True Detective, Season One (USA, 2014)

true-detective-first-season.16295Created by: Nic Pizzolatto. Readers of this blog might be familiar with my push-pull history of the temptation of television series, so I’ll spare the song and dance this time. This show had good buzz from my friends, good reviews from the critics, and I couldn’t resist what seemed like a worthy expense of my time. Now that I’m through the first season, I can confirm that it was, indeed, another instance of Quality Television. Or at least, this first season was (there’s already tons of rumours about the second season, and the inclusion of Vince Vaughn is raising some eyebrows, but I’ll wait and see—even the idea that every season will have different characters and a different feel is pretty interesting). First thing’s last, that opening sequence: Holy shit it’s good! And that theme song! (Thinking about it is really tempting me to make a whole post all about TV opening sequences and theme music). This opening sequence is perfect because it really captures what the overall feel of the show is, the overall character, which most TV opening sequences don’t really do. To me, there’s really something about this opening sequence, how it’s able to convey in a couple of minutes, with a single song playing over a series of abstract images, everything you need to know about the show: the lead actors posing with dour expressions against an abstract background, the figures of masked nude women done up in the quasi-pagan sacrificial victim imagery of the plot line, while that oddly upbeat and catchy song plays, gives  the whole thing the feel of a Nancy/Hazelwood record warping over a particularly unsettling James Bond theme sequence. The face of Woody Harrelson with the image of an American highway projected onto it, the lines of the highway bisecting his face like a crucifix, his eyebrow ridge like a cliff face, giving you that stare of death and affected artistry, like an actor assuming a lofty role in some kind of ancient Greek play, with some kind of weird, ritualistic war paint on his face. This show is all about placing one thing against another, and then turning them both inside out and seeing what’s inside. It’s a standard American police procedural/murder mystery type thing, it’s a show about the dynamics of two characters who play off against each other. This leads to the other thing: it’s a show about the big questions—the place of organized mainstream faith in the modern world, the contrast between Marty Hart’s attempt to live a straightforward, patriarchal, Christian, middle-class life in a world that seems to make a lot more sense viewed through Rust Cohle’s detached nihilistic atheism. This world is a cruel, uncaring vacuum full of senseless violence, insidious exploitation, abject misery and corrupt power dynamics. It’s a world steeped in the uncaring plainness of reality: hurricanes wipe out police records, girls from poor rural families go missing, and asking the wrong questions to the wrong people will jeopardize your career. This leads to the other other thing: that whole world of starched-collar, mainstream, oppressive, fire-and-brimstone Southern Christianity that is actually underpinned by an utterly dark world of child abduction, pedophilia, ritual murder, animal costumes, African voodoo, folk customs, the darkness of the human soul in general, like an overturned stone revealing all sorts of nasty shit. And throw in some infidelity, some bikers, and add some touches of humour to keep it from getting unbearably dark, and twist the whole plot up in two or three layers of back-and-forth, non-linear plot, which in turn, allows you to throw in some recent-past, reverse-nostalgia touches of the early 90’s and early 00’s. As usual, I’m running really long, and yet I haven’t really said anything about the show, other than a generalization of all of the little bits about the show that I found so satisfying. Usually I call these the trappings of a film, and I use that term when a movie maybe isn’t that great, but it seems so damn satisfying, not because of the script or the cinematography or anything, but because the lead actor looks so fucking cool, because the music is great, because of a little trick of the lighting or the pace of the editing, or what have you. In this case, I’m definitely enamoured of the trappings of True Detective, but there are so many trappings, the show is bursting with them, that it basically informs the majority of the positive content of the series. In this case, the skeleton of the show, the bare bones plot and script, etc, are completely solid and compelling on their own, and also, all of the stuff surrounding it is super interesting. And, God help me, my parting thoughts on this are potentially the subject of another post, but it occurred to me that this is a show that makes me afraid of (Southern) white people. The world of the bikers, the neo-Nazi prison inmates, and the big villain, the deformed, inbred and incestuous, monstrously strong and demented killer at the end, all of those white people are fucking terrifying. So that’s interesting.

2 responses to “True Detective, Season One (USA, 2014)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2014 | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: True Detective, Season Two (USA, 2015) | Offhand Reviews·

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