Note: the following piece contains spoilers from Season One of True Detective. Do not read if you have not seen the show yet.
It’s been one week since the season finale of HBO’s new television show True Detective, and I’m feeling a little bit lost. I now have nothing to watch on Sunday nights now, well that is until Veep comes back in a few weeks. But since SXSW is now 100% over, let’s talk a little bit about True Detective, the brilliant new television series that had Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey and nominee Woody Harrelson leading the series as Rust Cohle and Marty Hart, two very unlikely detectives that are assigned to work a case together in 1995. What’s brilliant about this show, and what makes it stand out from other shows currently on TV, is that Nic Pizzolatto, the creator and writer of all the episodes of True Detective, throws out the story and puts a heavy emphasis on these two seriously messed-up characters. There will be some spoilers, as I will have to discuss certain elements of the story, but granted this won’t be as in-depth as the hundreds of other posts on the internet written my folks that are a lot smarter than me. But I’m going to approach this piece as a fan of the series, not as a snotty critic (that will be tough, I admit). So sit back and enjoy my recap.
I use the headline on this piece “Why it’s the Best HBO Show Since The Sopranos” because, well, in my opinion, it’s true. I’m not saying True Detective is as good if not better than The Sopranos. The Sopranos is my favorite television series of all time, and the show’s writing is arguably much better than the writing in some of Hollywood’s best films. And if it weren’t for The Sopranos, HBO would not be where it is today, and the line between film and television has gotten incredibly blurry, and shows like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and even Mad Men in its first couple of seasons have proved that television isn’t like what it use to be. Characters are darker, edgier, and multi-layered. Some weeks, the characters do the right thing and you applaud them for doing so. And then either in the same week or the next, the character does something that’s, for lack of a better word, not very nice, and instead of questioning the characters choices and abandoning the program because the character did not do the right thing in the end, we became all the more enthralled. Television writers began to write characters that weren’t larger than life people, but characters that were, well people. We all screw up on a daily basis, and many of these characters like Tony Soprano and Walter White have screwed up majorly, and their journey of trying to make ends meet are all beautifully captured through this new age of television.
What makes True Detective unique like those shows is that it’s format is wildly different from any other show out there. After last Sunday night, that was the final time that you will ever see Cohle and Hart together. They didn’t die, in fact both men survived the near death experience of finally hunting down and killing the killer behind the infamous Yellow King killings. But next season will feature a different set of characters, a different story and possibly a different timeline and/or year. That’s why HBO was able to get actors like McConaughey and Harrelson to sign on to this show, because it wasn’t a major commitment. It was 8 episodes, and that’s it. And when you bring A-list talent like that into a program, you get A+ results. The chemistry and back and forth with Harrelson and McConaughey is undeniably the best part of this series. Both actors have worked together in the past, and I hear both are good buddies, so the two of them work together like bread and butter when they are clashing on-screen.
There are some scenes of genuine friendship between the two, mainly in the final scene outside of the hospital in the last episode, but most of the time the two can’t stand each other. Hart is a family man, whose seen some things before but it doesn’t necessarily affect him mentally or physically. Cohle is the exact opposite. He’s seen things that most people would never see, he’s lost his family, and he’s a quiet loner who has these bizarre quirks that Hart can never seem to crack throughout the entire series. It’s not an unanswered question that Pizzolatto fails to answer out of lazy writing, but it’s a character trait. Nobody knows how to crack the man. And while many (including myself) would quickly say that McConaughey is the best performance and the best part of this first season of True Detective, Harrelson is right behind him. While both actors lead the show, Harrelson is the one character that you really get to know. You know his wife Maggie, played wonderfully by Michelle Monaghan, and you know about his two young daughters, and you know about his infidelity toward his wife, which has also been a topic of controversy, and if you don’t mind I’ll delve a little more into that.
There has been some criticism of the show that the portrayal of women is very demeaning or shrewd, and that women are either nagging or sex-hungry, or something like that. I apologize for my lack of research on the controversy because I’m too lazy. I personally don’t really get the argument, but I can see how that could be a complaint. But I have a reason to defend the show, and I’ll tell you why. The show is told through the eyes of these two characters, and it throughout the course of nearly 20 years, it shows their rise and fall (or vice versa depending on how you look at it) of these men, and in some cases the women are the last thing for these men to worry about. Well maybe for Cohle, but his family is everything to him. I never got that argument because I always saw the portrayal of women in the show to be this way is because of how these characters may perceive them. Marty is sex-crazed, like most men, and his first mistress in the show, which is played by Alexandra Daddario (the gal in the image up there) is just for him to fool around. That’s it. Marty gets angry over the fact that his girlfriend starts seeing other men, resulting in a fight at her apartment and the beginning to the demise of his marriage with Maggie. It’s a rational thing for Maggie to leave him for a bit in the middle of the show, and for her to leave him in 2002 after learning of another mistress that Marty has picked up. And in her distress Maggie has sex with Rust as payback for all the suffering that Marty has inflicted on the family for years. Yes, the female characters aren’t exactly the Gloria Steinem-types when it comes to feminism and all that, but as I said before, these characters are human, and they all screw up. Yes, this is not the best argument on this topic, but cut me some slack, Jack.
But back to what I was talking about before, Rust is a complicated person and nobody ever knows the full knowing about why he is. Maybe it’s because of his daughter’s death, maybe it’s his past of being undercover, or maybe its a combination of all that mixed in with the grisly imagery that he sees on a daily basis as a police officer. It may be just as simple as that, or maybe more if you go back and watch the series, which is something that I am seriously considering as there are little snit-bits that Pizzolatto sprinkles into the show here and there. But before I go on with what I was doing before I end this piece, I said that the show is the best HBO program since The Sopranos because this could be the first big HBO hit where EVERYBODY will watch it. Everybody watched The Sopranos when it was in its prime, and if True Detective can keep it up both in quality and in the ratings, HBO could have its first true Sopranos style hit that they’ve been looking for. Now as to what that second season is about, I don’t know. I’ve heard murmurs that the second season will be based around women (surprise?) and corruption in the U.S. Public Transportation system. We will have to wait until 2015 to find out. But until then, I highly encourage you to re-watch or watch True Detective again. It’s truly a groundbreaking show, and easily the best show on television as of right now. Now if you excuse me, I have hate mail to attend to after mentioning Gloria Steinem’s name in my piece. Have a good one.