HBO's New Great Show - True Detective
True Detective is an anthology drama series on HBO created and written by Nic Pizzolato while also being directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. Pizzolato and Fukunaga are complete newcomers to the business, but after watching the first five episodes of the season, their inexperience does not show at all. In fact, Pizzolato has created such a dark and twisted but incredibly engaging set of characters and story that I would argue that True Detective is the best show on television right now. Fukunaga also expertly frames the show and sets the tone perfectly, in episode four, he also shows off his ability when he does a six-minute long tracking shot of Matthew McConaughey's character getting out of a drug raid. This first season uses multiple timelines to trace two Louisiana State Police Criminal Investigations Division homicide detectives as they hunt for a serial killer across the span of seventeen years. The show is complex, but not overly complex and although some of the themes can be a bit heavy handed it never detracts from the momentum it builds as it goes on. It is a bit interesting to also learn that the next season will be a completely different story with different actors. FX has done a similar thing with American Horror Story while largely keeping the main cast intact, so it'll be interesting to see going forward how it pans out for True Detective. Throughout this article I will talk about the show while also giving my insight onto the show. With that being said, if you are not up to date, then tread lightly.
We might as well start off by talking about the most intriguing character of the story and the star of the show. Matthew McConaughey hits all the right notes as the eclectic, nihilistic and withdrawn Detective Rustin "Rust" Cohle. Over the course of the show we have gotten to know him a little better, in particular, his past. In the first episode he explains that his daughter passed away at a young age, which makes him beg to question, was it actually a godsend that she was not subject to such a dark and disturbing world? Was it more of a peaceful way for her to go while still having her innocence? These are questions that he asks that also gives a better look inside the head of the character. He truly believes the world is turned upside down and there is no hope at the end of the tunnel. You'd figure a character like himself would be a frequent at a bar, but when we see him in the 1995 timeline as he and his partner Detective Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) are tracking down the murderer of one Dora Lange, he frequently explains to Marty how he does not drink for he is an alcoholic. Yet, fast forward to the present time when he is being questioned by two officers, he is drinking. Is this another instance where the title of the show is a contradiction as frequently Marty and Rust lie to the officers in present day about their case in 1995, or is it just Rust getting one over on the officers? My gut says it is him being one step ahead of the officers knowing that once he has one drink that anything they try to use in court would be inadmissible.
Rust is also frequently ridiculed by his peers for being a bit odd. However, as the show progresses we begin to look past his pessimistic ways and see that he has a heart past all of the hurt that he has endured. Above that, he is much smarter then any other cop we have seen on the show. He also develops a close bond to Marty's wife, Maggie (Michelle Monaghan), who sees that he is just a hurt man that could use some positives in his life, like a girlfriend. This helps him get a sense of normalcy for a time but it all comes crashing down in the most recent episode. I would go into why, but it was such a big scene I'd rather leave it up to you to watch it then potentially spoil it. However with all of this being said it goes to show that Rust Cohle may just be one of the most complex and intriguing characters on a television show right now. It is a bold claim, I know this, but I am comfortable in saying that.
Woody Harrelson stars as Detective Martin Hart who is portrayed as a man's man and a good opposition to the more secluded, dark and dreary Cohle. It is also interesting how his character's arc follows him and his family whereas Cohle's story is much more singular. As the show opens it is fairly obvious that he has a decent pedigree in his position and is well respected among the other officers. When he is at home though, it seems he'd much rather be at work on a case or out at a bar throwing back a few. It is a bit surprising when you take into account he has two adorable children and a wife, Maggie, who clearly loves him. It turns out that Marty has actually been cheating on his wife in an attempt to "not bring all the bad stuff home" as he tells himself. When all of this comes crashing down around him, he realizes how poorly he screwed up and also how he just made excuses. He then dedicates himself to becoming a better man for himself, Maggie and his children.
When he is also being questioned by the two officers he explains to them that looking back he realized he didn't just do wrong by himself, but he really did wrong by not being there for his children. In the most recent episode we saw this first hand with his eldest daughter who had taken a turn for the worst. Interestingly enough, a parallel can be seen in his children to him and Cohle. His eldest daughter has completely different views on life and is a bit darker in nature, like Cohle. Whereas his youngest daughter is more mainstream and currently on the cheer squad at her school, which reflects Hart as he was well liked around the office for "being one of the guys". As for Maggie, her character seemed like a cookie cut out of a character. She seemed like she only had one note but as the show has progressed and her marriage tested, she has shown a side that is a bit more ferocious and not to be messed with. It will be interesting to see how her character will continue to grow, and the same goes for Hart's children. Where Cohle is much more complex in terms of character, Marty is much more realistic of a character, again creating a good opposition to Cohle. Marty is the typical blue collar male who works hard to support his family but in the end his nature is to not be tied down to one woman. He even frequently makes jokes against marriage to the officers interviewing him. This again, leads him to be a man's man kind of character.
Warning - Explicit (Bad Language)
True Detective is a show unlike any other that I have seen in a very long time. I do realize saying all of this maybe a part of the hype, the constant waiting another week for another great episode but the fact is that after every episode my mind is set reeling trying to analyze every little detail to fit into the grand picture. It is almost as if it has made me into a detective trying to find out the case before anyone else does inside of the show. Another intriguing element about it is how it is filmed. Obviously, all HBO shows are shot exceptionally well but something has to be said about all the tiny visual clues that are given. There is plenty said about yellow and insanity and even more so the battle between good and evil and where religion falls into play on that. Frequently you will even see Cohle working the case and you will almost always see a wide shot of him doing so with a cross somewhere in the shot with him. The color yellow can be symbolic of insanity or mental degradation, and in the fourth episode when Cohle is forced to go off the rails a bit for the case, a certain scene is shot with a yellow hue to the lighting. It is all of these tiny aspects that really set it above other shows that are on television currently.
That however, is not the most intriguing part of the show. A good show, story, movie what have you starts with great characters. As I have stated, Rust Cohle is one of the most complex and intriguing characters that I have seen on television whereas Martin Hart creates a good opposition to him in how grounded he is in reality to the men of today. Cohle's pessimistic views on the world can also begin to really make you think, but what makes you really think is how the story is so expansive. Hart's self-loathing of the man he had become and cheating on his wife leading him to change, while also developing a close friendship to Cohle goes to show how well crafted these characters are. As for the case at hand for the detectives, at first you figured it would be a singular murderer but now it has become something much bigger and all along we have been hand fed tiny clues that any normal viewer would have dismissed. That is the mark of a good writer, leaving hints right under your nose so that the final act in hindsight is so painfully obvious. Now, we do not know the ending just yet, I have my theories, which I will not divulge but I have no doubt that it will be equally surprising and compelling, just like the show has been all along.