'True Detective': A theoretical conversation about the show, starring Rust Cohle and Martin Hart

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After a mere six episodes, HBO’s True Detective has become the breakout TV sensation of 2014, with ratings ascending each week to match the snowballing buzz over the show’s mystery (whodunit?) and its various teasing references (Yellow King? Carcosa?). In turn, the last couple of weeks has seen the rise of an oppositional force — not quite a backlash, but rather, a series of counterarguments, focusing on the show’s female characters (nude, young, incapable of resisting the balding charms of middle-aged detectives) and the grander possibility that the show’s various philosophical musings amount to a whole lot of hot air.

In short, everyone has an opinion about True Detective — even the detectives on True Detective! Forthwith, a purely theoretical conversation between Rust Cohle and Martin Hart, probably conducted while driving down some lonely country road, while in the distance some kind of vaguely post-apocalyptic factory fills the air with gaseous acridity.

Hart: Did you see True Detective last week? I thought it was pretty good. Can’t believe there are only two episodes left.

Cohle: The best part of watching True Detective was the infinite moment before we began actually watching True Detective. It was a time before time, when the show’s ambitions had not yet revealed themselves — and so, we were still so completely unaware of how little it would live up to its own ambitions. It was like a beautiful baby yet unborn into this cursed sweep of existence, a theory which did not yet have to prove itself. And now here we are, with two episodes left, and it’s clear that True Detective will never prove itself. It is a whole series of endless conversations about endless topics running endlessly. At least The Killing had sweaters.

Hart: I only got about half of that, Rust. Did you see the episode with the biker gang? With that really long Children of Men shot? That was great.

Cohle: Further evidence that the show is an exercise in empty hyper-masculine stylistics masquerading as philosophical intrigue. Sure, that long shot looked “cool.” It was supposed to look “cool.” You ever seen a peacock strut its stuff in front of the chickens? That looks pretty “cool” too. But the biggest failing of True Detective is that it falls squarely into the tradition of the drama that everyone was complaining about last year. Tough guys, moody conversations, lots of shadows. We all hated Low Winter Sun, but it turns out we hated it because it wasn’t pretentious enough.

Hart: I sort of thought that talk a couple weeks back was interesting. How time is a flat circle? Squash! And it kinda makes sense for the show. Like, it keeps on circling through time — flashbacks, present day, flashbacks to a different time, long conversations inside the flashbacks about stuff that happened to the characters that we never get to see. It’s sorta like Watchmen, if you think about it.

Cohle: You’ve read Watchmen?

Hart: Yes. No.

Cohle: Well, what’s your daughter think about this show? Hell, what can any woman think about this show? “Sad Men and the Naked Women Who Love Them”? It’s the great fallacy of mankind to think that empty expressions of concern for womankind will somehow make reparations for our species’ whole entire history of gender warfare. All the guys do on the show is chase after a killer of women, but the show is very much on the men’s side in this. It’s the angel and the whore once again, always leaning more in the latter direction than the former.

Hart: Don’t you love it when the show’s starting, and TV-MA comes on, and it says there’ll be sexual situations and violence? And then with language, it’s a hat-trick!

Cohle: How else to explain the fact that so many of the show’s viewers have taken up the clarion call, demanding that the next season focus on female detectives? Of course, as with all things, that’s an idea that is doomed to failure, one more endless repetition of the antiheroic Police narrative, which proposes to be more “real” than the typical good-guys-vs.-bad-guys tale, but is itself a far more dangerous fallacy, since it puts forward the self-fulfilling prophecy of “bad” cops who nevertheless wind up doing “good” things, even though there is no goodness in this world, nor ever has been. Also, season 2 should clearly star Jill Hennessy and Robin Wright.

Hart: Well, Rust, it seems to me that True Detective is a show about men, which doesn’t mean it’s a show that supports men. The two main characters aren’t really all that attractive. Hell, the whole flashback narrative of the show has been about how I almost torpedoed my life with one affair, and then I did torpedo my life with another affair. And sure, it ain’t subtle — Alexandra Daddario and Lili Simmons aren’t shabby-looking one bit — but maybe it’s supposed to be a bit over-the-top in that way. And the show is told from men’s perspective, and it’s worth pointing out that lots of real-life men view real-life women as one-dimensional characters, if that.

Cohle: But last week was partially told from Maggie’s perspective.

Hart: Well, now, there’s holes in every theory.

Cohle: Sure, sort of like how my acid-flashback visions were supposed to be really important until they weren’t ever brought up again. You ask me, True Detective is all holes in theories. Right now there’s two more episodes, and people are having a merry old time trying to solve the “mystery.” Who is the killer? Who is the Yellow King? Is it one of us? Is it the spooky Reverend? Is it Sideburns Eli Thompson? Is it everybody? Are we gonna stumble into some extradimensional quorum of Elder Gods? A’course, nobody’s pointing out that every possible answer will be disappointing, ’cause we’ll either feel like we got tricked or that it was too obvious. It’ll be just like Lost all over again.

Hart: I think you just can’t groove onto this pretty fun show, and you’re making a big deal about it for no reason. Sure, it’s not perfect. But it’s a whole new kinda thing: A whole miniseries made by the same people, starring big-time actors, that takes a simple concept and throws in the kitchen sink, and some stuff works and some stuff doesn’t. And even though it’s just a short series, it’s already inspired all kindsa things online — the kinda stuff that used to take a show years. It’s funny, it’s dark, it’s less boring than The Walking Dead, it’s less full of itself than House of Cards. I guess I just don’t see a problem here.

Cohle: People love mysteries, but only when they think the answer is important. You mark my words: After the finale, you’ll be talkin’ about how disappointed you are, and I’ll be sittin’ over here, disappointed in you once again. Disappointed in how easy it is for people to get pulled in by fancy talk and pretty faces and moody dudes looking for dead women. It’s a story that’s been told before, that’ll be told again. You could say that, right now, we’re all watching True Detective for the first time, which means that right now, we’re also all realizing just how empty True Detective truly is. It’s all just emptiness, all the way down, one spinning vortex of anti-meaning. The point is, people should just watch Terriers.

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