True Detective isn’t feel good television, but it’s an undoubtedly necessary and powerful piece of filmmaking. The show’s first season is a dark and deeply disturbing tale that spans the course of eight episodes with a clear end and beginning. The fact that the show possesses an anthology format (much like American Horror Story), means it can tell a self-contained story every year with a new premise and a fresh set of characters. You’d think this approach would lend itself well to easy viewing, but True Detective is far from an “easy” show to watch. It’s uncompromising and ominous, yet packed with first-rate performances and production design that make it highly recommended.
The most intriguing aspect of True Detective is the fact that it utilizes two separate time-frames while unraveling two detectives and their hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana across seventeen years. Beginning with a gruesome murder in the pilot, Detective doesn’t let up all the way through the finale, tackling a number of complex themes (the nature of man, religion, and the universe) in the process. The series received widespread critical acclaim over the past few months and it’s easy to see why; the show is not only impeccably written and cast, it’s gorgeously shot against the backdrop of Louisiana’s lush landscapes.
The show’s greatest success is most certainly Matthew McConaughey’s astounding performance. As Detective Rust Cohle, Matthew assumes the role of the lifetime, and he’s every bit up for the challenge. His character operates in a sort of perpetual existential crisis, and Matthew knocks every one of Rust’s memorable monologues out of the park. The detective’s offbeat view of the world is often perplexing but consistently thought-provoking, and his journey eventually culminates in one heck of an award-worthy speech (one of the finest moments of TV I’ve watched all year).
Less effective is Woody Harrelson as Detective Marty Hart. I found the character unlikeable for a great deal of the time, and Harrelson never really felt like he was elevating the material the way McConaughey was. Nevertheless, Marty’s dynamic with Rust provided a strong backbone for the show, and evolved in a realistic and organic manner. As for the rest of the cast, Michelle Monaghan was a definite standout as Marty’s frustrated wife. Although her role became less integral as the show progressed, she continued to provide a compelling counterbalance to the show’s grislier moments.
Rust: Maybe the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight – brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.
Rust: People incapable of guilt, usually do have a good time.
Rust: I can’t say the job made me this way. More like me being this way made me right for the job.
Rust: I know who I am. And after all these years, there’s a victory in that.
Rust: If you get the opportunity, you should kill yourself.
Rust: All the dick swagger you roll, you can’t spot crazy pussy?
Rust: Get on out of here, you’re classin’ the place up.
Rust: If the only thing keeping a person decent, is the expectation of divine reward, then, brother, that person is a piece of shit.
Rust: This place is like somebody’s memory of a town, and the memory is fading. It’s like there was never anything here but jungle.
Martin Hart: Stop saying shit like that. It’s unprofessional.
Rust: The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.
Rust: Life’s barely long enough to get good at one thing. So be careful what you get good at.
True Detective is an unsettling, atmospheric, and remarkably absorbing series.