Watching HBO’s True Detective is like jumping into a swimming pool while fully dressed. You climb out of the pool and your clothes are soaked. They feel heavy. But as the show proceeds, and the light brightens, and we see more and more of what’s behind these windows into what these two men are about. We notice less and less the weight of our own clothes because we are noticing more and more of the weighty emotional burdens and scars that these detectives carry within themselves.
Others say watching this show is like watching paint dry. I think not, but you know, everyone has an opinion. I believe the real key to understanding and appreciating True Detective, is to find our way inside the characters. Both Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rustin Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) are complex and interesting. They both carry secrets, and are burdened by them – and neither are easy to figure out. I think it will take some time.
Even if you missed the line in Episode One where we learned that these two worked together for a while (like 7 years and haven’t spoken in about 10 more years), the friction between them is not buried. It is right there; at times just below the surface, and at other times – right out in the open where we can see it. What follows is all from the second episode with some spoilers.
Cohle: What do we know about him (the perp) … smart, artistic, religious in some sort of way.
Hart: Every person within a thousand miles of here has some sort of religion – except you.
Cohle: How many db’s have antlers, blindfolds, painted symbols on their back?
That is the case they’re working to solve. They’ve made no real headway yet. The folks higher up on the chain of command have noticed, and will soon have something to say.
Cohle: I can’t say the job made me this way. It’s more like being this way made me just right for the job.
Cohle has a busted marriage, and a dead daughter. And he’s killed people in the line of duty. He’s also got a hole in his soul, and entry wounds made by three .25 caliber bullets pumped into him. He worked 4 years in Texas as an undercover in drug crimes while deep in the heart of HIDTA. He did a stint at the NSPC. He was deemed unfit and was offered a psych pension. Which he turned down. Following that, he asked for an assignment in Homicide. Texas washed their hands of him and assigned him to homicide opening in Louisiana.
Hart: Sometimes you got to get your head right.You got to take your release where you find it, or where it finds you. In the end, it’s for the good of the family.
Hart is defending his extra-marital activities to the 2012 detectives.
HIDTA – High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
NSPC – North Shore Psychiatric Center
Cohle, as a part of his undercover work -
Drug Peddler Woman: You might be dangerous.
Cohle:I am dangerous. I’m police. I can do what ever I want. With impunity.
So Cohle has his problems, but he also likes the power he has. They catch a couple of leads after the victim’s mother describes a place south of the town – she calls it a place where girls stay. Near Spanish Lake. It’s really a trailer park bunny house. Cohle will beat up a couple of guys he knew from his undercover days to get a better handle on the location. Once they find it they talk to the Madam and one of the girls.
Hart: We’re going to question any girl who might have known her.
Madam:That’s a tougher ask than you might think. Folks be staying away once they hear y’all are out here.
Cohle: Well Ma’am, that’s the best way to get us to leave.
Hart asks politely, but it is Cohle who makes the winning argument. Cohle thinks one of the girls is underage.
Hart: That girl’s not 18. Sheriff know you got underage working here?
Madam: Girls walk this earth all the time, screwing for free. Why is it you add business to the mix and boys like you can’t stand it. I’ll tell you. It’s cause you don’t own it the way you thought you did.
Hart: [Giving the young hooker some cash as a thank you for helping] Do something else.
Cohle: Is that a down payment?
Hart: Is shitting on any part of decency part of your job description?
This was another of the continuing part of challenges and digs between Cohle and Hart. Which was exacerbated that morning when Hart arrived at the CID after spending the night with one his ‘playmates’. We hadn’t seen this side of him before. He tried to say that his odor was from being with his wife. Sex was a way of maintaining a good marriage . But Cohle wasn’t buying that cover story. Hart got into Cohle’s face and pressed him against the lockers threatening mayhem.
That is, until Cohle suggested that he would snap Hart’s wrists, if he wasn’t immediately released. Now we hadn’t anything connected to the words ‘violence’ and ‘physicality’ from either of them before. Until now. Hart was ready to explode. He was all tense, and red-faced. But Cohle – he remained cool and calm and matter-of-fact. We’ve known all along that these two were quite different. We’ve just been shown another level of that difference.
Later we get a look at Hart – the family man. He and his wife and two daughters have spent a weekend with her parents.
Hart’s Father-In-Law: I’ve seen today’s kids. They dress all in black. They smoke. Shit on their faces. And everything is about Sex
Hart: Every old man in history says the same thing. Old men die and the world keeps on spinning.
So Hart and his missus and daughters leave. His wife wasn’t on the best of terms with her mother. And Marty didn’t want more lectures from his father in law. Once home, Marty gets a few drinks into himself, and so fortified, he takes to berating his wife in a heated discussion. All is not well in the Hart household.
Meanwhile, Cohle’s gives the detectives a take on his daughter’s tragic death which reveals yet another side of him
Cohle: My daughter. She spared me the sin of being a father…
Hart arrives at the office on Monday morning. Cohle is already on site. Major Quesada introduces three detectives.
Task Force Detective: We’ve been tasked to investigate crimes with possible cult links. There’s been a rash of animal mutilation, cemeteries defiled…
Cohle: And they want to see what we have on the Lane Case.
Major Quesada: You know, this Task Force is important to the Commander and the Governor’s office. You know, a lot of people are concerned about it.
Cohle: You know me. I don’t see the connection between two dead cats and a murdered woman.. but I’m from Texas..
Task Force Detective: We’re not stepping on your toes Marty. We just got the mandate…and we want to compare our notes with what you got…
Cohle: (Tossing them the file in a dismissive gesture) Xerox all you want…make you feel like good cops. [He turns his back on them and sits down - they leave]
Major Quesada: You two – my office.
Quesada gives them the bad news. He’s catching heat from above because Hart and Cohle have not gotten there hands and minds around any thing substantial so fare. Quesada reams out Cohle, telling him to keep his opinion to himself, and to keep his mouth shut. He also mentions that the only reason he is still upright is because Hart has gone to bat for him.
Hart asks (nicely) that they be allowed to stay on the case until month’s end. They’ve uncovered a lead about a church. Quesada says he will see what he can do.
But the church is in the middle of no where. They were lucky find it. And we see another of Cohle’s visions, or is it real? We don’t know if was a vision or it was real real. What we do know is that it was done with technology. There was a similar shot of birds taking flight in The Bourne Identity which was done the same way. Cohle will tell the detectives he just rolls with those visions these days. As the detectives question him he reveals plenty.
Cohle: [About his visions] There were times when I thought that I’d just lost it. There were other times when I thought I was mainlining the secret truths of the universe.
Obviously, they’re on the right track. At that burned out, gutted, church they find a crucial clue.
We have to consider that the deeper we get into the case, the more we will learn about these detectives. I’m betting it won’t be pretty. But pretty or not, we can’t take our eyes off the screen. Violence, and a look deeper into the dark side of life, as well as the underbelly of backwoods life in Louisiana is usually just around the corner, or a moment away from exploding in our faces. But we can’t look away.