By MEREDITH JOYCE
The true detective work of HBO’s new series True Detective is really the revealing of its own characters’ psychology. It also just so happens to be set around a brutal, ritualistic murder that needs to be solved.
The New York Times calls True Detective part of a new wave of detective television series, along with The Killing, The Bridge and Broadchurch, that are reinventing the crime story. True Detective has a murder, a killer with ritualistic methods, religious obsession and a detective with a dark past. So what’s different? It might be that the director Cary Fukunaga comes from film (Jane Eyre and Sin Nombre). Or it might be that the creator, Nic Pizzolatto, a novelist and former academic, wrote each of the eight episodes single-handed (meaning no writer’s room). True Detective was sold as an anthology series, which means that there is a new plot and new cast each season, in the same vein as FX’s American Horror Story. T-Bone Burnett, who was also behind the music of the ABC series Nashville, scores the series.
The series follows two Louisiana cops played by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. McConaughey stars as a newly transferred former narcotics informant Rust Cohle. Cohle guards a mysterious past, involving his dead daughter and a confidential case file. He’s the brain of the duo — he reads books on crime in his barren apartment and takes crime scene notes in a large notebook. Harrelson plays his partner Martin Hart, the more popular, philandering partner who tries to correct, with judgment more than effort, some of Cohle’s more radical world views.
The series starts in 1995 when the two drive to the scene of a murder. A young woman (later found to be a prostitute) is bound naked to a tree in a prayer stance with a crown of deer antlers on her head and strange tattoos covering her body. The series is told in two interwoven storylines, the 1995 murder investigation and a 2012 reopening of the case where the partners, who have long since split up, are being questioned by a new set of detectives investigating a nearly identical murder. The present storyline raises the question of whether or not the original suspect was the killer after all. Is there a chance that someone else, with detailed knowledge of the methods of the murder, someone who perhaps has a large notebook full of information, has continued the murders?
These questions are part of what makes the show both engaging and entertaining. Pizzolatto brings the viewer along for the investigation. The journey touches on drugs, prostitution, low education, poverty, and cults; and everything is enhanced in its Southern setting. McConaughey’s Cohle brings a philosophical element with his cynical, skeptical views. By using homicide as a plot device, the show gives the audience an inside look at the psyche of the characters. The testimony parts allow the characters to be asked questions in a way that doesn’t seem contrived; their answers give insight into their personality, views and the story over all.
Along with Fukunaga’s artistic direction, Mr. McConaughey’s acting is some of the best on TV. He reads the novel-like material in an engaging and original way. One of the most interesting aspects of his character is the visible transformation he has between the two storylines. He goes from being sober, in a suit and with neatly-cut hair to drinking during his interrogation with long, stringy hair. McConaughey does this troubled man almost too well. And I say the same for the entire show.
As of this Sunday, three episodes have aired. To solve the mystery, True Detective can be seen Sundays at 9 pm or online at HBO GO.