This eight-part TV series from HBO is about two policemen trying to solve a crime.
The producers have employed the usual cop-and-robber tropes, certainly extending them and maybe creating one or two new techniques. There is the exotic southern setting, the bureaucratic interference, and its incompetent police force collecting its salary for doing nothing.
As usual, the show starts with the sacrifice of a young woman whose remains are, in the way we have of speaking, graphically depicted. It’s important to note that this is a work of fiction and that it is the producers who have sacrificed the young woman for the benefit of the audience.
We are a species of rubber-neckers who cannot help but cast our gaze on the thrilling horror and report back to our friends. It is the job of work for the producers of TV and cinema to produce spectacle for us to see with delight and disgust, to produce the spectacle-watcher who sits passively in front of the screen for the thrilling roller-coaster ride, and then to walk away and go about his little business.
Anyway, the produced audience member is likely to be excited, appalled, outraged, titillated, repulsed, attracted, impressed, provoked to thought, provoked to doubt, and provoked to insecurity by this exceptional series.
Played by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughy, the cops are in sharp contrast. Rust Cohle is monolithically pessimistic with a Christ-like penetration of intellect. Marty Hart is split down the middle, bouncing back and forth between his own bullish sexual greed and the bullish piety of the responsible citizen. They are perfect instances of our culture and its manifold reactions to and participation in violence. Each watching citizen on his couch can find himself within these two characters.
Their lives intersect in police work as they mostly cooperate in the mostly intellectual task of analysis. In the usual CSI-trope way, they clinically examine the evidence, exposing more lurid details for the insatiable lust of the audience member while moving the story along. Harrelson’s and McConaughy’s consummate acting abilities construct realistic characters that construct the audience needed to appreciate them.
There is no attempt to understand the criminal. He is just a criminal who bears the label and has no history, no commonality with the citizen safe and sound in his den. He is merely the hated enemy who must be hunted down and killed on sight.
True Detective is a wish-fulfillment dream of a male-dominated culture that uses women as stereotyped manikins in domination-fantasies. Marty Hart uses his wife, children and mistresses as props in his own dream of magnificence. Rust Cohle places his wife and daughter on pedestals where they cannot be reached. Crime victims and sex objects are the only role open to the actresses.
Sprawl is central to the story. Is crime a local event that can be understood and be brought to focus under the lens of justice? Or is violence indelibly printed within each cell of our body, each person either a perp or a deliberately ignorant citizen who looks the other way and thus makes the underworld safe for its criminal denizens? In reality or in crime fiction, is each citizen both?
I recommend watching this excellent series and at the same time watching yourself. Their site has a lively discussion forum.