Thursday, May 7, 2015

True Detective: Season One review

    I wrote an essay on this television series ties to the Cthulhu mythos and my opinion on whether or not it should be considered a part of it here. However, I haven't written a proper review of the series until now. With the second season coming up, I've decided it's a good a time as any to give my opinion on its initial eight episodes.

    The premise harkens back to the lurid trashy magazine articles of yesteryear, promising tales of sex and violence which really happened. It is also a play on words with the two leads, questioning whether either of them deserve the title of being a "true" detective. The plot is non-linear but boils down to two former detectives Rustin "Rust" Cohl (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) being interviewed regarding a set of ritualistic murders they ostensibly stopped years ago.

    The majority of the story takes place in flashbacks which shows the two forming an uneasy partnership. Rust is a nihilist philosopher who puts down God, the world, and meaning while Hart is a staunch proponent of traditional Lousiana values.

Is he seeing this? Is it a hallucination? Or it just weird bird behavior?
    Neither man is comfortable in his stated philosophy as Rust has no true devotion to nihilism, only taking it up as a reaction to his daughter's death, and Hart being deeply uncomfortable with the patriarchal masculinity he's been raised to embody. The two butt heads constantly with the chief point of contention becoming Hart's adultery, Rust despising his partner for throwing away the kind of marriage he'd kill to possess.

    The show exists in the penumbra between the mystery and supernatural genres with nothing happening on the show which cannot be explained as the workings of a troubled mind. Nevertheless, the supernatural coats much of the plot with questions of meaning and justification for horrific acts being a major theme.

    The cultists, if cult there be rather than a single mad killer, are committing sexual assaults and murders under the guise of occultism to fill an inner need. Worse, it may be the murders are merely the latest acts in a much-much larger ring which has abused hundreds of children. Society doing the dirty work of the cult by refusing to believe it had failed to protect its children from such predators.

The murders are a major focus of the series but they're just the tip of the iceberg for a much larger, much nastier ring of criminals.
    I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that sex, sexuality, and society's relationship to such things are a major theme. Female nudity is common in the show with Alexandra Daddario and Michelle Monaghan both participating. Surprisingly, this serves a storytelling purpose as Hart's struggles with his own sexual desires.

    There is a rampant sexism in True Detective but the show demonstrates the line between depicting and condoning such attitudes. Both Daddario and Monaghan's characters have their own desires as well as reactions to the expectations of them as women. One of the more symbolic scenes is Daddario's character of Lisa turning around Martin Hart's attempt at handcuffing her to demonstrate who is really in control of their short relationship.

    Both Rust and Hart are fully-realized characters with a mixture of deep flaws as well as strong virtues. Rust appears to be the better man at the start of the series due to his lack of hypocrisy but we discover he is in every bit as much denial as Hart. They are, both, in their own way, terrible people. They are, however, great detectives.

The action sequences are where the men shine--even though both know such things bring them no closer to the true killers.
    The fact both men choose to continue investigating the case on a basis of pure desire to do the right thing shows they're stronger individuals than they appear as well--especially since so much of Louisana's authorities would just prefer the case disappear. Both McConaughey and Harrelson give the performance of their careers, making me sad we're only getting one season with them.

    True Detective is, at heart, a lurid but passionate series. It stares into the heart of mankind's grotesques and doesn't flinch. As mentioned, it manages to capture the spirit of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos and Robert Chambers' The King in Yellow without ever needing a physical monster to attack. Surprisingly, despite this, the first season ends on a note which refutes many of these values. I leave it to viewers whether they think this is appropriate or not.

    Either way, I recommend this series to viewers who don't mind hard-R storytelling which deals with horrific subject matter in a masterful way. There are many-many uncomfortable moments but this is part of the story's message, which is powerful. I'll leave it to viewers to find out what said message is. It is a great character piece, mystery story, occult tale of the supernatural, and commentary on patriarchal masculinity.


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