One of the greatest horrors in the world of literature comes to bear on the world of film with Andy Muschietti's adaptation of IT
HBO’s True Detective
Season 1, Episode 8: “Form and Void”
Directed by Cary Fukunaga
Written by Nic Pizzolatto
* For a review of the penultimate episode, “After You’ve Gone” – click here
* For a review of the Season 2 premiere, “The Western Book of the Dead” – click here
The Season 1 finale holds many hideous delights.
Errol Childress (Glenn Fleshler) keeps his father strapped to a bed in a tiny shack, the walls written over with red paint in rambling mad words. The whole place is a horrorshow. It’s an old plantation-style home in the Louisiana bayou, out in some swamp. Inside the house Errol’s madness unfolds. He talks in a British accent now. He and his sister Betty (Ann Dowd) roam the decrepit home and talk in strange terms. She wants to “make flowers” while her brother’s concerned with “leaving [his] mark.” Their relationship is incestuous and deeply disturbing.
Former Detectives Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) have Steve Geraci (Michael Harney) in their clutches. They force him to watch Marie Fontaneau on that tape from 1990. This is where Geraci comes in having come into contact with the reports. Links up to a Sheriff Childress. All those blood ties. To keep Steve from doing anything crazy, Rust has his bar owner buddy Robert Doumain (Johnny McPhail) pop a couple shots into his car from far away. Sniper style. That and some backup. From having the tape planted on him, to other little bits.
But all the while Errol is still out near all kinds of children. He’s a painter, as well as a gardener. So he does lots of jobs, all over the place. Perfect for a serial killer like him. Yet Rust and Marty are biting at the heels of his evil deeds. They’re fleshing out the Childress family tree. And then a moment of genius strikes Marty. He stares at the green ears of the supposed spaghetti man who chased that girl years ago. After a bit of talk he wonders if maybe this guy is a painter. He finds a house that’d recently been painted. Perhaps those green ears on the scarred man meant he painted that same house. They interview an old woman who owned the house. She recalls the man that did the painting had scars on his face. They get deeper into the Childress history to find the father of Errol, William.
What I love about this detail is that this is what can often happen in REAL police work. Little details that go unnoticed could break open the longest of cold cases. So it’s nice that Nic Pizzolatto went for something organic and genuine for the way they come to start following this thread. Good writing. Fun to watch.
Both the former detectives take measures to ensure if anything happens to them, the truth will come out. Either way. Cohle has his sniper buddy with the tape, all that. For his part Hart goes to see Dt. Papania (Tory Kittles) who sort of agrees to help out in the event they need it. Then off the duo go, into the belly of the beast.
Out to the old home of William Childress they head. Rust tastes that old psychosphere rearing its head. Then once they arrive the macabre fun starts. Betty answers the door when they come knocking. But nothing feels right, certainly not to Cohle: “This is the place,” he gravely tells his partner. Marty winds up inside with Betty, as Rust has a brief run-in with Errol. The terror starts. Chasing Errol into the the deeper parts of the big plantation Rust finds himself almost in another world. The filthy house is one thing. The creepy, sprawling grounds of the old slave quarters from the plantation is spooky.
When Marty discovers the withered corpse of William Childress, he rushes off to find his friend going further into the world of Errol, the mad king. There’s an almost never ending number of hallways through the old tunnels. Each littered with symbols made out of wood, hanging objects of some eerie significance. All those markers of Carcosa and the Yellow King.
Through a tunnel of arched trees Rust comes to a skeleton, draped in yellow robes, on a makeshift altar. Then overhead he seems to see a black spiral in the sky, swirling. Out of nowhere Errol attacks him viciously. Rust takes a knife in the gut, tearing him apart. As the serial killer rips Rust’s stomach to shreds he says, creepy as all hell: “Take off your mask.” The two fight in brutal fashion once Cohle manages a few headbutts. Bleeding out, about to be killed, he’s saved by Marty who just about meets a savage death. Right before Rust pops one shot into Errol’s head, blowing his face apart.
Errol: “Come on inside, little priest. To the right, little priest. Take the bride‘s path. This is Carcosa.”
Afterwards, Dts. Gilbough and Papania figure out the Childress family were up to some wild shit. They’re still trying to piece it all together. At least the Dora Lange case is finally solved, though there are plenty of child molesting killers still lurking there in Louisiana, as the Tuttle family escaped without a scratch. For now, Marty sees his family and gets to enjoy at least one happy moment. Maggie (Michelle Monaghan), the girls, it all touches him especially after getting so close to death. Then there’s Rust, whose life has been changed in a drastic fashion. In the darkness of nearing death he spent time with his father, his daughter, all in some other place. He sees that there’s something else about life other than the pessimistic view he’s lived with so long. Now, he embraces the idea he might see his daughter again. “It was like I was a part of everything I ever loved,” Rust tells Marty with tears in his eyes. An amazing scene between two men who’ve been through hell and back together. Even though they stopped their evil and paid their debt, the greater evil still exists. The ending is slightly optimistic, though not entirely. Just in a microcosm. And that’s life.
To me this was the perfect way to end Season 1. A spectacular finale that gives us equal doses of the interesting existential ideas of Cohle and the macabre, creepiness expected out of the serial killer with his Yellow King/Carcosa references (ties into Robert W. Chambers’ book of short stories The King in Yellow). Loved this season. While I’m in the minority, I also loved the second one, too. Those recaps/reviews are available over here.
HBO’s True Detective
Season 1, Episode 7: “After You’ve Gone”
Directed by Cary Fukunaga
Written by Nic Pizzolatto
* For a review of the previous episode, “Haunted Houses” – click here
* For a review of the Season 1 finale, “Form and Void” – click here
In 2012, Detectives Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) are meeting up at a bar to talk. It’s been ages. Since their falling out over Rust having sex with Maggie (Michelle Monaghan).
Well the relationship is as contentious as ever. Marty is a little fatter than before, but has aged decently. Rust, on the other hand, looks like ten miles of bad dirt road. We do know that Rust’s been working fishing boats, tending bar, getting stoned, drunk. “A man remembers his debts,” Cohle tells Hart. He knows the Dora Lange killer, that Louisiana sprawling serial killer is still out there. Of course Marty’s reluctant to believe in anything Rust says. He buys into some of the stories Dts. Gilbough and Papania (Michael Potts/Tory Kittles) are reeling off. But his old partner, despite any of his craziness – and that’s nothing new – makes a good case. And eventually Marty breaks down.
They go out to Cohle’s storage shed. There’s nothing suggesting he’s a killer out there. Only the obvious artefacts of a man still consumed with a job undone. He is consistently, constantly plagued by the fact he and Marty couldn’t nail the real killer when they found Reggie Ledoux. Now, Marty sees that there’s something to Rust and his talk. It’s funny – up until he sees everything, Marty actually holds his gun and prepares for the worst. Right up to the last second. Inside the words YELLOW KING, SCARS, CARCOSA are spray painted on the wall. Pictures everywhere, sketches and photographs. Police reports, maps. The Tuttle schools marked off on one large map of Louisiana. Rust talks about when Light of the Way opened in ’88, accusations of child molestation. He tracked down a ladyboy named Johnny Joanie a.k.a Toby (Dave Davis) that had been there. He was abused. Johnny tells Rust about “animal faces” and a guy with “bad scars around his mouth” – more of the key words in the lexicon of the investigation. Cohle goes on talking more and more, which only draws Marty into the whole idea.
We begin connecting earlier images in past episodes to the serial killings, some of what Cohle has tracked down. Rust discovered Courir de Mardi Gras, a special type of the celebration involving odd symbolism, masks, et cetera. We’re starting to understand that this killer is steeped in Louisiana history. Whoever it is, he had a “real good time” particularly after Katrina when everything was in disarray.
The pièce de résistance? Rust was the one who broke into Bill Lee Tuttle’s (Jay O. Sanders) place those few years ago. What he found was shocking. First, a load of pictures – a girl blindfolded, antlers on her head. Then, even worse, a videotape. On it recorded is a hideous ritual. Men in masks, a girl with the antlers on her head crying. Then we only see her laid down, legs spread, before Marty’s face is all we see; his reaction speaks louder than anything on that tape ever could. He can’t even watch the rest, though Rust had to simply to see if anybody took of their mask; they didn’t. This one vicious moment is what truly grasps the family man Marty Hart. He’s now willing to fully believe in his former friend and partner.
What I dig most in this episode is seeing how far, or how low, these guys have come. Certainly Marty’s got his business, Hart Investigative Solutions. Although they aren’t exactly booming, as it seems. At home, he sits and eats alone, TV dinners and the like. And Rust, well, he’s mostly the same. Drinking, working in a little bar. Wasting away. In this scene we’re able to see how both of them, in their own ways, have been affected terribly by their inability to find Dora Lange’s killer, not capable of stopping all those killings that are clearly still going on. Even though Rust is the one whose life has been completely devoured, Marty’s not happy either. Just, as usual, incapable of admitting that to himself. What’s apparent is that both these men need to solve that case which evades them all these years. They further discuss what made them walk away from the job. Neither of them fully divulges, for the time being.
So Marty starts helping Cohle. He pretends to be writing a “true crime” book, weaselling a drop of information out of friends in the Police Department. Missing Persons stuff, and other things. Naturally since Katrina things are in a bit of a mess, but it’s all sitting there, waiting to be looked through. They find themselves searching out Ledoux relatives. One of them tells the detectives about a man with scars. It visibly shakes the guy. As a kid he met the guy and felt strangely about the way he looked at him. Creepy.
Rust: “Life‘s barely long enough to get good at one thing”
Marty: “If that long”
Rust: “Yeah, so be careful what you get good at.”
The detectives go to see a woman named Miss Delores (Carol Sutton) who once worked for the Tuttle family. With a few questions, Rust manages to coax a bit of information out of the frail, old woman. She talks about how Tuttle had kids that weren’t officially his, that he got bored of women easily. When the mention of scars comes up she reveals the boy was scarred by his father; he was part of the Childress family branch. Suddenly, Miss Delores gets quiet and doesn’t want to talk much. She then asks: “You know Carcosa?” Ah, the symbolism of the killer comes out more. “Death is not the end,” she almost warns Rust in cryptic fashion. Something has brought a plague on anyone connected to the Tuttles, as so easily can be seen through Delores. Crazy as she is, part of it makes sense.
In other news, former pain in the ass Steve Geraci (Michael Harney) might know something. He’s now a Sheriff, more pull and weight behind him. That starts getting the detectives thinking about chatting with Geraci. Off the books. With a car battery and jumper cables. So Marty gets out golfing with the guy, asking questions trying to smooth the info out normally. When he believes that Geraci’s lying, Rust and his jumper cables are at the ready.
Rust and Marty finally get to the truth about the latter walking away from the job, as well as the truth about why Cohle came back. In his last days, Marty saw a crime scene where a tweaker tried drying his baby off in a microwave. Fucking savage. So he left the job. And Rust, he’s driven by duty. He needs this to end, in order to be able “tie it off” and be done with all the violence of his life. They both need it. The boys get Geraci and begin their efforts to figure out what he knows.
At episode’s end, Detectives Gilbough and Papania talk to a gardener mowing a cemetery. He’s the one Rust talked to back in ’95 at Light of the Way. He has scars all along the bottom of his jaw, around the sides of his face. Also notice he’s mowing the lawn strangely in a circle, just like that spiral tattoo we see crop up so often. The secrets that hide in the bayous of Louisiana are many. This is one of them. That serial killer is lurking just underneath everyone’s noses.
An amazing penultimate Season 1 episode. The finale – “Form and Void” – is poised to give us a spectacular ending. Solid lead-up here. Looking forward to seeing the killer revealed more before we come to the inevitable showdown with the true detectives.
HBO’s True Detective
Season 1, Episode 6: “Haunted Houses”
Directed by Cary Fukunaga
Written by Nic Pizzolatto
* For a review of the previous episode, “The Secret Fate of All Life” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “After You’ve Gone” – click here
In 2002, Dt. Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) deals with the two older guys his sixteen-year-old daughter Audrey (Erin Moriarty). And not in the legal way. He visits them in their holding cell, prompting them into a little one-way ass kicking from ole Marty. He doesn’t like their “patronising” tone, as they don’t understand with whom they’re dealing. Not just an angry father. An angry father with a chip on his shoulder for men too much like himself. Having a daughter and being a man like Marty, it ain’t so easy. He sees these boys treating women – his daughter specifically – the way he treats women, and he can’t manage to admit to himself he’s doing that. Thus, he takes that guilt and frustration out on these young dudes. Although he vomits later confirming he has a slight bit of soul left.
2012: Dts. Gilbough and Papania (Michael Potts/Terry Kittles) are still digging in trying to figure out more about Cohle back in ’95. They also start sniffing around Marty’s ex, Maggie (Michelle Monaghan). They want to know what broke the two detectives apart, what she might know about Cohle from 2002.
During 2002, Marty reconnected with the prostitute he once met up at the bunny ranch in ’95, Beth (Lili Simmons). Dissatisfied with family life, the normal sway of things, the married man falls into another clandestine affair. Even worse is the fact that back in ’95 Cohle asked if Marty had been making a “down payment” on Beth, as he slipped her some money and told her to do something else; a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Meanwhile, Cohle started tracking down more cases that link back to the Light of the Way, Queen of Angels, Reverend Billy Lee Tuttle (Jay O. Sanders). He finds a load of broken people in the wake of this school. Perhaps things weren’t so religious as they seemed on the outside. Later, he comes across the former preacher Joel Theriot (Shea Whigham) whose experience with the Tuttle-funded schools didn’t exactly end wonderfully. He came into knowledge of some shady, pederast activity – “accusations of children being interfered with” – that landed him out of a job, out on his ass, drinking instead of preaching.
The last case Marty and Rust worked was a woman nicknamed the “Marshland Medea” who killed her own children. In 2002, Marty reveals he believes part of Rust breaking, walking off the job was due to this woman, the intensity and darkness of the case. Finally made him snap. Well, that and other things. But certainly it could not have helped. Either way, we see Cohle – a man who unwillingly lost a child – dealing, almost gently (until the end of their interrogation) with a woman who willingly killed her own, and more than one. The big break is actually between Cohle and Hart. They further divide, as Rust finds himself getting sick of how people around those parts seem to “eat [their] fuckin‘ young” and not care about it. Cohle is stuck on believing the Dora Lange killer is at large while Marty’s happy to live life, cheat on his wife, neglect his family, and pretend like he’s a saint.
At some point in 2002 Cohle winds up at a psychiatric facility where one of Ledoux’s victims, still living, is in a kind of catatonic state; one that he and Marty saved from that backwoods compound. Though she’s lucid enough to talk with him a bit. She mentions another “giant” man “with the scars” being “the worst” of all. However, after this she freaks out sending Cohle away, and likely getting him in trouble with his superiors already pissed with him digging into the past. Major Leroy Salter (Paul Ben-Victor) isn’t too chuffed. Whereas Cohle believes there’s still a serial killer loose, no one else sees the forest for the trees.
In 2012, Dts. Gilbough and Papania are stuck on Rust being the one that broke into Tuttle’s place, and possibly who did him in. They’re unable to figure out anything else. They see Cohle as the one responsible for all of it. Marty has enough and walks out on them.
But back to 2002 first, before we see any more. When Maggie finds clothes in the wash, just Marty’s, and sees he’s in the shower, she looks at his phone. What does she find? Torrid text messages and pictures from Beth. For the time being, Maggie says nothing. This woman has taken some shit and swallowed it with a smile.
While Marty’s family falls apart, Rust kept on looking throughout 2002. He talked to Billy Lee Tuttle himself. Trying to track down old records, personnel, anything he can. Because of the various schools shutting down things got plenty scattered. Convenient. Plus, the private institutions all keep things nice and locked tight.
After Major Salter discovers Cohle is still out pushing the old Lange case, talking with Tuttle, this does not turn out well for the staunch detective. He’s put out with a suspension. Not good. This only keeps him stuck at home trying to figure the whole thing out himself. Doesn’t help that Maggie shows up. She decides the best way of getting back at her husband is to do the one unforgivable thing: fuck his partner. She and Cohle have sex. Then he starts to piece together she’s only doing it to pierce her husband’s heart. Rightfully so, but that’s using him as a means to an end, rather than an end in and of himself. She didn’t want to use a stranger. She did it all to get the maximum reaction out of Marty. And that kills Cohle, who already feels guilty for being with her. Now, it’s a whole other thing. The trail of broken hearts and broken lives piles up along the way.
And then Marty finds out. This is the big event which finally tears the two detectives apart, forever tarnishing their relationship.
On suspension Cohle goes in to collect some papers. He and Marty meet, violently, in the parking lot outside. They finally have their fist fight that’s been brewing so long. Afterwards, Rust quits and walks out: “Fuck this and fuck this world. Nice hook, Marty.”
In 2012, nobody admits to Dts. Gilbough and Papania why the two detectives split.
What’s more interesting is that on his way home, Marty gets pulled over by Rust. They haven’t seen each other in a long, long time. When they go to catch up over a beer, Marty makes sure he’s got his gun handy. Who knows where this is about to go.
The thing I dig about this ending is that we see a great shot of Rust’s truck, the taillight still busted from his fight a decade ago with Marty. He hasn’t fixed it. Just another symbol of Rust’s inability to move past those events, his partnership with Marty and their not finished duty of finding Dora’s killer. A great little touch to top off an already solid chapter.
A great episode, as is the usual. More solid writing, character development. The next episode, leaning into the last couple of the season, is titled “After You’ve Gone” and it brings us closer to a resolution, or at least an ending. Whatever that may be.
HBO’s True Detective
Season 1, Episode 5: “The Secret Fate of All Life”
Directed by Cary Fukunaga
Written by Nic Pizzolatto
* For a review of the previous episode, “Who Goes There” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Haunted Houses” – click here
1995: Detectives Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) now have one of the Iron Crusaders, Ginger (Joseph Sikora), in their grasp. This is a way in to figure out where Reggie Ledoux (Charles Halford) is holed up, cooking meth. Cohle has Ginger arrange a meeting with DeWall Ledoux, cousin and cook partner to Reggie. They get together at a bar, but DeWall doesn’t even like the look of Rust: “I can see your soul at the edges of your eyes. It‘s corrosive, like acid. You got demons, little man. And I don‘t like your face, it makes me wanna do things to it.” He refuses. However, you know that ain’t going to stop someone like him, or Marty. They tail DeWall.
2012: Detectives Gilbough and Papania (Michael Potts/Terry Kittles) are edging towards something, but are reluctant to give in and let Rust take a look at the files on their recent murder, the one suggesting a serial killer is still roaming the state.
Back to ’95.
Out in the the bayous of Louisiana, the two detectives discover a compound where DeWall and Reggie cook their meth, hide out from the world. Rust’s early life with a survivalist father comes in handy, as the place is heavily booby trapped to the outside world. There are also strange wooden structures, little trinkets strung up and left about the land. Very spooky stuff.
In 2012, Gilbough and Papania question what exactly happened at the compound. Obviously, nothing panned out as planned. And we see the conflicting stories of what happened. Rust and Marty give the two detectives a story they’ve held to for nearly two decades. That is, what really happened is explained away through a supposed gunfight that went down. So what actually went down?
During the off-the-books ’95 investigation, Hart and Cohle capture Reggie, as the larger DeWall tries escaping. Reggie talks about how “time is a flat circle” and speaks of “black stars” – these are becoming part of the lexicon of True Detective‘s first season. Things get especially tense once Marty finds two kidnapped, likely abused children inside cowering in the dark. He comes back out to where Rust is reluctantly listening to the madness of Reggie, and then Marty blows the guy’s face off. Oh, and DeWall, he steps on one of the homemade booby traps, blowing himself to bits.
After everything, the tried and true detectives do their best to fire off AK-47 rounds, to set the place up looking like a real gunfight erupted between them and the suspects. Tricky stuff. Although they earn themselves promotions (well, Mary did), commendations, and all that jazz. Just another bit of guilt to weigh them down.
Reggie: “You‘re in Carcosa now. With me. He sees you.”
Around 2002 the Hart family is back together, mostly, as Maggie (Michelle Monaghan) takes Marty back. For now. Their daughter’s causing lots of trouble now being found having sex with a couple older boys in a car. Marty isn’t above handling that in his old ways, either. He does the whole family disservice by calling his own daughter “Captain of the varsity slut team” – as if he’s the one to talk.
As for Rust, he’s back in the dating game seeing a woman named Laurie (Elizabeth Reaser) and trying to live a half normal life. He finds himself back in the interrogation rooms, the box man working his magic. Only he comes up against a man hoping to make a deal. He mentions the Dora Lange case, that the murderer is still out there. The serial killer still kills. Then he drops the name “Yellow King” and that puts all sorts of fire in Rust’s belly. Before anything can come of it the guy winds up killing himself in jail. Or, that’s the story, and the PD is sticking to it. Rust tracks down a call from a payphone that went to the dead prisoner before his death. Nobody else except Cohle believes there’s more to it.
Again, notice in 2012 that Rust lines up his five little beer can men, much like those five men surrounding little Dora in the picture at her mother’s place. This reoccurring image of five comes up time and time again.
What we come to understand in 2012 is that Dts. Gilbough and Papania suspect Cohle has been leading Hart since their original investigation, that he’s been orchestrating the murders. The Rev. Billy Lee Tuttle (Jay O. Sanders) apparently died right after Rust showed up back in Louisiana. Despite whatever tore them apart, Marty isn’t happy to hear these guys are taking a run at Cohle. As for Rust, after he’s accused by the detectives he walks out.
During ’95, Cohle found himself at Light of the Way, one of the rundown schools, trying to piece together bits and pieces. Anything at all. He comes across more of the strange stick figures lying around, the makeshift ornaments. The symbolic nature of the serial killer only gets deeper with each new chapter.
Another great, whopper of an episode. The end is fantastic. But just the entire thing was excellent, exciting, mysterious. Lots more to come. Next up is “Haunted Houses” and that holds more secrets and lies and wildness to indulge.
HBO’s True Detective
Season 1, Episode 4: “Who Goes There”
Directed by Cary Fukunaga
Written by Nic Pizzolatto
* For a review of the previous episode, “The Locked Room” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Secret Fate of All Life” – click here
In 1995, Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) go to the prison to visit Dora Lange’s husband Charlie (Brad Carter). They tell him about Reggie Ledoux (Charles Halford) likely having killed her. He’s not happy. He tells the detectives about Reggie being a chemist of sorts, inside and outside of prison. Also, he claims Reggie talked about The Yellow King, Carcosa, that there were child sacrifices and “so much good killing.” A spiral tattoo, even. Too many strange things. Stranger still, they connect with tiny bits that Rust and Marty haven’t yet fully put together.
But it isn’t only the case that’s making things difficult. Marty deals with the fallout between him and Lisa Tragnetti (Alexandra Daddario). As in the fallout from him breaking his way into her home, attacking the man with whom she was having sex. Insane, really. He’d be up on charges if he weren’t a cop. Now, Marty is playing with fire. She feels disrespected, and that can’t mean anything good. At the office, Marty acts like the man, as he and Rust let everyone in on the Ledoux situation. He’s suspect numero uno. Another guy, Tyrone Weems (Todd Giebenhain), is someone connected to Reggie, so naturally he’s someone they want to find. When they talk to his mother, this leads them to his girl, which further and finally leads them closer.
For those who don’t know, writer Nic Pizzolatto plays the bartender in the scene where Marty acts like an asshole at the strip club bar. He’s wearing a KISS ME I’M AN ASSHOLE shirt if it isn’t obvious enough.
Problem is Marty fucked with the wrong girl. At home, Maggie (Michelle Monaghan) and the kids are gone. Only a note left. Seems young Lisa went to see Marty’s wife, let her in on what’s been going on. Y’know, extra-maritally. This puts quite the curve in the plan Marty had in mind for his life. The one where he pretends to his wife that he isn’t a cheating, lying piece of shit. While he is a great detective, a good man in the sense of being an honest husband, a faithful one, he is not. Not in the slightest. In 2012 with Dts. Gilbough and Papania (Michael Potts/Tory Kittles) we see more of Marty trying to justify to them – but mostly himself – that he’s a good man, underneath it all. And essentially, he does so through his work as detective. That’s his one and only redemption having obviously destroyed his own family life. Back to ’95, Hart tracks down Tyrone Weems and gets more info on Ledoux: the guy cooks meth exclusively to one client, the Iron Crusaders, a biker gang.
And this connects into the former life of Rust Cohle, a.k.a Crash when he’s undercover. This means there’s a way in, off the books, for Marty and Rust to get the drop on Ledoux. Hopefully. What I love most here is how Cohle keeps a lockbox of stuff from his old life undercover, right there. Can fit it under the couch, the bed. Wherever. Ready to come out at a moment’s notice. This gives us a look inside the other Rust and Marty, the detectives willing to cross the line of morality when absolute necessary, even if it’s not totally necessary, and do what needs doing. The cover story for what happens next is that Rust has a sick father, he took time off in ’95 to go see him. Both detectives tell Dts. Gilbough and Papania this same story in 2012.
What really happened?
Crash Cole doesn’t only go back undercover, he goes DEEP undercover. He makes fake track marks in his arm to look sincere, but snorts very real cocaine to get in the mood, smuggling some out of lockup to make things appear above board to the targets of his in the Iron Crusaders. At a big party, he meets with Ginger (Joseph Sikora). Perfect time, as Ginger has a job that requires someone just like Crash. With Marty worrying constantly about the state of his family and his marriage, Cohle is headed into the lion’s den with a bunch of racist bikers.
In this scene we’re treated to the single greatest tracking shot ever in television history; a whole six minutes which brought this series an Emmy, or two. Cary Fukunaga makes magic happen. We literally ride along with McConaughey’s Cohle in the face of danger, moving through the hood as the Iron Crusaders involve undercover Crash in a terribly dysfunctional scheme that goes bonkers haywire in the middle of it all.
The whole thing kicks off with Crash proving himself all over again, ingesting more drugs than some normal folks might be able to handle, sitting in with Ginger, Mitch (Joshua Leonard) and other hardcore bikers. When they first get into the target area, things go smooth. Shortly afterwards the whole job goes sideways. One of the Crusaders blasts a black man they’d taken hostage, and all hell breaks loose quick. Trying to keep things from getting completely fucked Crash Cohle is forced to reveal himself to Ginger, taking the biker as his own hostage. He gets on the phone to Marty, who waits not far off. Just in the nick of time, floating right beyond harm’s reach, Cohle gets himself and Ginger to the car, then Marty takes them out of there, as police helicopters and gunshots make the place sound like a ghetto symphony. Now they’ve got a means to an end; that end is Ledoux.
One of the greatest episodes, if not the greatest of all, in the entire series. Fukunaga does a lot of great stuff, but almost none better than this six minute sequence, this feat of filmmaking. Took hundreds of crew to pull off. Makeup artists had to apply touch ups and bits of character work within seconds, as cameras focused themselves on other things. A truly amazing bit of television. Next episode is titled “The Secret Fate of All Life” and continues us into the second half of Season 1. Things are really going to get deep now.
HBO’s True Detective
Season 1, Episode 3: “The Locked Room”
Directed by Cary Fukunaga
Written by Nic Pizzolatto
* For a review of the previous episode, “Seeing Things” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Who Goes There” – click here
With new leads in 1995, Detectives Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) have gotten themselves to a travelling preacher named Joel Theriot (Shea Whigham). The church they tracked down at the end of last episode had the mysterious antlered woman painted inside on one of its walls. More than we’ve seen already Cohle lets us into his anti-religious worldview. Not that he’s wrong, but part of what Cohle represents is the complete parallel of the people who are on their high horse of religion; same condescending way he stands above the religious, judging everyone who worships. Part of him is incredibly right, he just dives too deep into his own head sometimes. But indeed, his lament for the “fairy tales” of the supposed greater good is one many of us harbour in ourselves. I do.
Cohle and Hart talk with Theriot, whose fan club includes a man named Burt (Douglas M. Griffin) that seems a bit suspicious to some. At least until they figure out, all but surely, they’re looking in the wrong direction; he can’t even come close to another person without defecating all over himself, plus he had his balls cut off in prison. This only leads them further down the rabbit hole. In 2012, Cohle ominously confirms: “Nothing is ever over.”
One interesting bit from ’95 – Dora Lange was seen with a “tall man” who had a “strange face… shiny around his jaw” sort of like someone who survived a fire.
The further divide between Rust and Marty opens with every episode. What’s interesting is the exemplification of the series’ title, True Detective: despite any and all of their faults as men, Rust and Marty are incredible detectives. Although the serial killer they chased in ’95 eluded them, even up to the point where Dts. Gilbough and Papania (Michael Potts/Tory Kittles) interviewed them in 2012, they are true detectives. Our first inkling of what truly tore these guys apart down the line starts in ’95, as Marty comes home to his wife Maggie (Michelle Monaghan) chatting with ole Rust. Turns out the trusty partner came over to mow his buddy’s lawn. And Marty does not like that, nor does he appreciate any of the effort. It’s ironic because there’s nothing to suggest Cohle is trying to do anything untoward here. Yet the way his partner acts might have put that whole situation on an entirely different trajectory; check back on that once you’ve seen the whole first season, as it’s intriguing to watch these episodes over with the knowledge of what happens later.
At the Hart house Papa Marty has to talk with his girls about something difficult. Young Audrey’s been drawing things – sexual things – that got her in trouble. Where did she learn that? Perhaps it’s harmless. This is just one of the red herrings we find amongst the first season. The dolls, the drawings – little pieces of character which come in later episodes, set in 2012 – these lead many to believe there’s something else going on other than the crimes. Like Marty should be paying more attention to what’s going on within his own family. You might start wondering if there’s a culture of abuse happening in their city.
Maggie: “Girls always know before boys”
Marty: “Why is that?”
Maggie: “Because they have to”
I dig the title of this episode, “The Locked Room”, as it takes on a few meanings. For one, you’ve got the idea of a locked-room mystery, a sub-genre of detective fiction. Then we’ve also got the idea of the detectives themselves, in that they spend much of their time in locked rooms interrogating suspects. In particular, Cohle is a great “box man” who knows all about the locked room – another usage being the mind, itself a room locked away from everyone else except the person with the key.
Searching out more about the scars and the tall man, Cohle and Hart find a lot of dead ends. Mostly, they get deeper and deeper into the case. For Marty, it’s easy to shake off, though he uses it as an excuse to cheat on his wife, to skip out on his family when he wants. For Rust, it weighs on him. He finds it hard to live life, unlike his partner. He can’t be normal like everyone else, it actually affects him. Because ultimately he feels too much. He knows the pain of being human – the existential one – better than most. While Maggie tries setting Cohle up with a woman, Marty’s busy still flirting around Lisa Tragnetti (Alexandra Daddario). Marty is jealous; out with his wife, Cohle and his blind date, he sees Lisa with another man and that violently enrages him. Oh, the hypocrisy. It’s deafening. We also discover more of Maggie and Cohle talking, subtly, innocently leading either towards more trouble or towards a resolution for the Hart family troubles. You’ll have to let that play out and see.
Also something worth noticing is that in 2012, while talking away endlessly to the detectives, Cohle starts carving up his Lone Star beer cans into men. In the following episodes you’ll notice it’s very similar to the circle of men surrounding a young Dora in the picture at Mrs. Kelly’s place in “Seeing Things” where they’re on horseback, sporting odd costumes. Keep that in mind, these five men. It’s a reoccurring symbol.
Marty: “You ever wonder if you’re a bad man?”
Rust: “No, I don‘t wonder. The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.”
In ’95, Cohle eventually stumbles across another possible victim of their serial killer – Rianne Olivier. She was found washed up onshore by a river, deemed accidental death. Except she has a spiral tattoo, same as Dora. The connections slowly fall into place, but there’s still so much ground to cover, both figuratively and literally. When Rust and Marty start figuring out more about this latest victim, they find out she was with a man named Reggie Ledoux (Charles Halford), a real piece of work, a bad seed. They also make the connection of Rianne going to Light of the Way; another way to piece this all together, as it links into the Tuttle family.
At the Light of the Way school, a gardener cuts the lawn. Cohle asks him a few questions, seeing as how he covers a few of the properties belonging to the church. He doesn’t have much to say to Rust, other than the basics. Marty gets a call about Ledoux; his cellmate in jail as of late is Charlie Lange (Brad Carter). More of a bridge to all the other avenues in play. Well, there’s more to it than that. Out in the fields somewhere, cooking meth, Ledoux wanders with a gas mask on, machete in hand, and in 2012 Marty mentions a “gunfight” to the eager detectives interviewing him. Lots of things to come. Lots of dangerous, interesting, terrifying things: “Like a lot of dreams there‘s a monster at the end of it.”
Another solid episode. The final shot is one of intense magnitude. I remember when it first aired I was dying to see the next chapter, so perfect to end on.
The whole season is spectacular. Next up is “Who Goes There” – one of the best episodes of all containing the single greatest tracking shot in television history. Thank you, HBO! And thank you Fukunaga/Pizzolatto; a fantastic collaboration.
Beasts of No Nation. 2015. Directed & Written by Cary Joji Fukunaga. Based on the novel by Uzodinma Iweala.
Starring Abraham Attah, Emmanuel Affadzi, Ricky Adelayitor, Andrew Adote, Vera Nyarkoah Antwi, Ama K. Abebrese, Idris Elba, Kurt Egyiawan, Kobina Amissah-Sam, and Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye. The Princess Grace Foundation/Red Crown Productions/Participant Media/Come What May Productions/Mammoth Entertainment/New Balloon.
Not Rated. 137 minutes.
Cary Fukunaga is destined to be a classic director of this generation. His first feature, Sin Nombre, embraced a similar danger to the terrifying things Beasts of No Nation explores, and right away that initial debut showed both his skill as a director, as well as his impressive abilities as a writer. From there, he directed an adaptation of Jane Eyre, and later graced HBO (and us) with one of the greatest debuts of any television series in True Detective alongside the acting talents of many including Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. Now, Beasts of No Nation comes to us, amazingly as the first full-length feature from Netflix. And it is every bit what I expected.
Fukunaga – perhaps due to his father being born in an American camp where the Japanese were held after the Imperial Japan bombing of Pearl Harbour – has a soft spot, so to speak, for stories concerning children, the young, and generally anyone drawn into the internal conflicts of where they live. Even in True Detective, the less obvious of his work in this respect, there are many instances of people torn apart by the changes in New Orleans. Of course there’s Sin Nombre, which tracks two young people mired in the world of MS-13 and all its death, gang violence, drugs and more. In Beasts of No Nation we watch an even sadder tale, if that’s actually possible. Here we have the story of a young boy indoctrinated into a rebel army while trying to survive in the African wilderness, all after his father and others are unfairly executed by a group of military men. With the adapted screenplay by Fukunaga carrying tons of emotional weight and tons of questions about morality, how we view child soldiers and the nations which produce them, as well as the acting talent of young Abraham Attah and a powerhouse performance from Idris Elba, this is one gripping and ultimately brutal look at the desperate lives which some are forced to live in this world.
The debilitating wars of Africa come to us quickly, as the character of Agu (Abraham Attah) is thrust into it. His father and others are executed in his village, but Agu gets away. He runs into the wilderness and crawls through the forest, feeding off what he can, even getting sick at times because of not knowing which plants to eat or not. Struggling on his own, Agu comes across the NDF – a rising rebel army in the African jungle. Running this faction is a man known only as Commandant (Idris Elba). He takes the young boy under his wing almost immediately. But soon, we discover it is not of the goodness in his heart. He recruits child soldiers, those who must survive and will do anything for their chance to do so.
Not long after Commandant takes Agu in, the man asks the boy to initiate himself into the NDF. His task: kill a man with a machete. After he does, Agu is changed. Completely. To his core now he has become someone else. Though he knows murder is “the worst thing“, Agu is unable to turn and run.
For the time being, the boy must survive the war. By any means necessary.
For the entire film I found myself thinking: how is Abraham Attah this god damn good? Honestly, I love to experience a great performance from a child. There are a ton of amazing young actors out there who put in solid performances, which continually surprises me because especially when they’re very young it’s impressive they can even reach the depth needed to play certain characters. Such is the case with Attah here. There’s an aged quality to his eyes, to the way which he delivers lines: “Sun, why are you shining at this world? I am wanting to catch you in my hands, to squeeze you until you can not shine no more. That way, everything is always dark and nobody’s ever having to see all the terrible things that are happening here.” Scene after scene, revving up in the last hour, Attah shows us the range he can attain. There are subtle moments, many of them, where the character of Agu and his pain comes through. Others, the youthful childishness still inside him is very evident. Yet all the time you’re aware that this young boy is acting circles around some of the adult performances in 2015. Attah truly blew me away with this role and I do hope he’ll continue to take roles as tough and as intense as this one down the road. He deserves to be a star.
Then there is Idris Elba. He has always interested me because of his quiet nature. Even in roles where he’s required to be loud and brash at times, there’s some sly quality about his performances which always stick out. From Stringer Bell to the titular character of the Luther series, I’m more often than not sucked into the world of a film or television series by his acting. As Commandant, in this film Elba brings out a monster of a man. There are several very excitable and near deafening moments where he shows Commandant as a vicious, brutal and inexplicable type of individual. We also find Elba capable of extremely low-key, subtle scenes which express how vile and morally corrupt Commandant is, without having to resort to anything too graphic or explicit; for instance, there is a dark and quiet scene between Commandant and Agu a little past the hour mark where we finally see how despicably sick the man is, and it doesn’t require anything overtly nasty, still getting its point across with force. Part of the impact isn’t only from Fukunaga’s cinematography and the editing from Pete Beaudreau/Mikkel E.G. Nielsen, it comes from the way Elba talks, the way his eyes move under the slight darkness, how he moves slow and steady. He is worthy of every bit of praise that comes his way.
A full-on 5-star experience. Some were supposedly disappointed with the ending, as if it weren’t dramatic or exciting enough. But why must it be either of those things? Beasts of No Nation is about the perpetual cycle of abuse, rape, violence and war which African countries are facing on a daily basis in certain areas. The ending only goes to show that while there are glimmers of hope now and then, the wars rage on, the children are forever thrust into a warring life from day one and it’s only luck which ones end up holding an Ak-47 with a machete, and which ones either die or somehow escape.
Agu and Commandant represent two sides of one situation – the former is the child soldier brought into a way of life by older and more cynical men, the latter a molder of boys who turns them into killing machines in order to further his own cause and line his own pockets. This story is one of devastation and of a viciousness many of us will never ever know. I left the film changed slightly, seeing the conflicting view of child soldiers through the eyes of the character Agu, and I also felt the emotional weight of what these boys go through lie heavy on my chest for days. It isn’t easy to ignore how powerful Beasts of No Nation can get. This boasts excellent cinematography, direction and a tight screenplay from Cary Fukunaga, plus a solid and exciting score by Dan Romer, as well as the foundational performances of Attah and Elba, which comes together to make one of the best feature films out of 2015. Hands down.
HBO’s True Detective
Season 1, Episode 1: “The Long Bright Dark”
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
Written by Nic Pizzolatto
* For a review of the following episode, “Seeing Things” – click here
* For a review of True Detective’s Season 2 starting with “The Western Book of the Dead” – click here
I’ve already done the second season. Now I’m returning for the 5th time viewing, reviewing each of the first season episodes for True Detective. I love both seasons equally, and I know that puts me in the minority. Either way, Season 1 changed the landscape of modern television, like it or not. There came a whole lot of depth in the writing, even if Nic Pizzolatto riffs hard off Thomas Ligotti and Friedrich Nietzsche. Still, the vision of one writer and one director for an entire eight-episode run made this something to witness, as a great story unfolded with lots of red herrings idiosyncrasies, and plenty wonderful acting to boot.
The first episode, “The Long Bright Dark”, begins with someone being carried in the shadows, a makeshift torch being light in a field out by a large tree, and then a line of fire reaching out into the other trees.
Cut to Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson). He’s on camera being interviewed in 2012 by Dt. Maynard Gilbough (Michael Potts) and the younger Dt. Thomas Papania (Tory Kittles). They start talking about this and that, then finally come to Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey). He’s an unusual man. At the same time, Rust is being interviewed by the detectives in another room. He begins immediately breaking the rules, light a cigarette. This, though a small gesture, sets the tone for part of Rust’s entire exterior makeup, the person he projects to the world while simultaneously he is always watching, always taking notes even if they’re in his head.
The main events which set the stage happen in 1995. A young woman is found in Louisiana, naked, dead, tied to a big tree and wearing a strange set of antlers on her head. On her back is a thick black tattoo of a spiral-like formation. Hart and Cohle are the ones tasked with investigating her death, as State Police. No identification is found on the girl, but it’s obvious to Cohle there’s some significance in the crime, a sort of grandeur so to speak. Right off the bat we understand how different Hart and Cohle are as partners and people. Hart is a very grounded individual, in terms of what he believes and how he sees the world. Cohle is completely the opposite, as if his mind is an open book, an open encyclopedia is more like it. But he understands this type of crime is not just a one-off deal, it isn’t a random event; this killer has done it before, he will do it again. The antlers and the imagery of it all makes this young woman’s death something important – the one who murdered her is twisted, and he sees some kind of fantasy in the things he’s done: “This goes way back with him,” Rust tells Marty. “The kind of thing doesn‘t happen in a vacuum.”
I love seeing the ’95 scenes editing with Hart talking over things. We do get a sense of him being a bit of a big mouth at times. However, on the other hand Hart also shows that he did feel a sense of respect, and still does, for Cohle and his methods. Further than that, we get a sneak peek into the strange life of Cohle: “Believe me,” says Hart, “past a certain age a man without a family can be a bad thing.”
Above the strange murder case, the relationship between Rust and Marty is front and center, obviously. More than that, their relationship with one another begins to speak to their respective lives. We start to understand this easily with the situation involving Cohle getting invited over to Hart’s place for dinner. He shows up drunk; like fucking hammered. We’ll come back to that, though. Part of why I dig the writing of the first episode because we flash back and forth, yet it isn’t distracting. The flow makes things interesting and it’s part of why I was immediately hooked on the first view of this show when first it was on HBO.
First of many car trips with Rust and Marty. “I contemplate the moment in the garden,” Rust muses, “the idea of allowing my own crucifixion.” The philosophical talk begins. There are a few dense lines out of Cohle right away here, part Nietzschean and part Ligotti, Pizzolatto gives us plenty to chew on. As well as an excellent relief on Marty’s part who interjects now and then, things like: “Huh. That sounds god fucking awful, Rust.” Even though a lot of people seemed turned off by the philosophies of Cohle, I think it adds a great counterbalance to the usual film noir detective type stuff a show like this might otherwise go for. Hate it or love it, there’s no in between, but you have to admit this first season, even the first episode is unlike much of anything else that’s ever been on television. It both uses familiar pulpy tropes and also pokes at them, in a Pizzolatto-type way.
Rust: “People out here, it‘s like they don’t even know the outside world exists. Might as well be living on the fucking Moon.”
Marty: “There‘s all kinds of ghettos in the world”
Rust: “It‘s all one ghetto, man. One giant gutter in outer space.”
Words like Satanism are being thrown around at the precinct, where Rust and Marty try to come together as partners and work towards finding their killer. Hart stays behind to do paperwork, while Cohle narrates us through the ’95 events. He drinks cough syrup and chain smokes, heading to a bar somewhere along the side of the highway. There, he meets with a couple women, one clearly a prostitute. Cohle buys them drinks and asks for information concerning the girl he found murdered. Not only that, he ends up scoring himself some pills; there’s more to Rustin Cohle than we have yet to see.
At the Hart residence, Marty checks on his girls who are sleeping soundly, and has himself a drink. His wife Maggie (Michelle Monaghan) finds him in the morning, slumped in a chair. He quickly runs off to shower and head to work all over again. At the office, he seems more receptive to the receptionist than he does his own wife.
Cohle and Marty end up with information on the dead girl, Dora Lange. Her husband Charlie (Brad Carter) is in prison. The medical examiner gives them the cause of death, et cetera, and the plot only thickens from there. Marty thinks the crime was personal. Rust believes it’s “iconic” and not personal in many ways. More philosophical talk from Rust starts to piss Marty off, which is actually a little funny: “I don‘t sleep,” Cohle says, “I just dream.” Afterwards, on a street corner Rust sees a little girl who almost looks like a ghost; his daughter, maybe?
The investigation is off to a murky start, as Rust and Marty go from one place to another getting bits and pieces of information. Even a bit about a girl being chased through the woods by a supposed “green–eared spaghetti monster“.
In 2012, Cohle plays a good move. He is a functioning alcoholic, chain smoker, so he needs a few beers especially on his off days, such as today apparently. He blows a bill at the detectives and one of them heads out for a six-pack. We’re slowly seeing more of Cohle, from past to present. Part of why I love this first episode is because there’s such a great and quick look at the evolution of these two men, and still, not all the blanks are filled in.
The two detectives, in ’95, head over to see Charlie Lange in prison. He talks about Dora as a wild party animal into “weed, meth, name it“. They don’t get too much in the way of solid information, but the picture painted of Dora shows her as a young, vulnerable girl who was on drugs, not in her right state of mind. Charlie lets slip a weird bit, telling the detectives Dora said “she met a king“.
Finally, though, we get back to Cohle drunk off his ass outside Marty’s place. We’re getting under the skin of Rustin more and more with each step, which is interesting. They’re both of interest, but Rust seems so incredibly damaged underneath his whole pessimistic facade. Out talking to the prostitute, turns out Rust got too drunk. Marty tries pumping him full of coffee, planning to have someone call from the station and get them out of it. Only when the call comes it seems Rust is more comfortable at the dinner table with Maggie and the kids than he initially expected. We’ll see where that situation is headed down the road. Furthermore, Rust reveals he was married, but they split after their little girl died. Very brief, so quick, and it speaks volumes about Cohle already.
Billy Lee Tuttle: “I don‘t mean to tell men of your positions, but there is a war happening behind things.”
We get an inkling something “went bad” between Cohle and Hart around 2002. They haven’t seen one another in a decade, since whatever happened. And still, Hart sticks up for Cohle’s reputation as a solid hand at detective work: “I don‘t hold grudges,” he tells Dts. Gilbough and Papania. Eventually, Hart comes to understand something else is happening. The detectives are looking for something else. But what is it they’re sniffing out?
In ’95, Cohle has a run-in with another officer of the law, Steve Geraci (Michael J. Harney). Otherwise, there’s involvement in their case from Billy Lee Tuttle (Jay O. Sanders), brother to the governor of the state. He seems very involved, and also too interested. Will he come to have more significance as time goes by? Or simply a representation of attempted cover-ups and the undue involvement of others outside of the police force in police matters? Let’s watch this unfold.
Tracking down people connected to a missing girl who disappeared years before, Marie Fontenot, Hart and Cohle end up at a now disabled ballplayer’s home. He is Marie’s uncle, Danny (Christopher Berry). Mostly, this just gives the detectives more to circle around. Only Rust heads out around the junk in the backyard of the house, he climbs into a sort of rundown greenhouse or shed, where he and Marty find a suspicious wooden ornament much like the things found with the dead Lange girl; a triangle-like twig figure. A sign the killer has returned to lay claim to another victim, in the silence leaving tokens?
In 2012, the detectives interrogating Cohle, or talking to him they say, bring him pictures of a new crime. It is eerily similar to Lange. Yet supposedly in ’95, Cohle and Hart found their man. For his part, Cohle alludes in a sly manner to the fact maybe they didn’t find the killer at all back then. Excellent ending, as Cohle tells them to start “asking the right fucking questions“.
Stay tuned for a review of the next episode, “Seeing Things”. Is Rust a dark hand in all this, or is he merely on the fringe? Does he know more than he lets on?
True Detective. 2014. 8 episodes directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga; written & created by Nic Pizzolatto. Starring Woody Harrelson, Matthew McConaughey, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Potts, and Tory Kittles. HBO Home Entertainment. Rated 18A. 458 minutes. Bonus Material Not Rated. Crime/Drama/Mystery/Thriller
★★★★★ (Season 1)
★★★★1/2 (Blu ray)
The story of True Detective looks, on the surface, as similar to other television shows about police officers, serial killer cases, troubled partners with their own separate and troubled lives; you know the type. There are a lot of things, though, to separate this one from many of the others.
Nic Pizzolatto’s show begins its first season in the year 2012 – Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey), former partners, are being interviewed about an old case involving a young girl named Dora Lange who was found dead in 1995, bound with a set of antlers placed on her head. Two detectives seem to be looking back into Lange’s death in relation to a new murder, which could be connected. The storyline spreads from ’95 to 2012, as well as hovering around 2002 when things went sour between Hart and Cohle. While the two men battle their own private lives and mistakes, they’re confronted with a possible conspiracy stretching across the state of Louisiana. Everyone believes the Lange murder to be some type of “occult murder“, but Cohle particularly deeply suspects a vast cover-up involving everyone from church officials to governors to the police force itself. Hart reluctantly follows Cohle until it becomes painfully clear he is most likely right.
While the description I’ve given of the plot might even sound like a riff on Serpico or Prince of the City, it really is a fresh detective show. While many have accused Pizzolatto of stealing material from Thomas Ligotti (I won’t go into it here – look it up), I don’t necessarily agree. There is a lot of really good material. It isn’t all about McConaughey’s performance (which is amazing), nor Harrelson’s either (also amazing). It’s not even about Cohle and his whimsical conversation with the present day detectives sussing out from him what they can, or his great banter with Hart in their driving scenes, particularly the very first episode of the show. There’s simply a really great mystery to this show. Even when Pizzolatto really gives us a few great clues, ones not too hard to follow through, there’s still a lot of excellent tension. For instance, even in the final episode when we clearly know who the killer is there still exists a really tense and dreadful atmosphere. Right until the finale of the episode, it’s hard to predict what might happen in the end. At least in my mind. I thought to myself, several times, in that last episode I knew where things were headed – and constantly, Fukunaga and Pizzolatto really played with my expectations. That atmosphere carried through the entire first season of True Detective.
Another excellent thing about this first season is the presence of all the red herring material Pizzolatto doles out in many episodes. I’ve seen a lot of really thoughtful interpretations, pre-season finale, of who the killer might turn out to be, who is involved in the massive conspiracy. I’ve also come across a fair share of really mental interpretations too far out into the psychosphere (dig it) for me to give any modicum of credence. But that’s what makes some shows really engaging and interesting. When fans of the show, even certain people who rag on the show with what they deem to be formulaic interpretations, can’t stop discussing possible theories it really goes to illustrate how well the show has reached an audience. I’m not saying it isn’t divisive – it certainly has been. I just think Pizzolatto really did some great, twisty writing.
There was a point in time I really believed Marty’s father-in-law had some sort of involvement in the grand conspiracy, and maybe there is a chance that’s still the case (I don’t believe so – doesn’t make it so), but this is the great part – Pizzolatto leaves little trails of bread crumbs that don’t go anywhere, that play part in the coincidence of the real world, the unforeseeable events in life, and lead us off on paths of pure imagination. I mean, there are several little red herrings such as Audrey’s situation. For instance, Cohle calls his daughters down to dinner and as they leave their room he notices Audrey has placed 5 male dolls around a single female doll in a very inappropriate and suggestive manner. There’s also a small drawing in Hart’s house representing the spiral image drawn on Dora Lange’s back in the first episode; one of his daughters drew it. These little clues are really red herrings. Pizzolatto does not want the answers to come easily here, as he shouldn’t, and these extra bits really help to send a lot of people off on imaginary tangents, thinking of who the Yellow King really could be, et cetera. Genius writing.
There are a few similarities between True Detective and the British trilogy Red Riding. Both take on stories about corruption and murder in rural areas; the original murders sparking both plots are similar, as the Red Riding story starts with a girl found dead, wings put on her back (as opposed to the antlers on the head here). One scene in the first Red Riding film with Andrew Garfield playing a reporter named Eddie Dunford is reminiscent of a scene in True Detective where Cohle visits a woman in a mental institution and drives her into hysterics; one difference mainly has to do with the difference in their occupations, as Dunford’s visit is followed by a severe beating at the hands of the police for bothering the woman, while Cohle is disciplined by his superiors. Finally, each of these shows has a young male prostitute who provides links to the murdered girl, albeit in different ways. Not to mention, in Red Riding the prostitute plays a much bigger part. Whereas Cohle only meets the young male prostitute present in True Detective during a single scene, which is basically thrown in as an extra link to something fishy going on in the main case. There are no doubt some similarities between Red Riding and True Detective, but mostly I would say they are coincidental. Certainly, most of these similarities are either connected to the similar themes (corruption in police force & authority figures), and the majority, if not all, are only really connected to the first Red Riding film; the other two in the trilogy really don’t connect up much, aside from the aforementioned police corruption angle. I think maybe Pizzolatto might have been influenced more by the novel Red Riding is based on instead of the films, and either way the influence is no more than a bit of the surface. Each of these works are quite different and aim to accomplish much different things.
There are a few specific points I’d really like to address in regards to some of the deeper meaning behind True Detective overall.
First, I want to mention the reoccurring number five. I believe the first time this really comes into play is when Hart and Cohle interview Dora Lange’s mother, Mrs. Kelly (played by the fabulous Tess Harper) – while Cohle looks around and Hart asks the lady questions, he notices a picture of a young girl (most likely Dora) surrounded by five men on horses, each of them dressed in what we later learn are costumes for what’s called Courir de Mardi Gras. In the second episode, as I mentioned earlier, Hart finds his daughter Audrey’s dolls placed in a very promiscuous situation: five male dolls surround one female doll, one of the men is hauling down his pants to have sex with the girl.
Furthermore, in the present day scenes during the latter half of the season, Cohle drinks beer while being investigated and cuts them up: he places them in a circle of five, indicating the undiscovered members of the grand conspiracy (harkens back to those five horsemen in the picture at Mrs. Kelly’s home).
Most people might look at this as another instance of red herrings, or some such idea. However, in literature specifically, the persistence of numbers, especially in earlier literature such as from the Middle Ages, usually has a kind of significance. I happen to believe the number five here happens to refer to the pentagram, or a pentangle as it’s referred to in an index of the Middled English Anthology edited by Ann S. Haskell.
This ties into the plot of True Detective directly, as we clearly see in a scene with villain Reggie Ledoux – when Hart and Cohle arrest him, his back is visible and has a massive tattoo of a pentagram, more specifically the Sigil of Baphomet. These instances of the number five all tie in to the evil angle – the five horsemen are dressed just like those men in the video Cohle finds and shows to Hart in Episode 7, the beer can figures point to the five horsemen, as do the dolls in Audrey’s room. They might not be the only repetitions of the number five. They’re just the ones I’ve noticed. I think these little details are the sorts of moments which really elevate True Detective above a lot of the detective procedurals on television, and on film for that matter. Provides more to dive into aside from the main case the show focuses on with the story, and offers endless hours of re-watchable scenes.
One of the biggest things, for me personally, I ended up realizing was how Cohle sort of ended up predicting the future when he talks about being able to “smell the psychosphere“, and that it tastes like “aluminum and ash“. Maybe others noticed this quickly, but I think it’s something a lot of viewers never once thought about for a second. In the present day while Rust is being interviewed by the two new detectives looking through the old Dora Lange case, he is continuously smoking (ash) and drinking out of (aluminum) beer cans. He’s literally unable to escape the psychosphere he first found himself in. This was one thing I really enjoyed. Coupled with the end of the episode where Hart and Cohle meet up once again in 2012, Cohle’s broken taillight (not fixed since their decade old fight from 2002), this really goes to show how all of this case, everything in it, the fact it has not truly been solved and it was his case, really stuck to Cohle. There is nothing to do except solve the case because if not there is truly no escaping it. Having this “aluminum and ash” come back as a part of the story, in a very slight sense, was a really clever way of tying things from the past back into the present, showing how the entire atmosphere of the case would never really wash of Cohle. Another instance of the great writing inside True Detective.
Undoubtedly, one of the greatest parts about the entire first season is the excellent character development.
There’s Hart, who is basically a by-product of the misogyny inherent in the place he lives. While he is not one of those elite predators who uses his authority to help cover-up the murder and abuse of young women, Hart is nonetheless affected by the overall state of misogyny and the atmosphere of where he lives. This can be seen through his treatment of women throughout the season – his daughter, his wife, his mistress. There’s even the thread where he reconnects with a young hooker from earlier in the season; Hart interviewed her in connection to Dora Lange in ’95, and later he begins to sleep with the girl when she’s older. This really goes to show, when he’s trying to reconnect with his wife, how much his heart is truly in a normal relationship. In ’95, Hart gives the girl some money and tells her to “do something else” – Cohle then ribs him by asking if it was a down payment. Of course, later we find out it really was an early payment for services to be rendered. Maybe Hart didn’t know it then, but his ideas of women would never change. Though she was older, the fact Hart could engage in a sexual relationship with the girl after seeing where she came from, the life she grew up in, and our look at his hypocrisy after having taken offense with the older lady who’d been pimping her out in ’95, it’s obvious this man is only good as a detective – he is a true detective, and nothing else. He can’t be a good father or husband, truly. Only good at enforcing the law.
Cohle is not perfect, however, he’s much more about control, as opposed to Hart who represents a real loss of control. McConaughey did a great job of playing Cohle, with all the philosophical thoughts and out-there theories. I don’t know if anyone else could have done such a great job with the material given. Cohle has a lot of different things going on. I really like how his story came to a close by the end of the season, and part of the pessimistic attitude he’d been displaying for most of the episodes tied off, or at least loosened a little. While coming face to face with death, he finally discovers there may possibly be something beyond the brink, or maybe not – regardless, he finds out the thought of something more than life, pas death, isn’t as terrifying and ignorant as he once thought it to be. On the one hand, I also think Cohle provides a really great opposite for Hart in the sense he is a man who lost his wife and child (the former because of the latter’s death) – Hart has those things but does not appreciate them, and yet he really wants to have those things in his life. On the other hand, Cohle lost it all, and whether or not he would have it again if that chance was available, he seems to really not have wanted it to be with – maybe this is due to the death of his child, maybe he has been this way all his life. I just think having Cohle be the way he was, Pizzolatto provided a really great antithesis to Hart; having them as partners really juxtaposed their separate world views and created more tension between them than what naturally existed in their dialogue. Not to mention, having Harrelson and McConaughey, two real life friends, play these characters worked better than could have ever been expected.
I have to mention the 6-minute tracking shot in Episode 4 “Who Goes There”. This is a monumental scene in television. Probably the best scene of any television show I’ve seen in the last 5 years or more. Honestly. Even shows I love like The Sopranos and The Wires also from HBO never had such incredible camerawork as this; while there were a lot of great scenes in both those shows, nothing like this. Just the sheer size of this tracking shot is really amazing. I can’t get enough of it. Right from the moment Cohel grabs hold of a hostage, the camera never breaks, following him through this whole scene. Fukunaga mentions on the Blu ray release how there was a need to give this scene some sort of tension – we know Cohle makes it out all right because we’ve already seen the 2012 narrative partially, so we’re aware he has survived – so the tracking shot itself serves as a way to really keep us in suspense, as we literally ride along with Cohle. I thought it was the most thrilling scene of the entire season. Tied only with the big finale with Hart and Cohle facing the murderer in his self-made world of Carcosa. If nothing else, you’ve got to give it to True Detective for really knocking this particular episode out of the park.
The Blu ray release from HBO is absolutely on point. While I expected maybe just a smidgen more, there are still some great features. To start, the picture and sound on this release are beyond perfect. While I watched True Detective several times over already, the Blu ray actually ended up revealing more to me than I’d ever noticed. Just little small bits. Everything is so clear and gorgeous here from the music, the sound design, to the spectacular sweeping shots of landscape and rugged terrain of Louisiana. Then there is the audio commentary, including bits from Pizzolatto, which really help the shed light on the overall production. One featurette on the release called “Inside the Episode” gives us bits from each episode with thoughts from both Fukunaga and Pizzolatto, covering everything from story, to writing, to directing, editing; all of it. There are really valuable pieces of insight from the writer and director. Definitely worth watching at least once. Also, there’s a Making Of featurette; this encompasses everything including some interviews with the actors, et cetera. Finally, there are some deleted scenes, as well as exclusive interviews with Harrelson and McConaughey concerning the filming of the series’ first season. All in all, a bunch of great stuff making this Blu ray a must-purchase for any real fans of the show. As in most cases, the picture and sound alone are worth it. I can’t get enough. I’ve watched the episodes through a couple times now since getting the Blu rays. Wonderful release.
Anyone who has seen True Detective knows it is either loved or hated – I don’t think there is much middle ground. My opinion is that this must be one of the best shows ever on television. Lots of people reference shows like Twin Peaks, and others, but I really think aside from influence and maybe a bit of homage, this series stands on its own. No matter if the second season turns out to be a bust, this first season is a classic bit of television. All of it was shot on film, giving things a really beautiful look, and the fact both Fukunaga and Pizzolatto were on board for the entire season really helped with its overall vision. I know there are those who don’t exactly dig the show, but I really find True Detective to be in a league of its own. I hope the show continues to prosper, I’m really looking forward to what Pizzolatto has in-store for the second season. Pick up this Blu ray if you loved this as much as I did, and you will not be disappointed in the slightest.