in Review

True Detective Season 1

For a couple months there, everybody was talking about HBO’s hot new show, True Detective. Then it ended a little more than a week ago and the conversations have basically stopped. Which is a shame, since this is definitely one of the those shows that benefitted from rampant speculation and debate; one that I’m not sure will be quite as fun as a rerun. But Colin has expressed interest in reviving the TV review on the blog this year, and if we’re going to do that, then we should probably start with the year’s first must-see TV event.

True Detective is the brainchild of author Nic Pizzolatto, who created the show and wrote every episode, and Cary Fukunaga, who directed the whole thing. The idea is that the show will be an anthology that delves into pulpy crime drama – think American Horror Story but with detectives. The first season follows Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson), two Louisiana detectives on their 17-year quest to capture a serial killer. Over the course of the season’s eight episodes they find, of course, that there is an evil at the center of this mystery much greater than a lone man.

Like many mysteries, I found True Detective most engaging when it was asking questions, rather than giving answers. For me, the first two thirds of the show were significantly stronger than its conclusion, especially because, for a time, it seemed the show was going in a much more unbelievable direction than it actually did. One of the early joys of True Detective is listening to Rust philosophize about the world and life, and the show lends some credence to his hypotheses. That meant that, after the second or third episode, people saying the show, so clearly inspired by Lovecraft, could end with the likes of Cthulhu didn’t sound totally insane. And that made the show pretty damn engaging.

True Detective‘s bread and butter is the juxtapositions of Rust and Marty; not just the differences between each other, but the differences between who they were, who they are, and who they think they are. The first half of the story is told in two different timelines: In 1997, when Rust and Marty first start working the case, and in 2012, when they are called in by two new detectives who reveal the killer might still be out there. When things in 1997 start going differently from the way they tell it in 2012, it throws even more confusion into this already convoluted mystery.

There are many actors who you’ll recognize doing great work on True Detective, but this Matthew McConaughey’s show. His is the juiciest part in the whole series, and the man absolutely guzzles it down. Much of Rust’s dialogue could have sounded disastrously pretentious or nonsensical coming from a lesser actor, but McConaughey lends enough weariness and gravitas to the role that it works. It’s weird to think how far this guy has come in just the last year or two, one of the most incredible career turnarounds in the history of the industry.

Woody Harrelson has come a long way himself, although I’d contend he’s been a respectable actor for a while now. The part of Marty is less glamorous and the character is intentionally harder to root for, but Woody is no slouch. He does terrific work elevating some of the more traditional aspects of the story, and does bring a fair amount of heart to Hart. There are just a few moments later on in the show that I think were either written weird or Woody played strangely, which had me thinking things that I don’t believe I was supposed to think.

And that’s what I took away from True Detective – it was a smart show that gave me a lot to think about. The ending was really different from what I was expecting, but any reservations I had were alleviated by that spectacular last scene. Where does it go from here, I wonder? Will the creators focus on this same conspiracy? Will we even still be in Louisiana next season? The potential, like the darkness, is infinite.