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Stark Look Into Madness

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True Detective


A few weeks ago, I noted HBO's ending the runs of some of it's more established dramas during this year, and wondered if the network had any future. A few days later, True Detective, HBO's most recent series, premiered. Maybe there's hope for this network yet.

True Detective is a story about a murder investigation in New Orleans, one taking place in the present, the other in flashbacks to 1995. It's being told by two very different former partners Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) who in 1995 was a solid family man, and Rustin Cohle (Matthew McConaghey), an alcoholic, existentially plagued man whose tragic past may have scarred him forever. In 1995, the two caught the murder of a prostitute named Dory Lange, found strangled, raped, tortured, and left posed in an occult fashion. The story follows the investigation into the level of darkness and the two very conflicted world views of both detectives. Rusty is convinced that this is an isolated event at first; Cohle who worked in the FBI before being transferred to Homicide here, is convinced that this was not the first murder, nor will it be the last.

The investigation drags on for months, and comes to plague both investigators. In 1995, Hart was married with two daughters, seemingly happy, but there is clearly tension in his marriage, he is having an affair with a prostitute, and there is evidence that his children may have been detrimentally affected by the tension at home. Cohle openly solicits the hookers he is investigates, is plagued by insomnia and alcohol and drug addiction, and has such a nihilistic view of humanity that one wonders how he can function at all.

In the present, both detectives look far worse than they did when they are recounting the investigation for two attorneys for reasons that are not quite clear. The case appeared to have been closed in 1995, but now there is evidence that the murders may be happening again, and it seems clear from the questions that are being asked that the investigators suspect one of the original detectives.

True Detective is being listed as an anthology series, but one wonders how it will be able to function without the presence of Harrelson and McConaghey, who in this series clearly demonstrate that they are among the finest actors working today. McConaghey's portrayal of Cohle is the most cynical and haunting since David Tennant's work on Broadchurch, and may be the first truly great acting performance to rival Kevin Spacey's in House of Cards. We're no closer to knowing who did it then we were in the first episode, but I have a feeling that who did it is far less interesting than how we get there. And I want to see how dark this show can get.