TV Review: True Detective – Season 1, Episodes 1-4 (USA, 2014)


Bringing together two giants of Hollywood; Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, True Detective is the latest offering from quality television provider HBO (broadcast on Showcase, Foxtel in Australia). The story, told across eight episodes in this first season, moves the viewer from past to present as ex-detectives narrate their investigation into the murder of a woman found tied to a tree, fashioning what we can only assume are a beheaded deer’s antlers.

Episode one, “The Long Bright Dark” sets the scene and clearly differentiates the two detectives. Martin Hart (Harrelson) is the family man, with a wife and two daughters. He works long hours however appears to have a happy life at home. Rustin Cohle (McConaughey) on the other hand, performs to Hart’s antithesis. He is alone (although does briefly reveal he had a wife, but their marriage ended when their daughter died at a very young age) smokes and drinks constantly. Cohle’s worldview is complex and frankly, too deep for Hart to deal with.

The first episode sets up the temporal dimension of the season. We come to understand that in the present time (ish… the year 2012) fresh young detectives interview Hart and Cohle, separately, in order to discern what exactly happened in their investigations 17 years prior (back in 1995). This storytelling technique draws you in as the realisation hits that it will take the rest of this season to fill in all the little gaps. And also to find out why Hart and Cohle claim they caught the suspect back in 1995 when the same murder has just occurred again.

Episode two, “Seeing Things” reinforces the complexity of the stories, as they unfold. We discover more of the detectives, their experiences and personal relationships, as well as the investigation itself, which brought them together in the first place. Harrelson and McConaughey’s performances are second to none, in their current characters’ selves and the versions they play who are 17 years younger.

True Detective is dark, mostly quiet and very twisted. It’s captivating, yet very heavy, especially when Hart regrettably asks Cohle the simplest of simple questions, only to get the density of an existentialist response. In “Seeing Things” we find that Hart isn’t the perfect family man, making regular trips to see a younger lady in order to ‘wind down’ after a long day on the job. The investigation story unfolds further, which takes the detectives to a trailer park of prostitutes, concluding at the sight of a burnt down church.

“The Locked Room” is the last episode featured before the mild hiatus (due to the Superbowl), conveniently placed for its cliff-hanger ending. In this episode we get closer to finding the suspect we know as Ladoux, seen walking in his underwear with nothing else but a gas mask on. We also delve deeper into the personal narratives of Hart and Cohle, which are as interesting if not even more intriguing than their task at hand.

The fourth episode, now mid-way through the season, “Who Goes There” is probably the most action-packed thus far. Lying to the new detectives about the event, Cohle and Hart find themselves at a biker party for a gang called the Crusaders. In an extended and incredibly tense conclusion to the episode, equipped with an amazing tracking shot, it is a shame there are only four episodes to go. Stay tuned for part 2.


True Detective airs in Australia on Monday nights on Showcase (Foxtel)


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