Every genre comes with its own set of tropes. Different types of stories often have a lot of the same characteristics, either structural or tonal, helping the audience orient themselves and giving us all something to latch onto, while also creating a sense of coherence and tradition within a particular mode of dramatic communication. Typically, a trick of storytelling is to figure out how to deftly incorporate your story's tropes so that they inform the story nicely but don't wind up being too distracting. Of course your hard-boiled detective story is going to have a lead character who doesn't play by the rules, but unless said story is going for satire (the second approach to generic tropes) there isn't likely to be a character wailing explicitly about how the lead never plays by the rules. Thus, generic tropes are handled either by working with them as subtly as possible, or by veering in the opposite direction and lampshading the hell out of them for comedic effect.
Bosch is refreshing in its refusal to do either.
From its first season, one of the most captivating things about Bosch has been its willingness to lean hard into detective/noire tropes without batting an eye. I've yet to see a show flirt so directly with taking itself too seriously (and trust me, Bosch takes itself very seriously) while still managing to pull things off in such a pleasingly self-assured way. There is no twist. There is no conceit. There is no mythology, no lore beyond the bits of character backstory that exposition hasn't filled in yet. Bosch is simply a show about a hardscrabble Los Angeles detective (the titular Harry Bosch) who don't take shit from nobody and solves his case no matter what the cost. That's it, and this level of narrative economy is exactly what makes the show as good as it is, while at the same time holding it back from becoming something truly great.
This third season finds Bosch again concerned with a pair of parallel cases, though they don't turn out to be as expertly interconnected as the caseload was throughout season two. Rather, season two simply serves up two parallel investigations, one that explores Bosch and the danger posed by his often-risky approach to the rules, another that finds our hero going toe-to-toe with a group of rogue former Special Forces dudes who murdered one of their own and are doing their best to disappear with a bunch of cash stolen during their time in the Middle East.
While both mysteries have a lot to offer in terms of twists and turns, neither serves up a very satisfying meal when it comes to thematics. Everything in Bosch's third season stays pretty surface-level, and its this refusal to make any real commentary on its action that prevents the show from reaching its full potential this season.
The first investigation involves a famous (okay, semi-famous) director framing Bosch for a killing so as to discredit his testimony in the director's upcoming murder trial. The victim turns out to have been a serial killer that Bosch was never able to nail, due in large part to the DA's assumption that the case was less than a home run and subsequent reluctance to go to trial. Unable to let sleeping dogs like, Bosch has been keeping tabs on the suspect for years, running his own investigation off the books, and Bosch's director adversary wisely uses Bosch's tenacity against him. This storyline is a great opportunity to illustrate the way that Bosh's behavior involves risk to more than just himself and his career, but these ideas are only hinted at and aren't dramatized to any satisfying degree.
Similarly, the parallel investigation involves Bosch on the trail of a group of special forces doing their damndest to get a cache of stolen money into the country, then high tail it right back out again and disappear into the big, blue world. These guys can't seem to stop fucking killing each other, though, and the constant stream of dropped bodies puts Bosch on the case. Lead heavy Dobbs is an interesting foil to Bosch, as are the rest of the Special Forces crew, but their characters are so thinly-sketched that little is understood about them and their motives beyond "I'm better than everybody else" and "Money is awesome." Even Bosch's final showdown in the season finale was surprisingly brief; I thought we were in for a more protracted standoff a la the shootout that capped off last season in the woods.
Worth noting, though, is that Bosch really only commits the crime of not going far enough with its material. There's room for good thematic exploration, but much like another LA-set procedural, Bosch never gets around to dramatically exploring some of the rich thematic soil there is to be tilled.
When it comes to gritty, hard-boiled noire, though? Bosch is absolutely second to none. This show is effectively what True Detective's second season wished it could have been: a sun-soaked detective story in which Los Angeles is as much a character as it is a setting, populated with colorful people played by awesome character actors (what's up, Arnold Vosloo!!). Its written with confidence, and the unspooling of its mysteries moves with an inescapable inertia, each twist and turn of the case playing a vital part in the feedback loop that makes this one tough not to blaze through as quickly as it can. The thrills are all surface-level, but not everything needs to be a literary deep-dive into the soul of its characters. A good mystery yarn is a good mystery yarn...and Bosch is a goddamn good mystery yarn.
Oh, and also...
• The deference paid to the city of LA, its people, and its history might very well be my favorite aspect of the show.
• Lance Reddick got way less to do this season than he did last season, but it's a credit to this show's writing staff that we can take a break from all the mystery shit to just go out on a few dates with Reddick's chief of police and it's just as engaging and entertaining as ever. Part of that is due to Reddick's fantastic performance, and the rest is due to the writing staff's creation of a detective story cliché that nevertheless lives and breathes in a very relatable way.
• I'm excited to see what happens with the Korea Town Killer, since almost literally nothing happened with that storyline this season.