The trailer for HBO’s True Detective hit the internet like a tidal wave last fall. A stellar cast (Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey play the two lead detectives and both men have really been on fire the past few years) and the promise of a truly dark complex serialized mystery had me and just about everyone else chomping at the bit. Three episodes in and it is time to evaluate how the show is living up to the hype. To cut to the chase, the show is everything I wanted and more.
Set in rural Louisiana (a location that is just dripping with equal parts charm and menace), the show follows two detectives, played by Harrelson and McConaughey, who get called out to a gruesome and operatic murder of a young girl displayed in a field with a crown of deer antlers. Show creator Nic Pizzolato uses an interesting technique by splitting the show up between the early 90s (when the investigations took place) and the present day where two younger detectives are interviewing Harrelson’s detective Hart and McConaughey’s tortured detective Cohle. This narrative device gives the show an ominous pacing that hints at how this investigation affected these men, and gives the show a deeper mystery then the whodunit at the heart of it all.
The last episode ended with a painting on a burned down church that echoed the iconography of the murder of the young girl in the field. Finally, after two weeks of teasing about the “old time religion” church in town, we get to meet the congregation. It brings out the best and worst in Cohle as he and Hart have a truly rich discussion about the relationship between religion, stupidity, hope, existentialism and escapism. The beauty of this show is that neither man is allowed to be right. Cohle teeters on the edge of a neckbeard redditor with his disgust of religious people, while Hart is unable to answer the really probing questions Cohle raises about morality. Ultimately the church is a dead end and the detectives head back; in Hart’s case, to his troubled family life, and in Cohle’s, to diving deeper and deeper into the case.
Seeing these two rams butt heads is the greatest joy this show has (aside from Hart’s great one liners), and watching Hart lose his mind because Cohle stopped by to mow his lawn adds a new wrinkle to the pair’s already tumultuous relationship. The fraught work life these two share is beginning to invade their personal life. A double date, between Hart and his wife and Cohle and a friend of Hart’s wife, only serves to push detective Hart further up the wall.
All of this personal drama is forgotten once Cohle makes a break in the case, uncovering an old murder (previously ruled a drowning) that may in fact be the work of our killer. This sends the detectives deeper into the swamp. By the way, I love how the darker the show gets, the deeper into rural Louisiana the show gets. The scenery is breathtaking and almost otherworldly. After talking with the “drowned” women’s father they come up with a name, drug dealer Reggie Ledoux. An all-points bulletin is put out on Ledoux. At this point we cut back to the present day. Harrelson’s Hart tells the detectives that they probably want to hear about what happened next. He compares it to Vietnam. Cohle has a similarly ominious take on things, saying, “Just like a dream there is a monster at the end of it.” Cut to a nearly naked man walking through the everglades wearing a gas mask and wielding a machete. Roll credits.
That is how you keep people tuned in, ladies and gentleman. A truly horrifying and bizarre end to one of the most philosophical episodes of this young show, or really all of TV history. Between the measured and compelling treatise on religion at the revivalist church, and old crazy Cohle’s rants about free will and individuality, there was something to chew on in almost every scene.
- I can’t shake the feeling that something is going to happen to Hart’s kids. They way the camera lingers on them ,and the youngest daughter’s struggles this week, really gave me the willies.
- On second watch, I caught a glimpse of the killer’s “Devil Trap” signature at the revivalist church. This show is going to reward rewatches like few shows before it; I’ll bet you a dollar (which is a fortune to an intern. I can by coffee with that dollar; let that sink in.)
- I can never decide who is doing better work on this show (Harrelson or McConaughey). They both are just putting on a clinic on humor and pathos, but this week Michelle Monaghan damn near stole the show with her portrayal of Hart’s supportive (but absolutely worn-down) wife Maggie. The humanity she brings to her scenes takes the show to new heights.
- I am getting Breaking Bad flashbacks with how good these cliffhangers are. Be glad we are living in the golden age of TV.
- “The world needs bad men; they keep other bad men at the door” is exactly the line I need right now in my life.
- Seriously, what is up with that naked machete-wielding weirdo?
- Is it Sunday yet?