True Detective is the new crime-drama that premiered in the US at the beginning of the year, courtesy of HBO. The television series stars critically-acclaimed Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, both of whom have been nominated for Academy Awards. With exceedingly high expectations, True Detective hasn’t, so far, disappointed commercially or critically, already securing a place in the top five highest-rated TV series on IMDB.
The promising series tells the story of the hunt of a serial killer that spans over a period of seventeen years. The show uses multiple timelines to reflect the initial investigation into the chilling and ominous crimes of the serial killer whilst also showing us the original detectives being interviewed by new detectives in the year of 2012, in the hope it could shed light as to why the serial killer could be affecting the present as much as they did the past.
The episode begins with Detective Martin Hart (Harrelson) being interviewed about his previous colleague, Detective Rustin Cohle (McConaughey) with the interviewers keen to understand the latter’s enigmatic character. We then switch to 2012’s Cohle being interviewed also, where McConaughey’s portrayal of the character’s obscure and ambiguous demeanour is endearing when being questioned about the high-profile investigation that he initially examined seventeen years prior. Through both interviews regarding their original criminal investigation, it is made clear that Hart and Cohle haven’t spoken for an elongated period.
We then fall back to the initial investigation with younger-looking Harrelson and McConaughey examining the dead body, who is seen naked, with antlers tied on her head, an unknown marking on her back and her kneeling, tied to a tree. The scene is simultaneously disturbing but captivating; the unusualness of the crime pulling you in. As the episode develops, it is revealed that other crimes in Louisiana could potentially be linked to this initial one, complicating the search for the killer.
Although the narrative itself was very gripping through its originality, it was the exquisite performance of Harrelson, and particularly, McConaughey, who has also recently stunned in Dallas Buyers Club, that also grabbed attention. As the episode develops, you can certainly witness a personal character complexity in Cohle. Where we see Hart in his home, with his wife and children, and learn authentically about his potential romantic problems and family life, we see little of Cohle and what we do see is equivocal. There are scenes where we can see his alcoholism – particularly saddening when we see that has been carried through to 2012’s Cohle – and potential drug abuse. There is also reference to him having religious iconography of a large cross above his bed despite the fact he is not religious. Cohle claims its use is for ‘meditation’; these ambiguous characteristics of Cohle’s make him a very interesting and convoluted character. This is not to dismiss Harrelson’s performance, but McConaughey’s is something of genius.
The scripting of the show carries it even further, with the visuals also doing True Detective justice. Particular attention should be drawn to the way that the cinematography reveals a lot but a little simultaneously. Expertly done, we feel as though we can see a lot until Cohle’s instinctive observations enlighten us of just how little we can see. The camera also tends to follow Cohle from behind quite a bit, whether it is when he appears drunk at Hart’s or whether it be when he intuitively finds crucial evidence. This adds to the current puzzling and inconclusive aspects of Cohle’s character.
The show is a compilation of everything you could possibly want in a crime-drama series. We know too well that it is easy for a crime series to primarily focus on narrative and forget the personal complexities of its characters, but True Detective manages to skillfully combine the two. It is safe to say that I moved on to the second episode as soon as my schedule would allow me, itching to discover the answers to the tantalising questions that episode one asked. From performance to narrative, from setting to sound, True Detective is a winner.
10/10. A must-see for lovers of credible TV.
True Detective is broadcast on Sky Atlantic, at 9pm on Saturdays.