This season, which kicks off on Sunday, is one of the most hyped premieres in recent memory, and raises an important question: How can True Detective possibly top itself? The answer, it would seem, is to craft four tormented characters with talented, underused actors to play them: Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch, and Vince Vaughn. But which of the four leads is most likely to get his or her own McConaissance? Here, meet the deeply troubled cast of characters—each more tortured than the last—and decide for yourself.
Role: Career criminal
Vices: Blackmail, fighting, general crime, intimidation tactics
Issues: Fertility troubles, double-mortgages, lingering trauma from being locked in a dark basement at age five by his alcoholic father, where rats chewed on his fingers (the usual)
Backstory: Frank is an L.A. crime lord, trying to go clean by investing in real estate along a proposed high-speed California railway. Things go awry when one of his business partners turns up dead, and the five million dollars Frank left with him for the investment goes missing. Debts are called in, threats issued, and domestic troubles ensue.
Emmy moment: Putting a mouthy lackey in his place with a bare-handed fistfight, then ripping out his gold grillz with pliers.
Played by: Colin Farrell
Role: City of Vinci detective
Vices: Drinking, fighting, cocaine, more drinking
Issues: A messy custody battle with his ex-wife, strained relationships with his son and retired cop father, extreme anger issues, unwanted criminal connections
Backstory: Velcoro is a good cop turned bad, forced to do Frank’s dirty work after he helped him track down his wife’s rapist twelve years before. Wracked by guilt and resentment, his one redeeming trait is that he loves his son—who may have been born from that rape—though his parenting instincts are misguided, at best.
Emmy moment: Beating his son’s bully’s dad in the face—with brass knuckles, possibly coked up—while making the kid watch.
Played by: Rachel McAdams
Role: L.A. County sheriff’s detective
Vices: Cocaine, gambling, smoking (e-cigs!), drinking, sex
Issues: An estranged family, a creepy cult leader–esque father, a cam girl sister, commitment issues, general angst, the name Antigone
Backstory: Raised in a commune by her New Age hippie father, whom she deeply resents, Ani is a stickler for following the rules—she keeps a copy of Hagakure on her kitchen counter—but often falls short. According to her sister Athena, a former drug addict turned Internet sex performer, Ani looks like “erasers clapping” when she walks.
Emmy moment: Getting drunk at a casino, gambling, and getting thrown out by bouncers, whom she proceeds to flip off.
Played by: Taylor Kitsch
Role: California state highway motorcycle patrol officer
Vices: Extreme speeds, motorbikes, potential pill popping
Issues: An uneasy relationship with his mother (who has a subtle herpes sore), PTSD-like symptoms, commitment issues, sexual hang-ups, suicidal tendencies
Backstory: An army veteran, who may have been a member of a Blackwater-type military contractor, Paul is put on paid leave, after an actress claims he solicited a blow job on patrol. At night, he gets on his bike and drives more than 200 miles an hour, headlights off, and is repressing some things, to say the least.
Emmy moment: A tense confrontation with a former army buddy—with somewhat romantic overtones—that leads to an angsty retreat