True Detective is an anthology series where police investigations discover the personal and professional secrets of those involved, cops and suspects alike whether they be lawful or unlawful findings.
In 2012, Louisiana State Police Detectives Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin ‘Marty’ Hart (Woody Harrelson) are asked to come in to revisit a murder case they worked in 1995. The former detectives tell their tale of how they worked the case, bringing in their solving of a weird paganish ritual murder in 1995. The timelines entwine and meet in 2012 as each detective is pulled into a world they thought was ancient history. In learning about themselves and their suspect, it becomes transparently clear that darkness dwells on both sides of the law.
On paper, True Detective looks like just another cop drama. When you see the finished product, it’s anything but. It didn’t take long for me to be hooked on this mesmerizing series. It’s wrapped in this multilayered mystery, incorporating the most unorthodox protagonists ever to hit screens. Interesting and rich in storyline, this eight-part, Southern Gothic crime drama quickly rises into HBO’s list of elite shows. This is one of the best crime dramas to air on television since The Wire (also HBO). Thanks to stellar writing and directing from writer Nic Pizzolatto (The Magnificent Seven) and director Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts Of No Nation).
Detective Martin Hart is a family man with issues, always on his moral highhorse above Rust who is a mysterious person, intellectually brilliant, susceptible to premonitions, dark thoughts and a haunted look in his eye whilst he would often be seen carrying an A4 notepad to crime scene. At the department, he subsequently be known as The Taxman. They’ve been on the job together for three months when we meet them in 1995. The season premiere starts with them being interviewed by modern-day detectives (Michael Potts, Tory Kittles) in 2012, seventeen years after the mysteries of ’95.
The show ponders ideologies of ethics, morality, religion and southern socio-cultural norms, many of which are backward and very Jim Crow. All of which, Rust holds in low regard with his constant brutally honest outbursts and words of wisdom. Marty tells him time and time again to stop saying “oddshit” like that in public. One of his many words of wisdom include things like “The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.” Also things like “Of course I’m dangerous. I’m police. I can do terrible things to people with impunity.” Rust regularly comes out with weird and meaningful oneliners and often monologues about life, history and philosophy preachings about our existence and the world. It all made sense to me, no matter how ruthless-sounding it was. A lot of what he says is brutal, but that doesn’t make it any less accurate.
The two modern-day detectives are working a controversial ritualistic homicide that Hart and Cohle worked back in the day which was apparently solved nearly two decades ago. But conundrums of what happened then are added to three other questions. The first being why the duo split, the second being why they’re so interested in this new case and the last is how it relates to a new homicide case. Hart’s elder self is fatter and now retired from the force while Cohle is, well Cohle will be Cohle. Cohle does what Cohle wants to do. He sports a hippyish hairstyle and demands a six-pack of beer before he’ll finish the interrogation. It’s past noon and Thursdays is when he gets his freak on. Nobody gets to interrupt that, not even cops looking to pick his brain. What they don’t know is that he’s reading them trying to read him.
There are some great players in this series too, including the talented Michelle Monaghan as Hart’s wife. She has a great screen presence and plays his wife so aptly. She’s certainly a cop’s wife, no-nonsense and doesn’t suffer fools; even if that fool is Det. Hart. Alexandria Daddario plays a character that exposes Marty as the flawed human being and hypocrite that he is. We also have Kevin Dunn as Marty and Rust’s boss. He’s a bit of an asshole to be honest. This is mostly a two character show and it’s Harrelson (Now You See Me) and McConaughey (Killer Joe) at their best.
Shot on the humid and hot backdrop of the south in Louisiana, the show moves slowly but there’s rarely a wasted scene. Despite the jumpy timeline, the castings and epic storytelling have made this series a breath of fresh air. Even if that air is polluted with southern gothic, Neo-Noir, ritualistic, dark and gritty fumes in the midst of a cold case. If anything, True Detective is an eight-hour movie than a television series. It’s made in the way that Netflix make a lot of their shows.
In many regards, it has the feel of a British crime drama with the grit of Luther and pacing of Happy Valley but then I remember Rust’s “oddshit” and backward ideologies of the South. And think “yes”, this is very American. A wonderful first season with awesome acting performances and storytelling but it wins with cinematography, editing, music and a fine script.
After watching True Detective and being subjected to the wisdom of Rust, I began to think “do we as a species belong on this earth?” We are just one of many who have inhabited this Earth. What makes us so special? We have separated ourselves from our natural animatistic nature into something very unnatural. Deep down, we’re still mammals, bipeds, and even Rust says “Maybe the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction.” The question is not whether he’s crazy. It’s whether he’s right. I look at the world and see what we’ve become and think, well shit.