True Detective – Season 1

Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey in True Detective

As the lockdown descended on us last March, and I found myself working in the man cave instead of the office, I binged a bunch of shows: Succession, Stranger Things, an insane chronological binge of Star Trek, well nigh impossible as Picard, Discovery, and Lower Decks add seasons along with two new shows coming and at least one or two more in the works. One of the earliest shows I watched was True Detective on HBO Max.

Season 2 hasn’t stayed with me very much, and I need to get back to Season 3, but Season 1? I wish Holland Bay had been that good. Like American Horror Story and American Crime Story, each season is a completely different tale, though Horror recycles its cast. (And I stopped watching after Jessica Lange left.) But Season 1 of True Detective blew me away.

It stars Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey as Detectives Marty Hart and Rust Cohle respectively. The story switches between 1995 and the present day (2012, two years before this originally aired.) Hart and Cohle left the murder of a prostitute unsolved and are drawn back to the cold case nearly twenty years later. They originally worked for the Louisiana State Police, both having moved on by the present. The southern noir flavor is heavy as it involves a working class suspect, the presence of a powerful and charismatic pastor, and police brass who don’t, at least in 1995, want the case solved.

Like McNulty and Bunk on The Wire, the case exaggerates the men’s appetites as they deal with the weight of its horror. Hart cannot be faithful to his wife no matter how hard he tries. Cohle crawls into a bottle. By 2012, Hart is divorced, cynical, and a loner. Cohle has left police work behind and become a fulltime alcoholic, announcing to two detectives saddled with a related case that he talks better with a case of beer.

The case destroys both men. Lured by a courthouse worker into an affair, Hart wrecks his marriage to the point where his wife (played by Michelle Monaghan) purposely goes to Cohle to have revenge sex. Cohle reluctantly obliges. Yet almost two decades later, Maggie Hart is still trying to save her ex-husband, not really sure if it’s a lost cause. Cohle is almost a non-entity in the 2012 scenes. But they manage to break the case in classic noir fashion, crossing the lines and swearing to silence in the process.

True Detective is a hard series to watch, which does not change in subsequent seasons. It’s heavy noir and not for the faint-of-heart. And while creator Nic Pizzolatto has moved on, HBO wants to continue with new writers. May I humbly suggest SA Cosby, author of Blacktop Wasteland?

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