‘True Detective’

Journey To Carcosa

These TV series that HBO produce are so compelling you can’t help but sit there and binge episode after episode. Part of the beauty is that they let the writers take the lead and just let them go. The results have been far more rewarding than your average run of the mill Hollywood Action movie or Crime movie. The expanse of time allows for exposition to occur more naturally while we get to know and understand the characters. The ambiguity and ambivalence of many characters in the HBO TV stable stands in deep contrast for the need to resolve everything in the allotted time in the cinema. It is a little bit like the tables have turned. It used to be cinema that was afforded the time and TV had to rush from one commercial break to the next.

‘True Detective’ sits on the more exploratory end of story telling as well, with its non-linear narrative across many episodes. It takes its cue from classic buddy cop formats but veers wildly from the normal/standard sort of story lines, leading us into a very dark kind of universe.

Here is the obligatory spoiler alert!

What’s Good About It

The standout element is actually the performances of both Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, followed by the script and direction. The directing is notable in that is one person doing all 8 episodes of season 1 and and the consistency is noticeable when compared to something like ‘House of Cards’ where they had a bunch of different directors handling different episodes.

A lot of the philosophical issues being brought up by McConaughey’s character Rust are very germane not only to the events in the script but to the wider world that encompasses the viewer. The film also harks back to the horror episodes of ‘The X-Files’ while not being as arcane.

What’s Bad About It

Sometimes I felt that I wasn’t all that interested in Woody Harrelson’s character Marty and his impulses towards infidelity. Something has to be there, but half the time it seemed the sexcapades were pretty gratuitous and there to make up HBO’s quota for T & A. Marty’s marriage as a topic seems there to fill airtime. You can’t but help feel they might have had a better thing they could have put in there in its stead.

What’s Interesting About It

This is an interesting series because it leads you down a path thinking it’s a psychotic serial killer that’s doing the killings and then it becomes clear there’s something about the symbol and cult that is doing the murders as ritual. The evidence is so grisly at some point, the characters are traumatised by the sight of the video and get very angry that they cannot “un-see” what they have seen. It is immediately reminiscent of the world of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction featuring the Cthulhu mythos and the various evil cults that carry out ritual slayings.

The ambiguity of the cult and whether it is supported by the fictional universe or not is also interesting.  It is not clear for a very long time whether there really is a metaphysical evil to which the sacrifices are made, exists in the fictional universe of these characters. To this end, the show spends a great deal of time with social realism stylings as well as extended speeches by Matthew McConaughey’s character Rust where he gives remonstrations to the effect that the universe is essentially meaningless and there is no benevolent God. indeed, in the early going these speeches are so fantastic you think the series is about the bleak existentialism of this character juxtaposed against the existentially stunted Marty played by Harrelson.

The writers make a good deal out of covering their tracks  as to the metaphysical status of the diagetic space. The unknowability is undercut by several factors. One is the structure of the narrative for the most part involves the two main characters being interviewed by police officers in recalling their version of events. In some instances we are shown the recollection presented is an outright lie, which opens the door to the possibility that what we hear from these characters is definitely not the gospel truth. Half the time you are watching to see if the inconsistencies somehow fractures the narrative to reveal that maybe one of the characters is crazy enough to be the serial killer – It’s that well-covered, most of the time you’re looking at the wrong clues on screen.

There are of course hints along the way, with the mention of ‘Carcosa‘. The curious thing about it is that you don’t know if the cult is acting on the fiction written about Carcosa or whether Carcosa actually exists as an entity within the fiction of ‘True Detective’. When they finally track down the last remaining killer, they are led into a space that the killer identifies as Carcosa, but then Rust has a transcendent, inter-dimensional experience that is totally out of tune with his character. He has a fundamental shift in his perception of the universe as a result of what he experiences.

Pulp Fiction Style

It’s 20years since ‘Pulp Fiction’ won Cannes and we are still seeing the far-reaching influences of that film. The relationship between Rust and Marty get introduced to us through a series of conversations in cars which is a technique straight out of ‘Pulp Fiction’. The two characters have metaphysical concerns which seem wildly at odds with the apparent evidence on screen. The vagaries of the odd things that happen to people, the coincidences an chains of consequences are tightly wound in this series. It even shares the same concerns – where somebody is concerned with the metaphysical, nattering on and on about it until it is revealed that the metaphysical is of the deepest concern. In this instance, Rust is entirely concerned with Nihilism and the meaningless ness of everything only to come across the darkest secret of the universe and it shatters his sense of reality.

Inevitably Harrelson’s Marty is equally imbued with overtones from Harrelson’s previous characters as Marty proves himself to be a very unimaginative cop who is way too easy on himself. He is too likeable to be a genuine anti-hero, and he’s too dislakeable to be a hero, and so his journey meanders in a way that dots the ‘i’s an crosses the ‘t’s of cop show staples such as the affair, the drinking, the divorce, the domestic discord. All this is used as a foil for what is essentially a story about Rust’s uncovering of the metaphysical mystery.

The back-and-forth narrative structure also lends itself to the wobbly story progression as the audience is led through at various points, the possibility that Rust is in fact the killer on the loose.

‘Call of Cthulhu’ Sanity Checks

You always have to laugh when a character is shown something and it is so hideous they react violently. The audience never gets to see the contents of the VHS tape, but the people who are shown the tape are never the same again. it’s like something straight out of the ‘Call of Cthulhu’ role playing game where players have to roll for a ‘sanity check’ every time they come across a hideous fact. While nobody has successfully brought a genuinely sanity-twisting version of Cthulhu story to the screen, it is cool to see the name of Carcosa in the story leading to a truly Lovecraft-ian sanity-bending moment. Especially when you get to the end and realise that what you had been watching was a ‘Call of Cthulhu’ scenario.


1 Comment

Filed under Television

One response to “‘True Detective’

  1. solguy

    Great review. Must discuss it with you.

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