Checking in on True Detective

I hesitate to write about True Detective at all until I see the finished product. As Wesley Morris opined, it’s like judging a book halfway through. Unlike the serial nature of TV drama, this is a miniseries. It is only 8 episodes, and I think it’s more appropriate to be judged as one project like a movie. That being said, I wanted to pen down some mid-season thoughts before the show finishes.

Let’s marvel at the highs and lows of a serial killer investigation…oh wait, it’s mostly lows. This show reminds me of a poker game: 99% biding your time for 1% action. That can be fine if the investigation is compelling, but through 5 episodes now it seems Nic Pizzolatto (the writer) does not care as much about the investigation as he does developing Martin Hart and Rust Cohle. By the 5th episode this has become redundant.

At the end of the 4th episode, which had that incredibly vivid 6 minute tracking shot, I was back in on the show. I chalked the first 2 eps up to set-up, with the 3rd episode finally ramping up and ending with that eerie shot of Reggie Ledoux. Episode 4 was the high watermark so far, as our heroes leverage some breakthroughs in the case and Cohle’s undercover past to move closer to their goal. Hart’s marriage goes on the rocks after his sidepiece tattles on him. With his life in shambles, Marty makes his way to some creepy factory where I can only assume Skrillex was scheduled to perform at 1 AM. He works over a lead and learns about the Iron Crusaders, who fortunately are a biker gang Rust used to party with.

One can only the imagine the traumas Rust has overcome to not be catatonic at this point in his life. There was the previously mentioned fact that he was offered a full pension at an early age, but now we see how his undercover life affects him physically. He uses some cayenne pepper mixture to imitate needle imprints on his arm, but in order to actually psych himself up to face this biker gang he needs to get FUCKED UP. He easily steals a huge bag of cocaine from the evidence locker and helps himself to much more than a taste. Then he busts open his “jacket,” which everyone should have just in case (some jamo, grenades, and heavy artillery) and gets to work getting good and sauced before they head to Texas.

As a side note, the other thing that made this episode so good was the differentiation in narration from the present. What I mean is that for the first time (from what I remember) the story in the past differs from the lies they tell the questioning officers. Namely, Rust says he’s going to visit his sick father. It helps explain the narrators in the present as unreliable (I would have to go back to see if anything else was different), while also suggesting everything we see in the past is true.

Then Rust sets about trying to get a meeting with Ledoux. In order to do that he has to help Ginger carry out a job, and in order to carry out a job you need to get amped up. I imagine this as no different from an NFL locker room prior to game time. Patrick Kerney allegedly would attach electrodes to himself before games to energize, and this is really no different, except it involved copious amounts of P.O.T. Then comes the failed robbery, which was a gripping sequence. The camera stays with Rust and Ginger even though much of the action is left in their wake, as the objective turns from stealing money to trying to escape alive. I’ve never seen anything like it, and it’s one of the most visually cool things I’ve seen on TV in a long time (calling to my mind the exciting train robbery from the final season of Breaking Bad). This marked the halfway point in the series, and I was certainly excited to see the rest.

Now before I dive into this week’s episode, there are a few things we should’ve kept in mind going into it. First of all, Reggie Ledoux likely wasn’t the serial killer because we know someone has popped up in 2012 with a killing in similar fashion to the one in 1995. Secondly, the cops questioning Marty and Rust aren’t simply looking to refresh their memories–they clearly have some interest in Rust (given how much they indulge Cohle, and how many questions they ask Marty about him). This should have set off alarm bells that they might think Rust is the killer, but I was too invested in how creepy Ledoux was and how fucking annoying the 2012 cops are, who haven’t offered anything of interest to the show aside from the occasional skeptical glance at each other. I give the show credit for this diversion, but the 5th episode basically resets the story back to the point I thought was boring.

The episode opens with Rust meeting with one of Ginger’s connections to Ledoux, who remarks with more stupid dialogue the show has used throughout (although mostly coming from Rust himself). “There’s a shadow on you son,” “your soul is corrosive,” now far be it from me to marvel at how Marty and Rust have found the most philosophical set of criminals in the United States, but the problem is that it sounds so written. No one actually talks like this, and I couldn’t help but look at this guy and see Pizzolatto jerking off all over the script. Of course this guy doesn’t help them out, but they figure it out where Ledoux’s lair is anyway. I’ll admit the encounter with Ledoux and his partner was shot and narrated beautifully, with the description of the firefight being superimposed over the truth, but even then we have Ledoux giving us this episode’s (and perhaps the show’s) metaphysical theme: life is a flat circle, and we are bound to repeat our actions. I don’t like where this is going…

We fast forward and must begin again: find out what broke up the Marty-Rust dream team in 2002 and who the Yellow King is. The officers suggest in the present to Marty that Rust is actually the killer–Rust directed him towards every clue didn’t he? I don’t think we as the audience are supposed to be convinced of this narrative assuming that everything showed to us in the past is true. However, that doesn’t mean Marty won’t be, and there is ample evidence now that he’s a bit quick both to judgment and to anger. But now we’ve reached the point where Cohle has stormed out of his interview, while in the more recent past he begins searching for the Yellow King. I’m more intrigued by what’s going to happen in 2012, but I fear we are going to have to drudge through 2002 to get there. Rust and Marty may be compelling characters, as is the general question of who the Yellow King is, but I find the process to be slow, repetitive, and full of silly philosophical and nihilistic commentary. If you read some stuff on the internet also, all the metaphysical talk could suggest the story is about to get wayyyy weirder (here’s a good starting point).

What do we know at this point? A decent amount actually. From the pictures the cops show Marty of Rust at the crime scene, it seems clear that his alcoholic degenerate look in 2012 is an act. While the officers might believe ol’ Rusty is the killer (or they are trying to set him up; a very reasonable suggestion), I think the more likely scenario is that he is undercover once again. In fact he may have come in for questioning to learn what the cops know. Marty did say after all that if they couldn’t get a read on him, then it was likely HE was getting a read on them. Just like in 1995, he doesn’t believe he can remain nominally with the force in order to track down the Yellow King. I also feel pretty confident saying the Reverend Tuttle is involved, but he allegedly died in 2010. One thing I will say is that a lot of the dialogue goes past me, either for going too fast, having too strong a southern accent that I don’t discern what is said, or something else. I may re-watch some of the episodes to get a better idea of what exactly is going on. Please write in the comment section if you have any ideas or disagree with me.

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