Monday, April 7, 2014

True Detective (summary and note on format)

True Detectives is another HBO show where I felt like everyone who was watching it was talking about it online; though, whereas Girls has its bloggers (both fans and enemies), True Detective seemed to have lots of Twitterers. So even before I watched the show, I had heard bits and pieces. (Although, I will say this: even without assiduously avoiding spoilers, I didn't see a lot online. Are people/fans growing an aversion to spoiling works for people when those works are susceptible to time-shifting?)

And when I went to LA, it seemed like everyone was talking about it--either noting it was genius (most common) or noting that it was overhyped. I also heard that it was filmic; that it was potentially a work of weird/Lovecraftian fiction; that McConaughey and Harrelson were great; and so on. So I didn't watch as a complete blank slate; but I also wasn't completely prepared for what I saw.

If you haven't seen it, here's the short(ish) version: Texan and nihilist Rustin Cohle moves to Louisiana, where he partners with happily married and philandering detective Marty Hart. (Cohle is dark as coal, Hart is caught up in affairs of the heart, if you need a mnemonic to remember them by.) Their first case is a bizarre murder in 1995, where the victim seems to be murdered in ritualistic ways, without leaving lots of evidence.

Now, here's the twist to the format: in 2012, ex-cops Rust and Marty are being interviewed separately by two different cops, who seem to have some sort of agenda. Rust and Marty haven't talked for ten years, not since some unspecified falling out in 2002. But the story they tell the new detectives may not be the whole truth, as we see some things happen on screen that don't get talked about. So we get glimpses of 1995, 2012, and some commentary on the time between. Since Rust and Cohle already solved the murder, they can give us a flashforward to the solution.

The murder investigation prompts them on a tour of all sorts of underworld and fringe communities: tent revivals and burned out churches, prostitution-centered trailer parks, bayou fishermen communities, etc. As they follow leads and discover more possible murders, we get to hear both more about these guys--Rust isn't just a nihilist for fun and he spent a lot of time on drugs while he was doing undercover work--and also get some hints about the larger conspiracies of the world. Is there a secret cult to the King in Yellow? Is that cult connected to power and wealth in Louisiana?

And then, in the last two episodes of the eight episode season, the format changes slightly: the new cops have all but accused Rust of being a serial killer, which prompts him and Marty to get together, which leads to Rust sharing his evidence with Marty, which leads the two of them to try to crack this case in 2012, 17 years after they supposedly solved it.

These last two episodes also give us a bunch of scenes from other people's points-of-view, so we see the new cops getting lost in the wilderness and we see the killer in his wilderness mansion. And that change of format I think helps change the tone somewhat. The first part of the show is all about the mystery, with some of the anticipation of what's going to happen that we already have clues about. So someone comments on the shootout Rust and Marty had with the killers, building up suspense for when we actually see it/hear the full story. When we jump to 2012, we can't have the same sort of set-up/anticipation... unless we see the bad guy's POV. It's a very nice and minor switch, that preserves a lot of the dread, while changing the focus of that dread. I mean, in episodes one-through-six, we know Rust and Marty can't die. In seven and eight, that certainty is gone.

This is getting too long; I'll continue on Wednesday's post.

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