True Detective part 1: Start Asking the Right Fucking Questions

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I recently binged all of HBO’s True Detective. Though not perfect, the show is gorgeous and full of enough mystery and symbolism to keep me puzzling over it long after I was finished watching. Nic Pizzolatto’s writing and the performances by Woody Harrelson as Marty Hart and Matthew McConaughey as Rust Cohle make this a really memorable piece of work.

After heading online to read what other people had to say, I was surprised to find that some viewers and critics found the show boring or disappointing – especially the season finale. These criticisms didn’t make sense until I realized that most people probably came to the show thinking that it would be a mix between psychological horror and police procedural. It’s not an unreasonable expectation, given that True Detective is influenced by the grit of Pulp Detective Fiction, cult horror classics like The King in Yellow and authors like Thomas Ligotti. If viewed through that lens, True Detective is filled with too much philosophical mumbo-jumbo and offers an unsatisfying resolution to the core mystery. Maybe it’s just an unhealthy tendency to obsessively over analyze, but I viewed the show as a modern retelling of the Theseus and the Minotaur Myth where instead of two Athenian kids facing down a monster in a labyrinth, two Southern detectives face down a monster… in a labyrinth. Interested? Check out more below the jump.

WHY DON’T YOU START ASKIN’ THE RIGHT FUCKIN’ QUESTIONS?
– Rust Cohle

True Detective is not a linear story. It flashes forward and backward in time, winding through almost 20 years in the lives of Detectives Hart and Cohle. It twists around and around in search of answers, but the questions always seem to be shifting. At the outset of the show the question is clear: who murdered former prostitute Dora Kelly Lange and used her dead body as an art project? As straightforward as that question seems, it quickly leads to others. Are previous unsolved murders connected to the Dora Lange case? Why is Rev. Tuttle so interested? Why the pressure to hand it off to a special task force? Should the detectives obey the letter of the law or the spirit of the law to get the information they need? Underneath all these surface level questions lies the real mystery at the center of the series: what is the true nature of Evil? (I’m using the capital “E” Evil here because I mean the big concept of evil, not any one particular act of evil doing.) The detectives need and answer to this question in order to find the killer’s motivation and track him. They need it in order to understand the clues that he has left behind. After a new killing comes to light decades after they believed the original killer to be dead, Hart and Cohle need to know the answer to this for personal as well as professional reasons; they are both haunted by the evil they have seen in the course of their careers. By the mid-point of the show both Cohle and Hart have both killed in the line of duty and lied about it. They need validation that they are different from the other bad men in the world, that there was truth in the justice that they meted out as agents of the law. For all the twists and turns in the investigation, the desire to understand and define Evil is the question that drives Detectives Hart and Cohle and, in turn, the entire series. All the other questions are false paths or dead ends in a dark and confusing labyrinth.

True Detective part 2: Time is a Flat Circle

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3 thoughts on “True Detective part 1: Start Asking the Right Fucking Questions

  1. Pingback: True Detective part 2: Time is a Flat Circle | Melissa Milazzo

  2. Pingback: True Detective Part 3: There’s a Monster at the End of It | Melissa Milazzo

  3. Pingback: True Detective part 4: The World Needs Bad Men | Melissa Milazzo

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