True Detective (Season 1)

True DetectiveNo spoilers, continue without fear.

I’m sitting here behind my computer, sipping blueberry tea and wondering how the hell did I just watch eight episodes of True Detective back to back and yet, have no idea where to begin the discussion on this HBO’s newest hit series. That’s probably the most excruciating feelings a blogger can experience, that of having so much to say that making sense would probably be a far fetched illusion.

Honestly, I think the best way to understand True Detective is to watch True Detective and even then, one can’t be 100% certain that they were able to grasp everything. The creator of the show Nic Pizzolatto, who also wrote all eight episodes, is to blame here.. or praise: I myself am not yet emotionally stable enough to make that decision. That, or blame and praise might go hand in hand with True Detective. Pizzolatto is a guy who came almost out of nowhere to make television show magic, he had only a couple of writing credits for the US remake of The Killing under his belt and 3 years after that, boom!, he created one of the most intriguing crime dramas currently on television.

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Though Pizzolatto’s vision and writing was the driving force of True Detective’s first season, he most certainly didn’t achieve that kind of success on his own. One of three men, who helped Pizzolatto make True Detective into the kind of show we were lucky enough to have witnessed this year, was director Cary Fukunaga, who’s previous filmography includes the dark and eery Jane Eyre (2011). Also credited behind all eight episodes, Fukunaga brought a kind of consistency to the visual direction that is remarkably interesting and a rather addictive experience. Most importantly, Fukunaga’s 6 minute single-take tracking shot in the middle of the season was the most epic thing on television since Game of Thrones’ Blackwater episode.

By now I’ve certainly hyped up the series well enough but why stop now, True Detective’s biggest treasures were the two leading men, Woody Harrelson and Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey! Where to begin, seriously, how can anyone describe these two men without sounding like a crazed out cult member bowing to these men like they can’t do no wrong? Let’s face it, there probably isn’t a way to talk about Harrelson and McConaughey without that kind of manic enthusiasm because whilst McConaughey alone gives the best television performance I’ve seen in a decade, Harrelson is right there with him, stronger than ever.

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After spending almost 8 hours with these two men, I couldn’t help to ask myself whether True Detective had worked without Harrelson and McConaughey. To be honest, I think it wouldn’t have been as good but part of me also thinks that the characters Pizzolatto wrote could have survived other actors as well. Which goes to show that the combination of writing and acting is what matters at the end of the day and True Detective was simply lucky enough to get the best of both sides. That being said, I can’t imagine anyone putting so much conviction and heart into Rust Cohle’s character as McConaughey: that man is literally on a pedestal right now and I don’t see a reason why anyone should ask him to step down.

And at the end of the day, the only man who could have stood next to McConaughey, and not be overshadowed, was Harrelson as Marty Hart. While McConaughey’s character had the mystery and philosophy, Harrelson’s had the bad man vs. the good man battle with in himself, and together they were almost unfit partners, yet somehow they made it work. Maybe it was their time spent on Surfer, Dude (2008) that made the connection between Cohle and Hart so special (I could not not make this joke), who knows and who the hell cares, because everything worked out oh so well!

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So, was True Detective’s first season as perfect as I make it sound? To be completely honest, I’m not quite sure how to feel about it – whilst I loved the dark, surreal and tortured writing behind the show, I’m a bit conflicted about the crimes and villains of the story. Don’t get me wrong, there was enough gore and disgust, anger and frustration throughout the series, but True Detective’s strongest asset, its web of complicated plot lines, was also its weakest. For me, there’s a certain line that some shows should never cross and I feel as if True Detective wasn’t afraid to go far behind it.

The plot was complicated and the symbolism was almost overflowing by the end of the season that a second, if not a third, viewing might be necessarily. Then there’s the added bonus of reading additional theories and trying to find answers to plot lines that raised a lot of questions but were unfinished (this particular read was one of my favorites). Sometimes, if not rarely, that kind of craftsmanship works but I doubt it would have worked for me personally if it weren’t for the combination of Fukunaga, McConaughey and Harrelson.

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Luckily enough I don’t have to wonder forever about whether it was my love for Pizzolatto or McConaughey that kept my eyes on True Detective because season 2 (HBO will most likely renew it) would be a whole new ballgame! Taking from the American Horror Story playbook, True Detective is an anthology series – a new set of characters with their own story will be introduced each season and continuing with the main theme of this post, I’m not quite sure how I feel about that. I want to love the idea because I can’t see the plot of season 1 progressing any further, on the other hand I’d have McConaughey and Harrelson withdrawal AND it ain’t gonna be pleasant.

Finally, I feel as if a conclusion for this post isn’t going to clear up the confusion I seem to have developed while watching True Detective. If I’d were the kind of person who made pros and cons lists, I’d have a lot of positive things to say about True Detective, Matthew McConaughey’s name would be highlighted and covered with golden glitter, and yet there would also be some negatives. But that kind of perfection I seem to be looking for in television and sadly in life as well, seems unnecessary which means that True Detective is perfect in its own little twisted universe.

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15 thoughts on “True Detective (Season 1)”

  1. The finale may have been a bit of a let-down, but everything else was so damn tense and mysterious, that I wasn’t too pissed. I just wish they’d found a better way to end it, especially after all this hype and drama going into it. Good review Ray.

    1. It felt like half-finished as well.. Like the way they presented the whole missing people thing and the family ties and everything.. it did let us down a bit with that villain in the end…

  2. I did a lot of thinking with this show too. After I came out of the True Detective fog, I have to say I loved it. Great writing, great acting, directing, overall there are not many shows out there that stir up these types of emotions with viewers. Good review.

    1. Good writing indeed, very non TV type writing which is refreshing and great to watch among the easy writing shows that are overflowing at the moment.

  3. Lovely! I was so shocked by not loving the first 15 minutes that I stopped watching, but I’ll definitely watch the whole thing as soon as I can because the promise “Breaking Bad levels of tension” are way too intriguing not to. 😀

    1. You should definitely give it a try, it is a bit hard to digest but it takes time.. I didn’t like Breaking Bad for the first two episodes back in the day but that turned out well. 😀

  4. Oh HBO is definitely renewing – the finale was watched by so many people streaming sites and HBO GO crashed. As for Harrelson and Matt – this was their 3rd collaboration and they are really close in real life so it’s something that I think added to that sense of knowing each other well between their characters.

    I myself didn’t really care much about answers and mystery – not because it wasn’t interesting but because the main two characters were just so much interesting and entertaining to watch no matter what the plot of episodes was. It’s very rare to create characters so rich I’d watch anything just to see them.

    1. Indeed, the characters were very interesting and in a way, they were more important than the crime aspect but I myself love crime shows and I kind of wished for an amazing serial killer or something but despite the lack of a great villain, the heroes of the story were the ones to remember!

  5. I love the conclusion to this review. Is True Detective “perfect”? Well, what the hell is perfection? Who knows, but in its own world, yes, the show is as about as perfect as it gets. So glad you liked it!

  6. “But that kind of perfection I seem to be looking for in television and sadly in life as well, seems unnecessary which means that True Detective is perfect in its own little twisted universe.”

    With those lines you’ve described perfectly how I also felt about the series. I loved it, but sure it had some negative things as you’ve said about the villains. Anyway, as you’ve mentioned the McConaughey – he’s amazing – Harrelson combo just make it work perfectly. Same as the direction by Fukunaga, the photography of Arkapaw that I loved and of course the whole idea from Pizzolatto. I’m eager to read Galveston now, his first novel.

    Great review, was really nice reading this and seeing other people felt the same as I did about the show.

    1. Thank you for all the nice words and indeed, all the men who game together with this were in the league on their own so that is why it felt as perfect for the show itself as it could.

      And thank you again for the comment!

  7. […] writing TV magic for me, True Detective and all its brilliance behind the show. I talked about it in my post a lot so I don’t feel like I should rewrite my thoughts again but I must mention it as my […]

  8. I completely relate to your inability to verbalize anything after concluding True Detective. There was A LOT to digest in every episode. I did some research on the show for my post, and after reading interviews with the writer, it all makes sense. Understanding the direction + intentions of Pizzolatto made me fully satisfied with the series finale.

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