True Detective: A New Look at Noir


I just finished watching the finale of HBO mini-series True Detective which starred Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. This was the first show of this TV season that I fell for. Yes, my husband and I found ourselves counting the days until the next episode. I haven’t felt this way since Spartacus and Breaking Bad ended. Kudos to writer Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Joji Fukunaga who crafted each episode with stylish grit of a modern day noir.

True Detective was a murder mystery that evolved over 3 distinct time periods in Louisianna. It weaved the time jumps seemlessly in a complex narrative with the aid of changing hairstyles and physical appearances of the 2 lead actors in a fashion that kept me wondering how they got from point A to Z. Rustin Cohle (McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Harrelson) were being interviewed by the police in 2012 when the series opened, regarding a murder that the pair of detectives solved back in 1995. That was at the begining of their troubled partnership as detectives of the local police force. It seems that a similar murder had been discovered in the present. But if Hart and Cohle had truly found the killer in 1995 as was believed, what gives? Could the present case have been a copycat or was there some sort of injustice?

In a series of flashbacks during the present day interviews we met Cohle and Hart at the beginning of their troubled partnership. There could not have been a less likely pairing. Hart was a good old boy family man and Cohle was a divorced standoffish loner. They talk about their successful investigation of a ritualistic type of murder of a prostitute named Dora Lange. But that just serves as a backdrop to learn more about these 2 men and what makes them tick. We slowly learned why things fell apart between them in 2002, shortly before they both left the force. The murder cases were as interesting as they were confusing. And following the complex conspiricy theories and speculations and philsophical ramblings was as confusing as all get out. And yet it did not matter because this show was about the men at the heart of it. And in here lay the beauty of this mini-series.

Cohle and Hart are as different as chalk and cheese. They are richly drawn, flawed men who are deeply affected by what they do. I especially enjoyed McConaughey’s personification of nihilism and Harrelson’s WTF response. It made for some dark comedy. This aspect was ingeniously parodied at this Tumblr site True Detective Conversations

The acting is simply brilliant!! What a year for McConaughy. I see an Emmy, soon to join the Oscar he recently won. The dialagoue is at times unintelligible and metaphoric and yet beautiful all the same. It has been parodied with delight below.

This show had its fair share of criticism, check out this LINK to see what I mean. Much of it, I agree with as this show focuses exclusively on 2 characters, the lead detectives, to the detriment of all the other supporting characters. It would have been nice to see some of the 8 hours devoted to developing Hart’s wife (Michelle Monaghan) as a character instead of using her as a plot device. However, there was so much that I enjoyed, that I could forgive this failing.

I was satisfied by the conclusion of the mystery, albeit confused about a few specifics. But nothing that a quick google search couldn’t handle. This satsifaction is in stark contrast to the last mystery TV show that I tried to get into. That would be The Killing. What a disappointment that 1st season was. How much did I loathe it? See for yourself here. True Detective didn’t send the viewer on a wild goose chase littered with red herrings. It had a complex mystery that ate at 2 men who were good at their jobs and too good for their jobs. I learned the toll it took on them and was highly entertained by the acting, the writing and the atmosphere. I can’t wait to watch it again.


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