Some Thoughts on True Detective


I might as well cut right to the chase – I am totally addicted to HBO’s True Detective.

The fact that I enjoy this show doesn’t come as a surprise; once I heard that Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey were attached to this anthology series I was pretty sure that this show would be up my alley. But what I was not prepared for was how totally in to the show I am. It’s been a very long time since I was legitimately excited for a show and anticipated it airing week to week. But that’s exactly how I feel about True Detective; while I used to dread Sunday nights, since they inevitably lead to Monday mornings, my sadness at the upcoming work week is delayed until after True Detective ends.

I didn’t actually get around to watching True Detective when it premiered and wound up having a mini-marathon Presidents’ Day weekend once I had finished binge watching House of Cards. Anticipating that I would like the show, I wanted to wait until it had my full and undivided attention. I have developed the nasty habit of not really watching TV shows, but rather listening to them while I do other things. Sadly, this has not seemed to diminish the enjoyment of a lot of the programs that I currently watch – even only paying half attention I know what is going on, though admittedly I probably miss some details. But I had the sneaking suspicion that True Detective was going to require my full attention and that I would want to savor everything that was going on. So I was going to have to turn off the computer/tablet/cell phone and just give it my undivided focus.

That instinct was dead on, since there is so much to savor in True Detective. The series spans 17 years and follows Rust Cohle (McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Harrelson) as they hunt a possible serial killer in the backwoods of Louisiana. While the murders are in and of themselves interesting, that’s not really what True Detective is all about. Rather, the show is really a showcase for these two characters and how their relationship changes over the years. These are very different men and they are coming to the case from very different places; because the show covers such a long period of time, the viewer gets to see the long-term ramifications from the decisions that they make and the ebbs and flows of their partnership. Because True Detective is an anthology series, it can tell this one contained story and really flush out who Rust and Marty are. McConaughey and Harrelson are at their best and truly shine in this show; McConaughey has the obviously flashier role as the more philosophically minded Rust, but Harrelson is also doing so solid work as the gregarious Marty. There is more to both men than initially meet the eye and True Detective does a really nice job of not only taking on some of the clichés of other police procedurals but of also making the viewer aware of the many unreliable narrators in this story. In True Detective, the murder case is almost secondary.

That doesn’t mean, however, that their attempt to track down the serial killer isn’t a compelling story. While in the first few episodes the story was less central to the character and world building, I’m now completely fascinated with the twists and turns that this investigation has taken and have spent more time than I’d like to admit analyzing scenes and dialogue, trying to figure out who the Yellow King is. I am not alone in this regard, as the Internet has been spinning all sorts of conspiracy theories as to how this story will ultimately be resolved. The last time I spent this much time focused on trying to crack the code of a show was Lost; hopefully this show will do a much better job of resolving the mystery that it has set forth. To date, some of my hunches have been proven right, while others seem to have been dead ends. I am so sad that this show is ending this Sunday, but man have I enjoyed the ride.

Of course, True Detective isn’t a perfect show; it has it faults. The characters beyond Rust and Marty are not particularly developed – while some people have focused on how women are written on the show, I think that this is a universally applicable critique. This in and of itself isn’t problematic, especially if the show is intended to just focus on the two leads, but there are some characters that I just wish that we knew more about. As Marty’s wife Maggie, I particularly wish that Michelle Monaghan had a little more to do. The plotting sometimes leaves a little to be desired – some of the early episodes move especially slowly, which can be discouraging to people trying to get into the show. The good so outweighs the bad on True Detective that ultimately, these issues don’t matter to me. I’m completely in the tank for the show.

To say any more about the show would really ruin the experience; if you aren’t watching the show or gave up, I strongly recommend giving it a chance. The entire first season is only eight episodes and it is well worth the investment of your time. For those that are all caught up, here are some links to tide you over until Sunday’s big reveal.  It goes without saying that spoilers abound, so click with caution.

  • This video makes fun of our obsession with The Yellow King – turns out he was hiding in plain sight.
  • You can get the Kindle version of The King in Yellow for free on Amazon. The show refers to this short story collection a lot.

Do you think the show is going to stick the landing? Can the resolution of this story possibly live up to the expectations? Do you have a favorite theory as to who is behind these murders? Sound off in the comments below.

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