From how it’s being referred to and its near unimpeachable level of quality, I am sure that HBO’s True Detective, the first season at the very least, is going to be admired and discussed for a long time. It already has a solid place in contemporary television that is well deserved. Though it handles characters better than plot, that is just the way I like it so I can’t fault it too much. This is a review of the entire season, so I will probably be dipping into some generalized spoilers but nothing too specific. Read at your own peril!
True Detective‘s first season depicts a complicated decades long search for a serial killer in Louisiana. More importantly, it is double character study of the two primary detectives investigating it, as well as their complex relationship. Rust Cohle (Mathew McConaughey) and Martin “Marty” Hart (Woody Harrelson) bump up against each other, and more often than not, uncomfortably at that, as they try to track down the mysterious killer. The show spirals and circles through time, weaving a pretty intricate and complicated narrative. The first couple episodes consist mainly of flashbacks, while in the later half of the season the action gets propelled into the present.
The show consists of eight one-hour episodes, and even though I watched them all within a couple weeks or so, I found it very hard to keep track of the actual case Rust and Marty are investigating. I remember the final perpetrator, but don’t ask me how they figured out who it was or what specifically he was supposed to have done (besides creepy satanist killings, I got that part). The first body they find sticks out pretty clearly in the mind, and more are hinted at, but never really fully detailed. This is a very hard case to keep track of, and the show doesn’t really make it easy with its twists and turns. That’s really the only criticism I can level at the show, and as I said before the character studies are what had me watching the show in the first place. (I’m also willing to admit that this could be because the character development was what I cared about; someone who’s more interested in plot might be able to decipher the case better.)
Rust and Marty are often in pretty high contrast. Rust is a self-described pessimist; he seems to have given up entirely on the human race after the death of his daughter and spends most of his time wallowing in his depressing philosophies and getting drunk. It’s strange that he devotes himself almost single-mindedly to the case at hand, because it seems as if he doesn’t care about anything at all. However, actions speak louder than words and he most certainly never gives up searching for answers, even if it means disobeying the law and putting himself in a lot of danger. Though Rust seems pretty insane, in my opinion he ain’t got nothing on Marty.
At first, Marty seems like a relatively normal cop. He does the job, goes home to his family, and is basically on repeat. However, as he gets deeper into the case and more importantly several personal relationships, he starts to reveal his true colors. While Rust has always seemed weird, Marty at first seems normal and then you find out he isn’t at all, which to me is ultimately more concerning. He tries to keep work and home separate, but maybe he fails because his personal life gets really messed up. He has major problems with basically every women he interacts with, mostly involving ridiculous double standards and jealousy. Through this, he completely ruins his relationships with his wife Maggie (Michelle Monaghan), his daughter, and his mistresses (the more memorable one being played by Alexandra Daddario). It’s interesting to see Marty and Rust interact as they are so different internally but end up uniting to solve the case.
Both McConaughey and Harrelson give extremely impressive performances, and have tremendous chemistry with each other. The whole show basically rides on their shoulders as most other characters are pushed to the background with the occasional exception. It’s amazing that they were able to pull this off as it’s almost an eight hour movie spent almost exclusively with two strange, psychologically damaged, and not very likable guys. The only relief is the case they’re working on, which isn’t much of one to be honest. McConaughey and Harrelson do their jobs more than well enough so the show doesn’t need to focus on the case as much to work. Behind the camera, there’s a lot going on. Cary Joji Fukunaga (also director of 2011’s Jane Eyre which I am a big fan of) has definitely made a name for himself here by directing all of the episodes with a highly distinctive atmosphere as well as including that six minute tracking shot at the end of episode four. It’s a pretty impressive shot; I probably wouldn’t have even noticed it was all in one take had I not already known there was one in the show. It’s seamlessly employed in the show so you are worrying about the characters and not necessarily how the effect is being achieved. The soundtrack as well as the faded yellowey color scheme greatly contributes to the immersive atmosphere. Though I had a bit of trouble placing the time period at first, that is soon cleared up and the way they detail they put into the setting is pretty fantastic.
What season 2 will consist of seems very up in the air at this point. We could get Brad Pitt, two female lead detectives, and/or the “secret occult history of the U.S. transportation system.” The creator, Nic Pizzolatto, hasn’t really set anything in stone at this point as far as I can tell, other than that the next season will not be under the control of one single director. While this still remains a mystery, one thing’s for sure: I am really excited for whatever turns up. Even though it’s sure to be completely different (keeping with the anthology format) surely the level of quality will remain the same.
“Back then, the visions…most of the time I was convinced that I’d lost it. But there were other times, I thought I was main-lining the secret truth of the universe.”
For Further Reading:
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