True Detective: My Obsession With This Season

True Detective is a new kind of detective show

True Detective is a new kind of detective show

At first glance, HBO’s new hour-long crime drama shows promise primarily for the unlikely pairing of Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey as two antithetical Louisiana detectives.  What emerges is a densely layered and intriguing drama surrounding the investigation of a possible serial murderer and its effect on the investigators lives and relationships with one another.  

It’s Different

True Detective is not a procedural detective show, but more a deep, character driven, nuanced drama ripe with religious symbolism, existential undertones, and foreboding Lousiana bayou landscape. True Detective reminds me a lot of Andrew Kevin Walker’s and David Fincher’s 1995 thriller Se7en. Yet the storytelling technique and wide scope of time explored combine to offer a newfangled dimension to the television cop drama. The time jumping technique was less effective when tried on 2013 CBS cop drama Golden Boy

Matt and Woody

The show is anchored by stellar performances from its lead actors, and slowly evolves into an intricately plotted manhunt for a monster that forever changes the men behind the badge.  Woody Harrelson is at his best as Detective Martin Hart, a seemingly normal family man plagued by the ills of his profession. Matthew McConaughey shines as Detective Rust Cohle, a misanthrope with a morbid tongue and a nihilistic view of the world. The trajectory of Rust Cohle is especially intriguing as he was once a family man who experienced the death of a child followed by the dissolution of his marriage. Cohle has become a loner who refers to earth as a “giant gutter in outer space”. 

Although both are brilliant in their respective roles, the funny thing is that based on looks and previous track record, it seems as though Woody was meant to play Rust Cohle, and McConaughey to play Martin. This most certainly would have been the case if this project were made 5 to 10 years ago.  Emblematic of how each actor has been able to stretch their legs so to speak and change the perception of their abilities as actors. 

Time Jumping

The narrative vaults between 1995 and 2012 with our protagonists being interviewed by detectives (Michael Potts, Tory Kittles) in 2012 ten years after their bitter split for reasons yet unknown.  The present day detectives question Hart and Cohle about their relationship, particularly about a murder the two investigated and supposedly solved 17 years earlier, and how it might relate to a present day murder with similar elements. 

In 1995, Hart and Cohle had been partners for 3 months when they encounter a bizarre murder scene in which a woman is bound to a tree with a crown of foliage and deer antlers, adorned with satanic symbols, and surrounded by eerie wooden sculptures (“Devil Catchers”). Hart believes in the by-the-book approach, while Cohle is more of a criminal profiler more interested in the psychology and specificity of the act. The subsequent manhunt seems to have led them on divergent paths, yet we are only offered bits of insight at a time on the case’s ultimate effect on these two as the narrative jumps from 1995 to 2012. 

What I Want To Know

Who are these men? What happened to them?  Who is the killer? Why do the present day detectives seem to have as much interest in their personal relationship as they do the details of the 1995 killing? Is either of them suspected of anything? These questions dominate the psyche as we are left to speculate where the journey into these characters lives will lead.  I have my theories, which I’ll keep to myself since I’m probably way off. 

One Of A Kind

True Detective is the vehicle of Writer/Creator Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Joji Fukunaga, Jane Eyre, who collaborated on all eight episodes. Pizzolatto is a novelist, made obvious by some of the extreme dialogue, especially for Det. Cohle. (Props to McConaughey for remaining credible while delivering some lines that would be difficult for even the finest actors.) The show is meant to be an anthology (new season, new characters, new case) if picked up for additional seasons. This is troubling simply because the show, at least early only on, is carried by the strong performances from its lead actors. Pizzolatto’s previous television work includes two episodes of AMC’s The Killing. Though not an anthology, The Killing featured a new case each season, albeit the same main characters. I initially loved that show but lost interest as the cases changed. Hopefully this doesn’t happen with True Detective. We’ll see where it goes. Either way I’m all in this season; you should be too.

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