HBO’s True Detective opens with a credit sequence which should have any TV fan in this day and age salivating through sheer Pavlovian reaction: a touch of True Blood (back when it was good), a smattering of Twin Peaks, a sprinkling of Hannibal, a splash of S&M mixing in with good old American white trash imagery, and all of that framed in shadows of the imposing and sweeping facial planes of its two leads. The second it ended, I wanted to see it again:
Of course, I didn’t get to do so since we had a show to get on with but the good (great? best?) news is: the show is showing all signs of being even better than the perfect opening it has.
A template mix between a classic British murder mystery mini-series-as-a-movie and the American Horror Story model, the latest edition to HBO’s Sunday nights is an 8 episode arc of murder most foul, which will change its cast and premise every season. Which is great, because the relatively short time commitment allowed them to get Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey (who, it just so happens, won a Golden Globe for Best Actor for Dallas Buyers Club on premier night, making this a pretty good week for him). Which is good because one episode in, it is hard to imagine anyone else playing these roles.
We meet the two of them in the present day and age, Harrelson in a suit, full of coffee and bravado still, and McConaughey asking the interviewer to pass him a beer, since “on Thursdays he starts drinking at noon.” And yes, “a little hustle on that beer would be appreciated”.
Cut back to 1995 where Harrelson’s Martin Hart has more hair and a beautiful wife and two girls (and seemingly the same suit on), and McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is a lean, mean, a-little-offbeat detective machine, and the two newly paired partners are sent off to check out a (seemingly ritualistic) murder somewhere in the middle of Louisiana nowhere, the girl posed, with an antler crown (another nod to the majesty of NBC’s almost sunken Hannibal?) and a whole police force scratching their heads.
It has been 3 months since these two sets of cheekbones and chins and husky drawls have been working together and they just don’t know each other. In fact, Hart has been trying to get Cohle over to his house for dinner for forever. And finally, tonight, on the day of this murder discovery, Cohle has agreed to come. Hart is a little worried because Cohle is a maverick (of course he is a maverick). A book reading, non-Christ-worshipping, non-drinking hermit who lives in a house with just a mattress and a cross and a stack of true crime literature and giant sketch pads he uses for note taking, all of which is bound to be messing with any sane man’s head. But, present day Hart is quick to add he is smart, and he is a good detective.
The next almost-hour after the discovery of the body is a slow moving but incredibly layered series of interactions, subtle and not so subtle discoveries about our leads and the victim herself and one masterclass of a disasterous dinner sequence (after Broadchurch used the same setting for some pivotal discovery, it is good to see America treating the potential of set-up right). Cohle has demons that is for sure, but it is certain that Hart does, too. After all, why was he sleeping in that chair and not next to his hot wife? And why was that girl showing those files, JUST TO HIM, in Private? And why ….
Personal character development aside, the main question, of course, is: WHY are they in these interview rooms after all? Supposedly, there is some light catching up on the Dara Lane case (that was the girl’s name, as our dynamic duo soon finds out), on account of some Hurricane Rita loss to the files but there is clearly so much more to this than some newbs wanting to learn more about “Cohle’s methodology.” So when (SPOILER ALERT AHEAD) one of the interviewing officers pulls out a photo of a murdered, crucified young woman, with an antler crown on her head, it all falls into place. The 2012 Cohle, a Lone Star tall boy in his hand, looks them straight in the eye and says: “So, what you want to know is how could this happen now, when we have gotten the bastard in 1995,” and as the officers nod, he takes one long, McCounaghey trademark beer swig and says: “Then you better start asking the right questions“.
And BAM! Just like that we’re on our way.
The story never ended and so the story is yet to begin. All of this up until that moment was just there to lull us into thinking that we’re going to be heading to some kind of satisfying conclusion for that poor girl. But now, all bets are off, and nothing is guaranteed. Especially not satisfaction.
If I was to anticipate what we can look forward to over the next 7 episodes, it is this kind of stuff: a nice cross between an Elmore Leonard vibe and a Southern Gothic sensibility, an easy chemistry between the two leads (reuniting after EDTv (!), and swaggering around in ways that could come off as comical on less capable actors), the never ending and frustrating joys of unreliable storytelling perspectives, a whole lot of Christian touchiness, and of course, a measure of sex, drinks, and bayou blues. In short, you should be hooked like one of those fish Hart loves to flytrap. WHAT DID YOU THINK?
BONUS: if you’re in the market for a recap that is INCREDIBLY detail oriented – may we point you in the EW direction? Regardless, see you next week when we discuss episode 2 (which will air Sunday, Dec 19th at 9pm)