A lot of people have told me that I have an unhealthy obsession with the TV series True Detective. And I don’t disagree with them. There are very few TV series that I really enjoy and have watched from start to finish- The Wire, Game Of Thrones, Fargo and Archer. To be honest, I don’t even think Breaking Bad and House of Cards are deserving of the praise they get. Which is not to say that they are bad, but that they capitalize on their plot twists to elicit “OH MY GOD HOW/WHY DID THAT HAPPEN HOLY BABY JESUS” responses that mask some of their shortcomings. But I don’t plan to upset any fanboys here as this post will focus more on what True Detective gets right.
It is hard to judge the show solely on the basis of one season. I cannot say how the show might pan out in the future as neither Cary Joji Fukunaga (the director of season 1) nor any of the cast members will be returning in season 2.
At its finest, True Detective is pretentious, dramatic and epic at the same time. Cary Fukunaga and Nic Pizzolatto play an immense role in this. Fukunaga’s direction plays an important role in setting up the scenes and allowing Pizzolatto to write lines that would sound preposterous in any other setting. His depiction of the Louisiana landscape is brilliant and goes a long away in setting up the neo noir/ southern gothic atmosphere of the show. There is nothing forced about the environment. He utilises the setting perfectly and uses it to his advantage. Once the atmosphere is set, it is all up to the actors to bring the story to life.
The casting of Matthew McConaughey as Rusty and Woody Harrelson as Marty was, in my humble opinion, a stroke of genius. Matthew McConaughey plays the part of the crazy but intelligent hero perfectly with his overtly dramatic dialogues and highly exaggerated Texan drawl. Woody Harrelson plays the Watson to his Sherlock and plays the straight guy who is not without his own character flaws. If Rusty succeeds as the crazy, deranged and intelligent protagonist, then Marty as a character is so good because he depicts all that is good and bad with people. He is portrayed as a humble, honest, salt-of-the-earth family man and he is anything but that. He finds time to cheat on his wife (Michelle Monaghan <3) with Alessandra D’addario (<3<3), who turns out to be her friend with benefit (Get it?). His family life is twisted and complicated, which forces him to seek solace in his work.
The chemistry between them both is just brilliant. Some of the best moments of the series are when only Marty and Rusty are interacting. What I like about Rusty is that he is completely unapologetic about himself. He thinks too highly of himself, but is also acutely aware how messed up he is. Sample this-
“I’m the person least in the need of counseling in this entire fucking state.”
While at the same time saying-
“Sometimes I think I’m just not good for people, that it’s not good for them to be around me. I wear ‘em down. They… they get unhappy.”
“I know who I am. And after all these years, there’s a victory in that.”
Which brings us to another point- the dialogues. I have read some criticism that the dialogues are overdone and too dramatic. I can understand why anyone would feel that but to me, the dialogues were the best part of the show. I have seen the first season twice and I remember almost all of them word by word. They are a mix of profound truths and some hard hitting realities of life.
“Death created time to grow the things that it would kill.”
“If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward then, brother, that person is a piece of shit. And I’d like to get as many of them out in the open as possible. You gotta get together and tell yourself stories that violate every law of the universe just to get through the goddamn day? What’s that say about your reality?”
“F***, I don’t want to know anything anymore. This is a world where nothing is solved. Someone once told me, ‘Time is a flat circle.’ Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over and over and over again. And that little boy and that little girl, they’re gonna be in that room again and again and again forever.”
“I think about my daughter now, and what she was spared. Sometimes I feel grateful. The doctor said she didn’t feel a thing; went straight into a coma. Then, somewhere in that blackness, she slipped off into another deeper kind. Isn’t that a beautiful way to go out, painlessly as a happy child? Trouble with dying later is you’ve already grown up. The damage is done, it’s too late.”
The lines remind me of a quote from a Porcupine Tree song, “Arriving Somewhere, But Not Here”- “Never look for the truth in your mother’s eyes.” Well you can add Rustin Cohle to that too. It would have made a terrible piece of lyric though: “Never look for the truth in your mother’s and Rustin Cohle’s eyes because he will most probably be tripping on acid and your mother can do passive aggressive stuff that will literally drive you crazy. ”
So why do I love the show so much? Well, I don’t know why. Maybe its the southern gothic atmosphere. Or maybe it the the mention of The Yellow King and Carcosa. I was immediately intrigued this concept and their use of it. A few hours and a wiki-binge later, I had read up everything about Robert W Chambers and his collection of short stories. The book The King In Yellow sounds both fascinating and weird. Here’s a description of the city he gives in the book-
“Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink behind the lake,
The shadows lengthen
Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
But stranger still is
Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Song of my soul, my voice is dead,
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed,
Shall dry and die in
—”Cassilda’s Song” in The King in Yellow Act 1, Scene 2
The book is fascinating in itself and worth reading.
Another thing that I like about the show is it’s use of music. The songs, from the theme to the background, are perfectly apt for the show. The OST is also a brilliant album to listen to and introduced me to my current favorite artist, Buddy Miller. The southern flavour is discernible in the choice of the music and aids in creating the tense atmosphere.
It would be remiss not to mention THAT scene.
I read somewhere that this was one of the most compelling TV scenes since the penultimate episode of The Wire season 3. That is the highest praise it can receive. To shoot such a gripping, 6 minute long scene in one take while maintaining the suffocating tension throughout is nothing short of awe inspiring. It encapsulates the suppressed mystery of the series perfectly.
Well I sat down to write a passionate rant about one of my favorite shows and have ended up doing just that. These reasons on their own might not sound important but taken together go a long way in explaining why I keep quoting True Detective all the time. For some reason, I have limited expectations from season 2 as the entire cast along with the director have been replaced. At most, I will be cautiously optimistic about it. But even if it turns out to be half as good as season 1, we will be alright, alright, alright and can just keep living. (Matthew Mcconaughey references overload)
Also I love Alexandra D’addario.