THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR ALL OF TRUE DETECTIVE SEASON ONE.
I recently finished watching True Detective with my dad. From all the Internet hype, I expected something on the level of The Wire (which I haven’t finished watching yet – we just watched series 4, episode 1 the other night). I will write about The Wire at some point, but anyway, let’s get to the business at hand.
Me and my high expectations
The theme song and opening credits of True Detective are fantastic. I really love the layered effect. The song is wistful and fits with the setting. The opening credits are probably my favourite opening credits in terms of artistry. I have always loved that sort of silhouetted photo. As with all shows with a lot of hype, different fan versions of the credits have been made, some in the style of the original and others in the style of other TV shows. While I applaud this in theory, I think that these versions can never really properly do justice to the poetry of the original. I read an interesting article about the making of the credits.
Visually, we were inspired by photographic double exposures. Fragmented portraits, created by using human figures as windows into partial landscapes, served as a great way to show characters that are marginalised or internally divided. It made sense for the titles to feature portraits of the lead characters built out the place they lived. This became a graphic way of doing what the show does in the drama: reveal character through location.
I appreciate the thought that went into the credits. The consciousness of the geographies of the story is key – I think that True Detective can be looked at through a geographical lens, and it’s important to consider space and place (and of course time, a flat circle) when watching it. In fact, the producers of the credits cited personal geographies specifically in their pitch. What’s particular interesting is that emotional geographies too are intertwined with the show and its themes:
I guess I do fixate on the geography of things, but I can’t really help it, I’m a geographer.
Now I’ll continue
What also particularly interests me is the show’s fixation on time, and how time is dealt with throughout it. The show starts in 2012, kicks back to 1995, forward to 2002, and then carries on from 2012. But things don’t seem to change. The official investigation concludes neatly, obviously too neatly, by episode 5, with the shoot-out at the Ledoux compound. Around the midpoint of the season is where the narrative starts to diverge from what is being related to the two state police officers in 2012 and what actually happened in 1995. Deception is the only tactic in their arsenal to avoid firstly the blowback from how things went at the compound, and then later to allow them to continue their investigation. It is particularly interesting how Marty frames what went down at the compound as a story he tells up and down the bar circuit in Louisiana. If a story is repeated enough times, it becomes a part of the social narrative and therefore must be true. The diverging narrative is particular evident in how the scene is shot, 1995 interlaced with 2012.
Ledoux tells them ‘time is a flat circle,’ and I think this is where Rust begins to understand there’s more to the case than is on the surface. True Detective is about repetition, and the passage of time. Geographies don’t change quickly, especially in a place that seems like it’s been forgotten by the rest of America. Time also seems altered and it’s almost as if that sleepy part of Louisiana is five years or more behind. Everything is banal, including the evil that has tainted the story.
Rust echoes Ledoux’s final words, I think mostly because the detectives in 2012 have so little on the case. It makes me think – are only obsessive detectives good detectives? Are they the ones who ask the right fucking questions?
I don’t think that the 2012 detectives are bad, per se, but like we see in The Wire, the clearance rate is what matters, and also detectives fitting back into the rotation (seen in True Detective in one of the earlier episodes). I don’t necessarily think that obsessive detectives are the best ones, but that’s how good detectives are mostly portrayed on television. Few shows demonstrate the fall-out of that kind of lifestyle, but I think that True Detective shows the consequences of that sort of obsession. Time plays a role in this. Time does not heal all, especially obsession. It’s unclear where Rust’s laser focus on the case starts, but it arguably comes from the videotape. As a culture too, perhaps, missing women and children are easily dismissed as running away with the estranged father, moving away from the area, or washing up dead in a flood. The cases are not linked – or are they? Interestingly, carrying on the theme of time, Rust drives past the same sign twice, and the sign’s deterioration in later years shows that little progress was made in this case, which seems to figure into Rust’s search for missing children and women.
Things just don’t change
I haven’t written much about Marty, that much is certain, and I think that’s because he’s not the type of character that is ‘interesting’ on the surface. Marty in the show represents a regular person, one who makes mistakes, and his life follows a course that isn’t unrealistic. He’s a believable character, and I think his growth during the show (which should and does happen considering the 17-year timeline) is more impressive than that of Cohle. He becomes a more caring, sympathetic character. Yes, he is immature at first, but so are a lot of people outside of television shows. Claiming his character as ‘worse’ somehow than Rust’s is ignoring how realistic Marty is as a character. His loyalty can be seen in the Ledoux scene where the narrative diverges, where even though he hasn’t talked to Rust in 10 years, he still maintains the ‘official’ version. He goes along with Rust’s schemes even though they step over the line of what is ‘correct.’ This comes to a head when they fight in 2002; Rust doesn’t seem to consider Marty as being on the same level as him, and Marty resents that.
The show is also about the relationship between the two, and how friendships change over time or, rather, come into being. Marty stands up for Rust because that’s what is right in terms of the partner ‘relationship’ as police. Screwing your partner over is a big no. I think Rust’s personality has developed mostly from the death of his daughter and the dissolution of his marriage; he’s hurt, and doesn’t have his cathartic moment until the very end. Catharsis is an important part of life, and is to me, a way of cleaning one’s emotional-geographic landscape. It’s deeply personal and deeply affective. I think this is a theme that isn’t explicit in True Detective, but it is there in the 17-year narrative of Rust. He seeks to give answers to those with missing family or friends (like his bar-owner benefactor), and therefore is a bringer of catharsis too.
In any case, True Detective was an enjoyable watch, and the story compelling enough. I’d disagree strongly that it is at the same level as The Wire; there are problems with True Detective, particularly in my mind that the show doesn’t strongly motivate the audience to care for the characters, which I think is important in a show that’s essentially driven by the two leads. I appreciate how brilliantly it was shot and put together, as well as how it doesn’t all resolve neatly. I would say that my favourite scenes in the show are those with “Crash,” Rust’s biker alter ego. I really like when shows bring in subcultures like that naturally and without fanfare. My favourite scene of the entire show is probably that six minute long shot of the ‘heist’ gone terribly, terribly wrong — I’m only linking it because the uploader disallows embedding, and I do promise it’s worth watching again. Rust’s savage nature comes out, likely because of the drugs and alcohol he imbibed earlier in the episode. We, the audience, get a glimpse at the exciting ‘pre 1995’ Rust narrative, which I think is probably interesting because it is almost movie-like in its scope. Many people are advocating for a Rust Cohle undercover series, which I think would probably be interesting to watch.
In any case, I think I’ve exhausted my thoughts on it. I think HBO’s Behind the Scenes video is worth watching as well:
SEE YOU LATER