All 4 seasons of True Detective, ranked from worst to best

Now that True Detective: Night Country is over, where does it fall in the show's overall catalog?
Photograph by Michele K. Short/HBO
Photograph by Michele K. Short/HBO /
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The fourth season of True Detective, subtitled Night Country, just wrapped up on HBO. The new season marked a departure for the show, with True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto not writing the scripts for the first time. Instead, his duties were taken over by writer-director Issa López.

How did it turn out, and how does Night Country compare to the rest of the series? Let's go through every season put out so far and see if we can solve this mystery. Here are all four seasons of True Detective, ranked worst to best (worst and best being subjective terms):

4. True Detective season 2

The second season of True Detective may have always been doomed to fail, or at least to underwhelm. The first season of the show was a pop culture phenomenon. Not only were stars like Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson doing a TV show, more rare then that it is now, but that TV show was a gripping mystery that seemed to hint at deeper, more resonant truths hidden just below the surface. Fans came together to guess at the identity of the Yellow King and the secrets of Carcosa Figuring out what it all meant became a thrilling spectator sport.

That was a very tough act to follow, and season 2 did not prove up to the challenge. Nic Pizzolatto's had to figure out to improve on season 1, and his solution seemed to be to give viewers more of what they liked before, but bigger and louder.

Instead of two stars in a true crime TV show, now there were four: Taylor Kitsch as highway patrolman Paul Woodrugh, Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams as detectives Ray Velcoro and Ani Bezzerides, and Vince Vaughn as career criminal Frank Semyon, all of them circling a mystery involving a dead city manager from the fictional town of Vinci, California. The actors do their best to bring to life this story of modern moral decay, but the narrative is jumbled, with many fans unable to describe what was going on. Where fans read dreadful meaning into the pregnant pauses of True Detective season 1, here they seem to exist for their own sake, grim ornamentation masking a thin and spindly story. In this season, True Detective seemed almost to parody itself.

It still took a lot of craft and care to put this season together, and the show remained capable of unnerving viewers. It just didn't seem to have as much of a reason this time. Part of the problem may have been the quick turnaround. After this, Pizzolatto took over three years to put out True Detective season 3, but season 2 premiered on HBO just a year after season 1. More time in the planning stages could have helped the ideas coalesce.

So True Detective suffered a sophomore slump. Let's just forward to its latest season, which reinvented the show completely: