The second season of True Detective has a new cast, new directors and a new plot. But since creator Nic Pizzolatto also wrote both seasons, the True Detective universe remains a place of violence, mystery and brooding characters. Here’s what you need to know before the show returns to HBO Sunday night at 9 p.m.
1. The cast and plot are completely different
Like Fargo and American Horror Story, each season of True Detective will have a different plot, setting and cast of characters. This season trades in the Louisiana bayou and the occult for a fictional California town called Vinci and focuses on corruption in the transportation industry. (It doesn’t sound thrilling, but neither does the municipal corruption related to Los Angeles’ water supply, and yet Chinatown is a classic.)
While Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson won’t be returning to the show, the second season boasts an all-star cast of Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch.
2. It has different directors and a different look
Last season was directed entirely by Cary Fukunaga, who won an Emmy for his stunning visual work. (He was honored for the episode with that spectacular six-minute tracking shot.) But scouting locations while filming what was essentially an eight-hour movie is no easy feat, so Fukanaga did not return for the second season.
Instead, several directors helmed episodes this season (as happens with most TV shows), beginning with Justin Lin, who has four Fast & Furious movies on his resume. Lin set the tone and aesthetic for the series in the first two hours with other HBO vets like Miguel Sapochnik (Game of Thrones) and Dan Attias (The Wire), taking on later episodes. The result, as TIME’s TV critic James Poniewozik puts it, is “a more intimate but more TV-conventional look.”
3. The writer is back
Nic Pizzolatto, who wrote every episode of season 1, is back for more. His foreboding voice carries over, even if the people speaking his words do not.
However, don’t expect as many “time is a flat circle” moments. None of the characters speak like Matthew McConaughey’s weary philosopher, who was so adored in season one. (Though you can still catch glimpses of an off-brand version in Lincoln commercials.) Instead, expect characters to utter lines like, “Never do anything out of hunger. Not even eat.”
4. The show attempts to solve its woman problem—sort of
After many critics (notably Emily Nussbaum at The New Yorker) skewered the first season of True Detective for its misogyny and relentless focus on white males, the show is under pressure to repent for its previous sins. Rachel McAdams stars as a detective with some serious anger issues and addresses some of the gender politics associated with being a female cop in a dangerous world. But there are still plenty of prostitutes, sexual assault victims and inexplicably horny or docile girlfriends boxed into stereotypes.
5. It still won’t be upbeat
Anyone who was hoping that hiring comedy vets like Vaughn and McAdams would mean that True Detective would lighten up this season will be very disappointed. Terrible, nausea-inducing things will happen just as frequently this season as the last and Pizzolatto’s dialogue offers no refuge from the darkness. Luckily, HBO has scheduled two new comedies, The Brink and Ballers, as Sunday night palate cleansers.