“The Long Bright Dark” – True Detective

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 21.11.38With its pilot, True Detective presented us with one of the strongest openings we’ve seen this season. We were fully prepared to be disappointed – HBO can, quite often, in aiming for drama and gravitas, leave its viewers with only a sense of what a show could be like and an almost bitter taste in their mouths (Boardwalk Empire, for instance, was perpetually building itself up to be a show it never became, constantly making promises it didn’t or couldn’t keep). Not so with this one. Despite a slow start, and some early trepidation on our part, True Detective showed its true colors in ample time.

A brief summary to get you up to speed: the series will take place largely in flash-back mode, with modern-day police (played by Michael Potts and Tory Kittles) interviewing veteran detectives Martin “Marty” Hart (Woody Harrelson, Cheers, Now You See Me) and Rustin “Rust” Cohle (Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club, Magic Mike) about the first big case they worked together – the apparent occult murder of a hooker – which took place in a small town populated by former cast members of Treme. Hart and Rust have been brought in and that old case has been dragged up because of the discovery of the victim in an eerily similar crime. The problem? Rust and Hart supposedly caught the killer the first time ‘round. That original case will obviously form the basis of the series (we’re assuming that this will be a one-season-only type show, although, if it goes the way we think it might, there is possibility for follow-up seasons with a drastically different format).

Other things you need to know:

Rust is an alcoholic. Back in 1995 (when the murder took place), he was ‘recovering’. Now he’s not even that. His character, both in 1995 and 2012, is dark. He gives off an aura of despondency and makes reference to suicidal tendencies. He is not a very open person. The most animation he shows, though not really in a creepy, excited way, is when he is discussing the mindset of this killer. Mentions by the modern detectives of having ‘heard things’ make the viewer think that they at least partly suspect Rust of being the true killer.

Marty is, on the surface, a straight-laced guy – a little too fond, perhaps, of the sound of his own voice, and overly inclined to imagine himself as the funny, sexy charmer, but overall a nice guy. As the episode progresses, we begin to see another side of him. Although determined to show himself as an affable, interested guy, he has a very shallow approach to getting to know someone and narrow views on what other people should be like. He is a philanderer. He is determined to present himself as the serious, down-to-earth partner, and Rust as the loose cannon who’s a little bit weird.

We already know which one of the pair we’d trust more.

We must give mention here to the aging/anti-aging techniques being used on the two leads. While effective (on McConaughey, at least), we can’t decide if they’re fantastic or terrifying. Those techniques aside, it’s the acting that really sells it (again, more with McConaughey than Harrelson). The drastic difference between Rust of 1995 and Rust of 2012 is remarkable. Somewhere along the way, the character lost what little innocence he had. He saw some terrible things. He crawled into the bottom of a bottle. He aged in appearance, attitude and even voice. McConaughey embodies those changes. They’re utterly believable. If one side of the equation lets down the effect, it will be Harrelson. Though, perhaps, the intervening years are not supposed to have affected him as much they affected his partner.

Few pilots give as much insight into characters and story development as this one has. It enabled us, from the get go, to speculate and to paint our own picture of how the central crime took place, and of how the series is going to develop on a number of fronts. But as Hart warned us early on, “You attach an assumption to a piece of evidence, you start to bend the narrative to support it and prejudice yourself.” And so we can be sure that all is not as it seems. We can come up with theories (and we have, below), we can second guess ourselves – third guess even – but the only thing we can take as a certainty is that this series will keep us on our toes absolutely as much as possible.

One storyline, we have no qualms about predicting – Rust and Hart’s wife, Maggie (Michelle Monaghan, Boston Public, Made of Honor), will have an affair. We can feel that simmering already. With her feeling underappreciated and Rust knowing what he knows about Hart’s extra curriculars, it’s bound to happen.

The rest of it is a bit more uncertain. We think we’re supposed to be suspicious of Rust. We think we’re supposed to wonder if, maybe, amid all of his apparent obsession with serial killers and weird murders, he decided to try his hand at killing someone. The fact that we’re supposed to think that makes us more certain than ever that it couldn’t be further from the truth. And so we’re going to call it early on – it was Hart. Or still is, we suppose, given the cross-decade approach to the show. The show is focusing too much on distracting us with suspicions of Rust for them to be at all plausible. Also working in our favor, Rust’s attitude with the cops makes it seem as though he never thought they had the right guy. Maybe he always suspected it was someone else. Someone a little closer to home.

But you know what? Even if it’s exactly that predictable, even if we called it, week one, we’re still going to watch. This show is already proving to be incredibly compelling viewing. For once, even if we know where it’s going, the getting there is going to be the bit we most enjoy. Plus, there’s always the chance that we could be wrong. True Detective fairly reeks, already, of red herring after red herring. We may have to uncover the truth right along with everyone else, one mystery at a time. The final scene issued us a challenge: “Start asking the right fucking questions.” We expect we soon will. – K

Quoteworthy: “This place is like somebody’s memory of a town, and the memory’s fading.” – Rust

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