead performances from every season of True Detective, ranked

Posted on

Jim Bridges/HBO

Who is the Truest Detective?

Season 3 of True Detective has been hailed as a strong comeback season for the anthology series, and with the finale airing on Sunday, it turns out that the current time is a flat circle where we rank the lead performances from the entire series so far. Haters of True Detective season 2 read on at your own peril!
Lacey Terrell/HBO

8. Vince Vaughn as Frank Seymon in season 2

Before we get into it, I should make clear that I'm a fan of all of these actors and their performances. I think each one of them brought it as best they could, and if anything is to blame, it's the writing. And perhaps the biggest victim of that is Vince Vaughn, the lone actor here not playing a detective. As Frank, a gangster who fails in his attempt to go legit, Vaughn brings the appropriate gravitas and hubris, while being stuck with dialogue that no one could convincingly pull off (see: "Never do anything out of hunger, not even eating."). Hopefully the negative reception to season 2 and his performance doesn't stop Vaughn from further stepping out of his comedy comfort zone.
Lacey Terrell/HBO

7. Taylor Kitsch as Paul Woodrugh in season 2

War vet and California Highway patrolman Paul Woodrugh is very different than Tim Riggins, Kitsch's beloved Friday Night Lights character. But like Riggins, Woodrugh conveys so much with so few words, which is clearly Kitsch's biggest strength as an actor. If anything, we could have used more of the doomed closeted cop, who often felt like the fourth-string player in season 2's story.
Lacey Terrell/HBO

6. Rachel McAdams as Ani Bezzerides in season 2

Coming in second behind Vaughn in the category of most let down by True Detective's writing is Rachel McAdams. Other than her vaping and next level knife skills, what do you remember about the show's lone female lead? McAdams did all she could with the material, but after her drug-fueled undercover mission, Bezzerides was basically sidelined, suddenly turned into a love interest while the men got to go out guns blazing. That being said, I'd definitely watch a South American-set #TrueDetectiveSeason4 focused on Bezzerides and Frank's widow, Jordan (Keilly Reilly).
Warrick Page/HBO

5. Mahershala Ali as Wayne Hays in season 3

Mahershala Ali is one of our greatest working actors and landing him for this rebound season was a true coup for the series. And on the verge of his second Oscar, he's a lock for his second Emmy nom, thanks to the three timelines and 70-year-old Wayne (voters love makeup!). But as good as Ali plays stoic, for better or worse, he's been saddled with True Detective's least flashiest lead role to date.
Warrick Page/HBO

4. Stephen Dorff as Roland West in season 3

Hot take: Stephen Dorff has been the best thing about True Detective season 3. Actually, after some research, it seems I'm not alone in that opinion. But this has to be one of TV's more pleasant surprises in a while, considering my reaction to his casting was, "They couldn't get a bigger name?" Well, the Blade alum has been perfectly cast as the Woody to Ali's McConaughey. And while 2015 was the timeline I was least interested in, that changed the minute old man Roland showed up, providing the compassionate friend and partner that Wayne and the show needed.
Jim Bridges/HBO

3. Woody Harrelson as Marty Hart in season 1

Lost in the McConaissance and hype around Matthew McConaughey's performance in the original True Detective is how great Woody Harrelson is as Marty Hart, a self-described "regular type dude with a big-ass d---." Marty does manage to get a lot of beautiful women and Harrelson plays the playboy/conflicted cheater husband role well, but he really shines when opposite McConaughey's Rust Cohle, serving as the perfect audience proxy in wondering what the hell is up with this strange and tortured man.
Lacey Terrell/HBO

2. Colin Farrell as Ray Velcoro in season 2

Another hot take: True Detective season 2 is underrated! Don't get me wrong, there's still a lot of confusing (Stan?) and bad ("Everything is f---ing") stuff, but I just rewatched all of the episodes in two days and was thoroughly entertained. And by far the best part of season 2 is Colin Farrell as Ray Velcoro. I don't even know where to start with Ray. I could talk about him freaking out at his son over his destroyed LeBron shoes, or beating up a dad in front of the man's son and then yelling "F--- you" right at the kid, or him supporting feminism by having body image issues, or his solo coke-fueled rager that went from partying to crying. And through it all, Farrell was turned up to 100 and bringing the heat, finding a way to make us always root for this crooked, washed cop whose big redeeming quality is his love for his son (will Chad ever get that email?!).
Lacey Terrell/HBO

1. Matthew McConaughey as Rust Cohle in season 1

Could it really be anyone else? McConaughey won an Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club while only being nominated for True Detective, but I'm confident in saying that Rust Cohle is his career-defining performance. After originally being offered the role of Marty, McConaughey pushed instead to play Rust — and for good reason. The king of 2000s rom-coms stepped out of that box, got dirty, grew a mustache, and delivered juicy monologue after juicy monologue. And following a season of being cold and distant, Rust's emotions were put on full display in the heartbreaking final scene. Now, with season 3 being connected to season 1 and McConaughey previously voicing how much he misses Rust, we can only hope that he one day returns to the flat circle (at least so we get a new McConaissance).