True Detective

True Detective Season 1 Review

The first glimpse of the golden age of television we are now well and truly in came from the US, with the continuing chase of a serial killer in Twin Peaks. Scandinavia have since mastered the art of that traditional tale with The Killing and The Bridge, but True Detective, inspired by pulp fiction novels, has found new life in an old shaggy dog’s story.

Before Twin Peaks, much of US prime time cop-led drama used to belong to duos, with Starsky and Hutch, Cagney and Lacey and CHiPs successful exports in the early eighties. The first season of True Detective used the duo of Matthew McConaughey’s alcoholic Rust Cohle and Woody Harrleson’s compulsive philandering Marty Hart to hunt down a serial killer that had evaded them for over a decade with echoes of Twin Peaks’ dark second season and arguably the best cinematography and set detail in any US long-running drama.

Told as a novel with eight chapters, the first HBO True Detective story is based on the two detectives who we find through flashbacks are at loggerheads when they come together to solve the ritual killing of a young woman in 1995. Cohle is the smart expert in the area, thrown into a lackadaisical workforce, where other detectives spend their days looking at porn mags, while he is seeking the truth from a seemingly higher vantage point where he has found an answer to life. Personally bereaved, he finds solace in drinking, with a no-holds barred attitude in every way that is alien to Hart, who wants to have a conventional life, introducing his new partner to his family over dinner, while having the best of his independence when he steps out of the front door.

Now being questioned individually by a new pair of detectives they return to the heart of darkness, as the writer and creator Nic Pizzalatto put it in this interview following the last episode (and naturally containing spoilers and answers.) Pizzalatto explains that he had the ending in mind throughout the writing as we the impact on the Cohle who continued to fight against a conspiracy in the hunt for the killer of women and children. While the motive for both detectives became a moral crusade, like that in the Girl with The Dragoon Tattoo, by the final episode we are reminded of The Wicker Man as they go into the unknown, in a labyrinth like maze, seemingly being drawn into a violent trap.

From the archive boxes to the empty cans of Lone Star Cohle uses as an ashtray in the modern day non-smoking offices, the attention to detail is fantastic. There are seemingly references to other great contemporary TV shows; the titles have a bit of both Six Feet Under and True Blood about them while the confrontation with drug dealing right-wing hells angels has a bit of Breaking Bad about it. That episode ends with a stunning aerial tracking shot typical of the wonderful cinematography used throughout, that highlights the empty spaces and sparse land being searched, and the water in Louisiana which was conveniently used as excuse for previous detectives who let evil prosper by doing nothing.

The second season, with a new cast and storyline which the writer says will have strong women characters, already promises much.


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