True Detective: Season 1 created by Nic Pizzolatto (Home Box Office, Anonymous Content, Lee Caplin / Picture Entertainment)
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Potts, and Tory Kittles.
Capturing the Mystery-Sized Hole in My Heart
Mystery can be an addicting genre. Nothing else on television can arrest the mind like a well-crafted narrative where the parts left unsaid take a life of its own. In its heyday, I would spend hours scouring the Internet after every episode of Lost, trying to discover every ounce of meaning in each scene.
For many devoted fans, the rabbit hole that was Lost left a hollow feeling when it became evident that the creators had no intention of bringing everything together into a coherently wrapped bow of an ending. But for me, seeking the answers, while fun, always took a back seat to character development.
I mention Lost not to set up an analog for True Detective, but to say this new noir detective show is the first one since Lost to truly envelope me in its narrative and setting.
Time Is a Flat Circle
Based in three distinct time periods—1995, 2002, and 2012—True Detective unveils the mysteries of the Bayou through a gruesome, cult-like murder of Dora Lange and its ripples through the decades. But even more important than the central who-dun-it exists the overarching theme of patriarchy and the damage men can do to women and children.
The detectives charged with solving this ritualistic murder in 1995 are Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rustin Cohle (Matthew McConaughey).
Stitched against scenes from 1995 are interviews from 2012 with aged and estranged Cohle and Hart, 5 days apart. Detectives Thomas Papania (Tory Kittles) and Maynard Gilbough (Michael Potts) want to unearth the process Hart and Cohle took in order to catch the killer, mostly in part because another body has arisen in 2012 with a similar modus operandi.
What follows over the course of Season 1 is a mystery spanning the decades and a plot focused on the flawed but intriguing main characters.
Yin and Yang
From the get-go, Marty Hart and Rust Cohle exist at opposite sides of the spectrum.
Marty is a man’s man, oozing masculinity at every turn. Yet, his macho demeanor fosters a large blind spot for his family and the ways his actions expose the foundation of his marriage.
Rust, on the other hand, is a loner with a heart wrenching past. He espouses nihilism as his life’s philosophy, to the point where he suggests humanity should end it all, walking hand in hand into extinction. Yet, his actions betray his nihilistic beliefs. He doesn’t commit suicide because he doesn’t have the nerve to do it. The verve with which he takes to the Dora Lange case suggests a man who might care too much instead of a man who cares nothing at all.
With the depth of these characters shining through the narrative, the central mystery becomes a vessel for the bigger themes situated throughout the True Detective world.
Characters in Focus
Even though many have descried the poorly developed women orbiting around Rust and Marty, I’m not convinced that this true criticism functions as evidence for flaws in Nic Pizzolatto’s writing. In truth, True Detective narrows in on the two main characters. With 8 episodes to tell the story, there isn’t room to develop much else. But that’s not to say Pizzolatto has nothing to say about women.
For starters, the main characters are deeply flawed. The audience shouldn’t feel compelled to follow either path to a life of enlightenment. In many ways, then, True Detective acts as a critique against this view of masculinity.
Destiny in the Details
While such a motif would be enough for me to watch the show, True Detective supports its central idea with masterful acting and cinematography.
Matthew McConaghey’s work deserves recognition during next year’s award season and I would certainly give him a frontrunner status at the moment. But Harrison admirably holds his weight as a counterbalance.
Even more, the nonpareil direction from Cary Joji Fukunaga brings this Southern gothic, noir world to life. Sweeping shots of the Bayou, unsettling derelict buildings, billowing oil refineries, and one of the most impressive tracking shots in recent memory provide the icing for this appetizing cake of a television show. In every nook and cranny, the viewer feels the dirty, unsettling evil.
True Detective has teemed the Lost-sized hole in my heart. Whenever you have the chance, you need to put True Detective at the top of your list.
Verdict: 5 out of 5