Recommended: True Detective Season One
Season Two of True Detective is currently ongoing but I recently finally got round to watching the acclaimed Season One starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. For those who might not know, True Detective is 8 episodes long and each season is its own self-contained story. Season One takes place in the Deep South of North America and follows two detectives as they track down a serial killer who has been committing ritualistic murders along the coast. Without spoiling anything, Season One is a fascinating and gripping season of television and here is why:
The two main leads are Rust Cohle played by McConaughey and Marty Hart played by Harrelson. The two detectives work for the Louisiana police department and are called onto the scene of a grizzly murder. From there the hunt begins for a disturbed killer. The story of True Detective draws you in but its the characters that make you stick around. The two detectives are very different from one another and don’t always get along well. Cohle is a loner and rarely interacts or socializes with other people, a fact that has made him into a recluse but he remains an incredibly talented detective and watchable character. It’s often Cohle’s dogged determination to pursue the case that lands him into trouble when his superiors want the pair of cops to move on. Hart is more of a traditional cop, with a family and goes about his business but in his own way is also a talent when it comes to detective work. Both characters are handled excellently by McConaughey and Harrelson and McConaughey in particular displays a terrific, haunted isolation as Rust Cohle.
Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of the show is how its main characters are extremely flawed. In the age of the anti-heroes on television with shows such as Breaking Bad and Dexter this might not come as a surprise but True Detective grounds this in a more realistic manner. Cohle and Marty are good people but they sometimes make poor decisions or let their emotion get the better of them, just like real life. This portrayal endears the audience to them as we become fascinated by why their characters, particularly Cohle, behave in that way. Cohle lives for his work and is utterly devoid of hope while Marty has marital problems and can’t help himself when it comes to pursuing other women. True Detective is as much a show about haunted pasts and turmoil as it is about detective work.
A lot of the story early on is told via flashbacks as Cohle and Marty are consulted with by detectives working a new case. This allows for clever juxtaposition between the present day Cohle and Marty and their counterparts in the past. It also allows the writers to show us the most important parts of their story without having to set anything up because they are being directly asked about these events by the detectives. The hunt for the serial killer is a lengthy, twisted and disturbing journey and the inevitable stress and frustration brings out the best and worst of these characters. The eventual reveal of the killer is very chilling and disturbing reiterating that this program is a mature one that deals with mature themes.
Despite its tendency to jump around in the timeline, the show works well over 8 episodes. The story has a clear beginning, middle and end while the two main characters have a clear arc and must eventually overcome their differences. The show moves deftly between deep conversations and thrilling action and rarely feels bogged down in exposition or transition. Overall, the pace of the story is slow which gives the entire plot an uneasy quality as more and more horrific events are revealed. True Detective Season One is effectively a smart, well written story that is well told to its viewers.
Location, Location, Location
As previously stated, the story takes place mostly in Louisiana and the film crew take full advantage of this with wide shots of swampy marshland and rural, empty landscapes. The story takes Cohle and Marty to numerous and varied locations from run down bars to sparse and isolated territory. The location of Louisiana only heightens the tension of the story as often Cohle and Marty are out in the wilderness with nothing but their wits to aid them.
The location also means they come across many varied characters from their colleagues in the police department to biker gangs to meth addicts. The location of the deep south is very atmospheric and the show is wonderfully shot and composed whether its long establishing shots or tight, well choreographed action. Its handled with ease and really adds to the tension and atmosphere of the show.
True Detective Season One is a fantastic series of television. It is short at just 8 episodes long and self-contained which makes it easy to jump in and watch. The show features some outstanding actors and two characters who are incredibly realistic, flawed but ultimately resolutely human. The story is gripping and is one of the best detective/thriller stories in recent memory. All of this is wrapped up in a neat package with wonderful choreography and atmospheric environments. It truly is an incredible season of television.