Is it possible for one horrific crime to impact the course of your future? That was part of the premise behind the complex first season of HBO's "True Detective," which had two police detectives finding a serial killer and making some near fatal mistakes along the way. The results were somewhat muddled due to a hard to follow premiere and a disappointing season finale, but the acting was still top notch nonetheless.
"True Detective" followed Louisiana State Police Detectives Rustin "Rust" Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin "Marty" Hart (Woody Harrelson) who first became partners in 1995 to solve a horrific murder. The victim was a young woman who killed in such a brutally ritualistic fashion that was hard for either cop to forget. Both of them had very different theories about the case, which demonstrated that these two very different detectives won't make it as partners for the long haul. Hart and Cohle were simply complete opposites forced to work together to solve their case, even if they killed each other in the process. Marty was a traditional cop and family man who loved his wife Maggie (Michelle Monaghan) and their two daughters. He also has the familiar bad habit of cheating on his devoted wife with younger versions of Maggie that aren't entirely stable. One of Marty's lovers visited Maggie and told her about the affair after Marty crossed a major line, which happened at the height of their murder investigation. He was still distracted to pay attention to minor details as his marriage was close to the breaking point. Rust, on the other hand, had no personal life to speak of after his one attempt at a family imploded after a tragedy. Instead, he was only obsessed with his job and his addictions; which led to some very dark views about the world that got under everyone's skin. Luckily, Cohle and Hart were able to solve their case after their boss Major Ken Quesada (Kevin Dunn) pushed them to do so. Sadly, it turned out that the detectives might have jumped the gun, especially when Detectives Maynard Gilbough (Michael Potts) and Thomas Papania (Tory Kittles) called them both in for questions in 2012. Who really committed the murder and will the now former partners live to tell the tale?
In terms of questions, the show posed a lot and didn't really get to answer all of them in a satisfying manner. It also didn't help that the show got off to a less than stellar start with a series premiere that was hard to follow and made it even harder to like either Cohle or Hart for different reasons. Sure, the show's stream of consciousness type narration made much more sense in the episodes that followed, but the premiere should've at least hinted at what was to come to prevent viewers from scratching their heads too much. As the season progressed, it became much more clear that this type of approach made the show more than a mere procedural show that just followed the evidence. Viewers got to really know the ins and outs of McConaughey's Cohle and Harrelson's Hart as they juggled their complicated work and even more complicated private lives. It also helped that the show had a rather small main cast that made it possible to pay closer attention to every small detail as each episode made audiences wonder if one of the main cops was also a killer as well. Much to the dismay of many, the season finale's reveal of the killer's true identity ended up delivering mixed results. The early part of the episode showcased how Elmer Childers (Glenn Fleshler) was able to remain a free man for all this time and also how he managed to walk through society without people noticing, especially from Cohle and Hart. The detectives briefly crossed paths with him and managed to overlook him at the time. It was a shock to put that detail together, but it was even more shocking that the final confrontation between the three characters wasn't as satisfying as it should be. The scenes just ended on a flat note that had the detectives on the road to an unexpectedly fully recovery; even when their injuries appeared to be fatal ones. The finale might have been more shocking if Childers either didn't get caught or if everyone died as a result of the final battle. Only time will tell if either scenario will happen in future seasons.
As for breakout performances, the main leads were the ones that made the strongest impression in different degrees. McConaughey, Harrelson and Monaghan showcased a unique triangle that managed to come together even after the worst possible thing could happen to everyone. McConaughey's complex performance as a conflicted detective in a state of flux allowed him to play against type of his usually easygoing off-camera persona. Okay, he managed to make one of the most unlikable characters someone to root for in the end, which is no small feat. He designed Cohle to be a man possessed with passionate ideas, even though he believed in nothing. McConaughey also managed to deliver some credibility to Cohle's sudden 180 in some of his beliefs after his near death experience. What could've been some token scenes that put things into perspective turned into a few strong moments that summed things up for everyone. Harrelson also got to play against type a little bit as he portrayed the more conventional Marty who had a less than conventional personal life. He played as someone who didn't know how to keep his emotions in check, which led to some of the shows more surprising moments; such as when his character killed a prime suspect in a moment of weakness. Harrelson and McConaughey had a convincing on-screen rapport that made viewers want them to return for a second season, which was unlikely considering that McConaughey won't be returning to the show. Hopefully, a big screen pairing for the actors will one day be in the works to fix that. Out of the three leads, Monaghan had the more challenging task of trying to add some weight to what could've been a token role of the long suffering wife. She provided Maggie with the right amount of gravitas that made her character end her troubled marriage on her terms no matter what the consequences were for everyone involved. Luckily, the character was able to find her way back to the main story after everything that transpired.
"True Detective" aired its season finale on March 9th at 9:00 PM on HBO. There has no information as for an upcoming second season, but there only has been speculation of yet.
Verdict: The show displayed some fine performances from its three leads, but the show's surprisingly lackluster finale episode was somewhat disappointing in terms of giving viewers what they needed to fully accept how the season concluded.
TV Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars (For the Performances)
2.5 out of 5 stars (For the show itself)
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)