Another ‘True’ HBO Classic
Since “The Sopranos” first aired in 1999, HBO has continued to change the face of television with a line-up of shows that break barriers that primetime networks couldn’t. HBO has fostered numerous auteur showrunners like David Simon (The Wire), Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) and David Chase (The Sopranos). The newest addition to that list is Nic Pizzolatto, creator of HBO’s newest breakthrough series, “True Detective.”
Set in Southern Louisiana, and told through multiple timelines, the show follows the lives of state police detectives Rustin Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson). In the first main timeline, set in 1995, the duo investigates the ritualistic murder of a prostitute named Dora Lange. The case delves into an underworld full of cryptic religious cults, meth tweakers and rural degradation.
Intercut with their investigation are interviews, set in 2012, with the two detectives, whom have both changed significantly over the past seventeen years, about the case. However, the detectives interviewing Cohle and Hart ask rather pointed questions which suggest that they might be onto something more.
In the long history of detective duos in television, Cohle and Hart will certainly go down as one of the greatest. In the pilot, Hart is presented as the cliché police officer that is overworked but tries his hardest to support his family. However, as the series progresses, he becomes a figure of deceit and infidelity. Cohle is the mystic character poised to solve the case, despite his pent-up pessimism of the world around him.
Harrelson embodies the adulterous family man with the same chops that McConaughey portrays the bold machismo. Though their characters’ personalities stray far away from one another, the banter and overall chemistry between the two highlights the raw, sublime quality of their performances. Their chemistry will also come as a surprise for viewers that are not aware that McConaughey and Harrelson are friends in real life, because the presentation of their characters infers that they don’t like each other off-camera, either.
Highlighting the supporting cast is Michelle Monaghan as Hart’s wife, Maggie, who is first presented in the stock role of a wife that is struggling to maintain a stable marriage with the burned out Marty. Toward the second half of the season however, she is shown to be a strong-willed figure that doesn’t take crap from her husband’s lies and infidelity.
However, what makes “True Detective” stand out most is its creative team of creator/sole writer Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Fukunaga. The potent force of this duo off screen matches the performances of McConaughey and Harrelson on screen. Pizzolatto’s writing is impeccable in its plot structure and eye for detail, as each episode unfolds with smart, novelistic ambitions. The dialogue is always thoroughly engaging, and his balancing of the show’s multiple timelines is handled with careful ease. Best of all, he makes the bold decision of placing his characters, rather than the case they investigate, as a primary device, because in the end, the season is a character study of two lost souls trying to find a sense of meaning in their jagged lives.
In the director’s chair, Fukunaga brilliantly captures Southern Louisiana, shown in a growing state of decay, and lurking with dark, gothic settings in the most rural places. Having previously directed two feature films, Fukunaga transfers his skills from his film experience to make the show feel cinematic. In what is easily one of the best scenes in the season, he pulls off a perfectly choreographed six minute long-take of Cohle navigating a stick-up that goes wrong.
Overall, “True Detective” is another great addition to HBO’s prestigious TV show hall-of-fame. Its finale may leave some longing for complete closure of its story, but it acknowledges that issue in relation to the realistic world it’s set in. Furthermore, it bodes well in the hopes that its planned anthology structure will return for a second season. It’s bittersweet to know that Harrelson and McConaughey won’t be back, but the time we spent with them was certainly memorable.
RECOMMENDED: “True Detective” is a brilliant package of ambitious storytelling, complex characters, and Southern Gothic themes.