TRUE DETECTIVE Series Premiere Recap: “The Long Bright Dark”

     January 12, 2014


Early reviews of HBO’s new anthology series True Detective focused on it being brilliantly acted, with lush cinematography and a gripping tale … but also unrelentingly dark.  The premiere illustrated all of these things beautifully and bleakly.  For viewers of police dramas and murder mysteries, there are plenty of familiar elements to True Detective‘s narrative.  But its narrow character focus and multiple timelines elevates it to an excellent, if difficult, drama.  Hit the jump for more.

true-detective-posterWith only eight episodes to tell its story this year, True Detective wasted no time in drenching us with information.  The relationship between  Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) starts out clearly as a mismatch of personalities, but almost immediately deepens into so much more.

The two are bound together by their investigation of the heinous crime that the show opens on — the drugging, binding, torturing, strangulation and posed last hours of Dora Lang’s death.   The ritually fetishization of the act leads Rust to say instantly that her murder, and the staging around it, are the work of a meta psychotic who has probably killed before, and will definitely kill again.

From there, the story weaves back and forth from the framework of a present day (2012) CID testimony and investigation, where Rust and Martin are being interview separately (after not speaking for almost ten years), about the events from 1995 surrounding the Lang murder.  It seems that a copycat has appeared — or the real murderer is back — meaning that the man responsible is not the one in jail, and the perpetrator of one of more of these crimes might even be Rust himself.

Most of the inaugural hour was given over to regular police work, with Rust and Martin working leads and discovering the identity of the murdered girl.  Their investigation led them down a myriad of colorful paths that helped illuminate the kind of life lived by the inhabitants of this Southern Louisiana town — a great way to set the stage for the exploration into finding the killer.

true-detective-series-premiere-woody-harrelsonAs for Rust and Martin, the acting and interaction between the two is just superb.  McConaughey wears his haunted look with heavy seriousness that protects a shattered man, one who lost his daughter (we don’t yet know what happened to her, but it’s easy to make some educated guesses).  Harrelson, as Martin, plays the straight man with weary aplomb, swiftly defending Rust’s abilities an an investigator in the present day, while also acknowledging the fact the two never really got along.

It would be hard to get along with Rust, who, as described by Martin (in the show’s beautiful dialogue), “would pick a fight with the sky if he didn’t like its shade of blue.”  His world-view monologue in the car with Martin affirms the darkness he lives with, allowing himself only to drink at certain times, never sleeping, and agitating Martin with “weird shit” like saying the town is like someone’s faded memory.

The impression given is that Rust is a type of detective of a kind of twisted Sherlock Holmes mode — he’s brilliant and strange, and battles his problems with barbiturates.  But Rust is given several more layers of hurt and sadness, which look to be peeled back with each new hour of the story.

“The Long Bright Dark” was an excellent premiere of what is obviously a great series, but one that will weigh viewers down even as Cary Fukunaga dazzles us with the directing and shot composition.  The dialogue is fantastic, with plausible Deep South accents from the cast, and a slow way of speaking and moving that is accurate of a coastal plains ways of life.  The central mystery is complicated by the dual timelines, which is a great way to keep the murder mystery format fresh and twisted.  There’s so much to explore in True Detective, and it’s almost unbelievable with everything that happened in the first hour, that we’ve only just begun.

Episode Rating: A

true-detective-series-premiere-matthew-mcconaugheyMusings and Miscellanea:

— Strongest drama pilot I’ve seen in a long time.  Series creator and novelist Nic Pizzolatto is on point.

— There are plenty of boilerplate situations when it comes to Rust and his background, and his strained relationship with Martin.  But similarly, you expect there to be because it’s a detective show.  It’s not a bad thing.  The way True Detective deals with it and makes it feel new is part of why it’s so great.

—  “How you want your coffee?” “Strong and black, just like you.”

— The “Big Mug Hug” sitting there during Rust’s deposition was so distracting in the best of ways.

— The show has unexpected humor that’s not really overt, but situationally, it lightens the load (usually when Martin goes off on Rust for being weird).

— The antler imagery and staging of the crime scene reminded me a lot of Hannibal.

— The dialogue in the police station in particular has a nice, old-school feel to it, with even some Western references, like calling a drunk fellow officer “rummy.”

— The show has so many actors from The Wire and Treme (like the excellent Clarke Peters, to name but one), that already bodes well for everything happening.