As with so many other HBO shows before it, True Detective, with its dark tones as well as fantastic lead characters and actors, has all the hallmarks of becoming a classic. Only a slightly underwhelming finale holds the show back.
True Detective follows Louisiana State Police detectives Rustin Spencer “Rust” Cohle and Martin Eric “Marty” Hart, played by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson respectively, over a period of seventeen years as they attempt to catch a macabre serial killer. At the centre of this chase for justice is a police investigation which sees Cohle and Marty recalling the events at the beginning of their search, as well as the acrimonious split between the partners in 2004.
In the murky world of True Detective however, the truth is at a premium. On numerous occasions we see the evidence that Cohle and Marty give to their fellow officers directly contradicting the actions the partners take, as they attempt continue their own investigation whilst keeping their own morally reprehensible acts from the past from being revealed. The mystery of whether or not Cohle and Marty are telling the truth, combines well with the non-linear plot. As the action jumps back and forth over a period of seventeen years, plotlines ebb and flow, and the relationships that the Cohle and Marty share with each other and the other minor characters evolve continuously.
It is the relationship between Cohle and Marty that holds the entire show together. The two men are the antithesis of one another, though both are incredibly damaged by the dark nature of the police work that they tasked with completing. McConaughey’s Cohle is a reductionist, dismissive of the better sides of human nature, and totally unwilling to hide his true feelings about the people and the world around him. “The newspapers are gonna be tough on you. And prison is very, very hard on people who hurt kids. If you get the opportunity, you should kill yourself”, he says to a suspect midway through the series. Ouch.
Just because Marty, played by Woody Harrelson attempts to keep his dark side concealed from his family and colleagues on the police force does not mean it does not exist. Marty is a chronic womanizer as well as being a man prone to jealous rages. For these very reasons Marty struggles to hold his family together and resents his partner Rust for being on the perceived moral high ground.
Despite the misgivings the pair has for each other, they are forced to plough on by the dark murderous tail unfolding in Louisiana, which they both feel compelled to finish. Though both are repulsed by the nature of the crimes they have discovered, neither wants to be the one to pull the plug on the investigation. “A man remembers his debts” Cohle is quick to remind Marty when the latter has a brief moment of doubt.
In this regard Louisiana provides an excellent backdrop to the action, serving up some memorable scenes and locations during the season. The single take tracking shot, which follows Cohle through a 1990s urban housing development is perhaps the most noteworthy, and will be the talk of TV nerds for a long time to come.
Though the performance of Harrelson and McConaughey are flawless, the brilliance of their acting emphasises the relative lack of decent support they receive in True Detective. Michelle Monaghan provides an interesting and conflicted love interest for Cohle, as the wife of Marty, but her appearances are all too brief. Similarly, Michael Potts and Tory Kittles do not receive the screen time that they perhaps deserve.
True Detective’s finale was perhaps not what it could have been – the indicators up to this point had suggested a psychedelic or even supernatural conclusion to the mystery of who “The Yellow King” was – but overall it will still leave viewers with a sense of closure. The true achievement of True Detective, was being able to successfully create the suspense and intrigue that the show managed, whilst still providing closure all within the space of eight episodes. And for this reason, viewers will look forward to season two with eager anticipation.