Thoughts on 'True Detective'

Cohle considering time as a flat circle.

Cohle considering time as a flat circle.

I had heard how good HBO's 'True Detective' was before I started watching it. I often hear how good a show is from the internet, I see all the hype from fan sites and marketing campaigns but I didn't really trust it. After all, how many crap shows are going to come out and admit it in their ad campaigns.  The first ad I saw for the show sucked because it made me think, "Really, McConaughey and Harrelson? That is going to be terrible." The ad did a terrible job of explaining to the viewer what the show was really about and how well crafted the story, the performances, and the production was (six minute steadicam, anyone?). Therefore, I wasn't interested in it until several friends whose opinion's I respect recommended it.  I was immediately hooked.  The show is about, as McConaughey's Cohle suggests, the oldest story there is, dark versus light.

The show is cunningly written by Nic Pizzolatto (author of crime novel Galveston) and expertly directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (director of Sin Nombre and Jane Eyre). Southern Louisiana is gorgeously captured on 35mm by Adam Arkapaw (Animal Kingdom and Lore). McConaughey and Harrelson do some of their best work in a long time. I think their captivating performances have a lot more to do with the amount of time we, as an audience, are allowed to spend with their characters.  They had far more time to develop their characters and really get in their skin and we get to observe their idiosyncrasies at a greater level of detail then the normal hour, two hour run time they are slotted.  I think this was a bold choice for all involved.  It was a show that took guts to make and guts to watch.  It was a thinking person's show, not for the faint of heart or dullards (any show referencing Nietzsche's ideas of eternal recurrence and old literary sci-fi-horror genre legend Robert Chambers is obviously not targeted at the American Idol, Glee, America's Next Top Who Gives a Hoot…

I want more shows like this. I think being disappointed with the ending for some people was inevitable.  I was not.  It felt it was a logical, well supported conclusion to what the show had laid out in previous episodes.  Fan sites had theorized that Cohle was the Yellow King, that Marty was the Yellow King, that supernatural happenings were going to swallow everyone up and all theories were firmly supported by 'evidence' from within the show.  I think they were missing the obvious point. Life is mundane. The show is simply about the stories we tell ourselves as individuals, as communities, as a species. Too often we want some grand mystery to consume our thoughts but this makes us miss the dull and more realistic explanations.  Cohle knew who he was, a damaged ex-cop still in mourning from the loss of his daughter, drowning his pain however he could until he realized he had a debt to pay. Marty couldn't be bothered to actually think about who he was or what his motivations were until he lost everything that identified him as a father, husband, detective.   They did not stumble upon some occult power they were going to have to destroy with the help of the forces of good. Rather, they were two flawed detectives that were sacrificing their personal lives to help solve horrific murders in Southern Louisiana committed and covered up by a powerful family.  Again, I think people disappointed with the ending missed the point. Whether we form our identities based on old time religion, on science, on the people surrounding us, on past experiences, future hopes; they are all stories we tell that shape the way we see ourselves, the world and our place in it.  

For instance, we know how many light years the closest galaxy is from our own Milky Way (yes this discussion on 'True Detective' can and should include talking about the universe, after all Cosmos premiered the same night as the finale) is roughly 25,000 light years away.  That means it would take any human at the fastest speed currently possible 749,000,000 years to get to the closest known neighboring galaxy. Even if we could travel at the speed of light it would still take 25,000 years! (Taken from If we take the time from the cave paintings at El Castillo, Lascaux and Chauvet until today, that is roughly the same amount of time it would take to travel right next door… the speed of light….which we are no where close to being able to achieve.  So what do we do with this information? How does it shape the perception of the universe we live in?

Some say that we are God's creatures, the highest of his creations and are all alone in the universe and base this story on religious texts. Some people tell themselves and anyone else who will listen that probability says that it is impossible that we are alone in the universe and are frequently visited by intelligent life.  See! Just look at the pyramids! We can't build that so it must have been aliens!!!!!!!  Others claim that although there is certainly life on other planets the immense distance between planets capable of supporting life prevents us from ever meeting one another or becoming aware of either's existence. Scientific 'facts' can often be misleading or wrong, it is with hesitation one should ring the bells of certainty. However, the process of science, encourages and is indeed set up to self correct these mistakes.  Science is after all, a product of humanity and is therefore inevitably flawed process of self discovery. Just like Cohle and Marty's path through the darkness (see how I tied all that back in there? I bet you were wondering where I was going with all this because I was too at first).  

 Then I realized I didn't want to tie everything together because great stories allow viewers, readers, listeners, etc. the space to explore whatever comes into their minds and to go beyond the stories themselves.  Great stories challenge the mind, the heart, and force us to consider who we are, where we are going, and how we are getting there.  What is our view point going to be?  Are we going to focus on the dark spaces between the stars or, like Cohle, focus on the bright points between the immense darkness.  

That, my friend, is for you to decide.  

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