I know, it’s been more than a week since the conclusion of this innovative show aired. But I’ll argue that I have let my impression process in the back of my mind, and now I’m ready to make a more carefully considered evaluation.
True Detective, in case you missed it, was an eight-episode series on HBO starring Woody Harrelson as Detective Marty Hart and Matthew McConaughey as Detective Rust Cohle, investigating a series of ritualistic murders. Through the series, the two detectives pursue clues that lead them to a group of "devil worshippers," who abuse and kill children from poor, marginalized communities, including prostitutes, as part of their rituals. While the geographic setting stayed on the Louisiana coastal plain, the series jumped between three time periods: 1995, when Rust Cohle, the new guy on the force, joins partner Marty Hart; 2002, when the partners fraught relationship finally breaks down almost irreconcilably and Cohle leaves the police force and Louisiana; and 2012, when on Cohle returns to Louisiana in pursuit of the same cases he had started on in 1995, which leads to an internal police investigation.
The mystery begins with the discovery of a murdered girl,her body blindfolded and tied in a praying position in front of a tree. Antlers are tied to her head and strange symbols are painted on her back. Clues lead to a similar cold case from years earlier, and the detectives then find the same symbols on the bodies painted on the wall of a ruined rural church.
|McConaughey's character, Rust Cohle, took extensive|
notes during his investigations. He created a believable,
if emotionally damaged persona.
The series jumps between 1995 and 2012, with occasion glimpses into 2002. The main visual clue is hair: while Harrelson only has to remove his toupee to age, McConaughey goes from a typical cop haircut to shaggy hippie/dirtbag look, with full handlebar mustache.
The strength of the show was the writing.The plot was sharp and engaging, the characters flawed, vulnerable and absolutely believable. The dialogue was genuine and perfectly credible.
Even though the time setting kept changing, it was never hard to keep track — the hair was one visual clue, but that was the least of it. The dialogue and the progression of the story always made it clear what era we were watching. Every scene made me want to see the next one, even though the subject, ritualistic sexual child abuse, was the toughest imaginable.
The story actually reminded me of two things: one was the actual police investigation in Cornwall, Ontario, of a pedophile ring including priests and other community leaders who shared their victims; and the other is an excellent book by Gae-Lynn Woods, Devil of Light, a mystery set in east Texas with a plot very similar to the first season of True Detective.
The only downfall to True Detective was the final episode.
SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU PLAN ON WATCHING THIS SHOW ON YOUR PVR, AND DON'T WANT TO LEARN THE ENDING, DO NOT READ PAST THIS POINT.
I cannot believe I just told part of my audience to stop reading my review. Ah, well.
The whole show seemed to be building up to the two cops busting open a decades-long scandal, a ring of men, including some prominent and "respectable" community and state leaders, kipnapped, abused, raped and murdered children, then covered it all up. But when Cohle and Hart find the centre of the abuse ring, the abandoned "Carcosa," they only find two men, neither of them prominent or powerful. There is a satisfyingly gruesome final fight scene, the bad guys are killed and the good guys vindicated.
But it felt, to me, like a cop-out.The evidence implicated powerful, rich men in the state, including senators, religious leaders and teachers, but none of those were ever caught. There is a throw-away line: "We didn't get them all," one detective says to the other at the end. "No, but we got some," is the reply.
|In the final episode, the heroes take the battle to the enemy's lair. But what the heck is this thing?|
In sum, True Detective was an excellent series: engaging, entertaining and thought-provoking. Well worth watching live or recorded — and a lesson for anyone who wants to know what good writing is.