True Detective


Like everyone else, I heard a lot about True Detective. Almost too much. It sounded interesting, and I was ready to watch when it got to Netflix or whatever, but it looked like time was against me. It seemed like only a matter of time before someone was going to spill whatever beans there were to spill. I didn’t even want to see parodies because I was afraid of spoilers. So I acquired the series through perfectly legal channels and Becky and I shotgunned it as quickly as possible. That was actually pretty easy to do, because by the end of the first episode, we were hooked.

There’s a lot about TD that I’m tired of. I’m tired of serial killers, white men who have to break the rules to get the job done, dead women as entertainment, anti-heroes who only have to stay just a little bit above the actual villains, an one or two other things that I can’t say here in the non-spoiler part. However, the direction, the acting, the writing, the music, and the mood all helped me look past those things, for good or ill.

It’s a stunning series and a great, if incredibly disturbing, ride, even if it kind of misses the landing. It’s worth checking out sooner rather than later, though I don’t think the “spoilers” are as ruinous as I feared they would be.

Here’s a video I made which is 100% spoiler-free, but if you don’t want to hear any more, don’t read what comes after it.

Based on the reactions I’ve heard, I was expecting the ending to be some real 2001: A Space Odyssey stuff instead of the pretty straightforward wrap-up we got. I agree with the criticisms that the show’s writing got weaker once we left Dora Lange and headed into the present, but I liked that at the end of the day there wasn’t anything supernatural, no lurker from beyond, nothing but the stories we tell ourselves to make us feel better about the monsters among us. And let’s be honest, the show not for once suggested otherwise. The “Lovecraftian” elements were never really there, any more than telling the story of the Son of Sam would require a CGI talking dog. This isn’t a show about Cthulhu and never claimed to be, other than the general existential dread and nihilism at the center of the Lovecraft mythos. The scary part of those stories isn’t the tentacled horrors but the idea that we are adrift in an uncaring universe in which we don’t matter. And that the show did address.

I’ve seen criticism of the end as well, in the fact that they never uncover the conspiracy and just grab one guy. Again, this is something that works towards my favor, because I’ve never been a fan of huge overarching powerful conspiracies that can be stopped if you just take out the one guy. In the first episode — in the first ten minutes — Rust states “this is going to happen again” — and he’s absolutely right. When they catch Reggie Ledoux and close the ’94 case they know there’s evidence pointing further, but don’t pursue it, and sure enough, it happens again. Not just the murder, but its resolution. Once more they catch someone, only this time they know it doesn’t end it. They know there’s more behind this guy, but just getting him has cost them greatly. They have to step back and realize there’s only so much they can do in the face of an old, pervasive evil. It’s also highly likely that the outcome suits the “conspiracy” just fine. One of their own went rogue, called too much attention, so he’s sacrificed, given over to be the “bad apple” responsible so that the investigation can end and “justice” can be done and business can continue as usual. We’ve certainly never seen that in real life before.

There’s also the charges of misogyny in the story, which there are a lot of grounds for, but I think they’re not giving it much credit. This is a story of two men, men who get a glimpse into a world where all life, especially female life, is disposable and valueless (except in purely symbolic ways). They recoil from that world even as they unblinkingly walk in their world, which is only slightly better in its attitudes. Every woman around Marty is suffering in some way — much of which he’s the agent of — but he can’t see it or dismisses it as a cause of his work, instead of seeing his work being caused by this attitude. The fact that there’s an entire narrative going on with Audrey that barely gets addressed despite a million warning signs underlines this obliviousness. Still, the show isn’t helped by the usual strip-club and bunny ranch background action, nor the women who just can’t wait to jump on pale and paunchy Woody Harrelson.

In the end, what I liked about True Detective was that it worked against the current model of TV watching, which is presented as some kind of a battle between the creator and the viewer, each trying to outwit the other. This was a story, not a puzzle to solve. That there was no secret Yellow King or Carcosa island or whatever to puzzle out was refreshing. No dumb twist, no shocking revelation, not even a really unreliable narrator, as even when Cohle is lying to Gilbough and Papania you the viewer know exactly what the truth really is. The show plays one hundred percent fair, and I think this bugged some people. For me, though, I really liked having a show that put its energy into telling the story right instead of juicing it up with TVTropes or Tumblr nonsense.

I’ve no idea if the second season can continue the great job done in the first, but I’ll give it a try. And I’m down for the DVD when it’s available.

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