Much has and will be made of True Detective’s already baffling second season. The HBO show that makes that other show about feudal rape look fun, takes itself very seriously and traffics in the sort of plot-obscuring atmospherics that made noir films very cool in the fifties and Ridley Scott movies very cool in the eighties. The big question, as ever, isn’t who did the killing. The big question is what the hell the show is about in the first place.

We broke it down.

What True Detective Is Not About

  • Detectives professionally solving a mystery while learning valuable personal lessons.
  • Detectives solving personal mysteries while learning a valuable professional lesson.
  • A high-functioning goth family living on North Cemetery Ridge with a wacky bald uncle, disembodied hand, and a re-animated monster for a butler while learning that being true to each other is more important than fitting in.
  • A superhero with a crow-head costume putting very sad law enforcement officials out of their misery while learning the history of California’s highway system.
  • A family hiding a sarcastic, cat-eating alien life form from the authorities while learning that family is anyone (and anything) that you love.
  • A false detective not investigating a murdering while learning how to be happy with her life choices.
  • An eccentric millionaire who, having seen his parents brutally murdered, decides to rid his native city of crime by dressing up like a nocturnal animal and beating the crap out of evil doers while learning that his decisions will inevitably haunt him and violence begets violence.
  • A widower with three sons marrying a divorcee with three daughters and trying to make it work in a four-bedroom, two-bath house outside LA while learning that patience and empathy are the best ways to avoid interpersonal conflict.

What True Detective Might Be About

  • A closeted gay veteran and an angry female cop investigating a murder while learning that they don’t want to be part of a system that is indifferent to both them and justice.
  • A former gangster trying to go straight while learning that he probably should have just moved to Boca with his lovely wife and taken up golfing.
  • Nic Pizzolatto finding success in Hollywood while learning how to say no to bad photo opps.

What True Detective Is Definitely About

  • Rachel McAdams playing convincingly against type in an effort to put Aloha behind her and line up an action franchise while learning that it’s okay to occasionally smile.
  • Taylor Kitsch demonstrating depth in an effort to put John Carter behind him and start getting those Gyllenhaal parts while learning that squinting doesn’t make you look smart.
  • Vince Vaughan taking the bad guy role in an effort to put Delivery Man behind him and make better use of his impressive onscreen presence while learning that it’s more fun to just make Will Ferrell movies.
  • Colin Farrell getting a big IMDB credit without having to do a lot of work while learning that he looks super cool with a mustache.
  • Blogging.