True Detective episode 4 review: Who Goes There

Review Michael Noble 11 Feb 2014 - 07:37

This week's True Detective is a masterclass in direction. Here's Michael's review...

This review contains spoilers.

1.4 Who Goes There

American TV is generally collaborative in nature. Most shows, whether a 20-odd episode network piece or a 12 part cable drama, are the product of a collective pool of talent with several writers and directors contributing to the whole. One of the striking things about True Detective is how it eschews this model in favour of a tighter team. Nic Pizzolatto wrote every single episode of this first season and Cary Joji Fukunaga directed them. It would be experiment enough if they were seasoned TV professionals; that they are both relative novices invites accusations of recklessness. 

Or at least it would if the result hadn’t paid off so spectacularly. Every episode of True Detective has so far exceeded its predecessor in terms of quality and, as we reach the half-way point, we’re given an hour of TV that must certainly rank amongst the year’s very best. Whatever the year. 

The episode is undoubtedly Fukunaga’s. The writing remains top notch, the performances first rate (and not just from the two leads) but the whole episode is a feat of technical mastery that would sit proudly among the work of even veteran directors. He’s tight when he needs to be, expansive when a wider view is required and creative while in full support of Pizzolatto’s material. There might be an unusually short list of writers and directors on the show’s credits, but the two that are there have clearly forged an excellent partnership. 

Structurally speaking, Who Goes There is an episode-long case in point. It begins at close quarters, physically (Charlie Lange’s squalid cell, his er, ‘locked room’) and emotionally (Lisa’s unavoidable presence in the courtroom) before steadily expanding with a climax that is destined to become the series’ chief means of attracting new viewers. Admit it, you’ve already told several friends about it. 

None of this is showboating. Fukunaga’s work is has a sharp narrative and character focus. We’ve established that the show is concerned with the contents of its protagonists’ heads. The cell scene is appropriately claustrophobic, the better for getting a real jump out of Hart’s sudden yell and for making the slamming of the door even more severe when Cohle deliberately leaves Lange locked up with his own guilt. He has his reasons, but if he was subjected to the profiling he habitually runs on other people, it might just have something to do with his need for other people to suffer the way he has. 

The generous sharing of suffering is a recurrent theme. The close, almost invasive shots of Hart’s angry and desperate phone calls after he comes home to discover that Lisa had thrown an emotional grenade into her former lover’s family life render inescapable both his pain and his steadfast reluctance to admit his own colossal complicity in the destruction. The content of his conversations reveal that he remains utterly convinced that Lisa, the ‘whore’, has torn his family apart rather than him, the philanderer. Lisa’s visit may be seen as a gentler return of Hart’s own invasive assault on her private life, but the tragedy is that this detective is too wrapped up to understand. This inability to see that ‘the solution is right in front of his nose’ means that his attempts to reconnect are doomed to failure. His visit to the hospital is too typically aggressive, his sending of Cohle to sound Maggie out too procedural. Either way, he’s more cop than man. Not his silence when the concerned doctor tells him that while he may be State Police, he’s not acting in that capacity now. When he asks his partner that his reassurances are an ‘honest read’, while Cohle is planning Operation: Iron Crusaders, it’s difficult not to see the connection with Cohle’s dismissal of Charlie Lange ‘his first concern was for his end’.

We can be sure that Cohle noticed. He’s a details man and when he suggests that they deal with the situation by concentrating on the case at hand, there’s a motive ulterior to the simple one of keeping Hart busy. The already thin divide between Cohle and Hart’s personal and working lives is stretched to transparency as, once again, the search for Dora Lange’s killer becomes less about catching a murderer than about occupying the fizzy, nervous energy of the two detectives. McConaughey’s voice never reaches above his easy growly drawl, his actions remain measured, but there’s a desperation in him. His cache of guns (and, naturally, whiskey) has been prepared with this day in mind,  and while he takes the time to psych himself up everything hints that he wants this; that he’s been waiting to do so for a long time.

The plan is several iterations above ‘audacious’ in the undercover cop playbook, but Cohle’s preparedness and diligence suggest that this was the way he ran things when he was in Texas. True Detective specialises in heralding doom and this week Cohle provides a grim story about what the Texas gangs do to men who cross them. The effect is to enhance the sense of foreboding when Cohle strides into the baddest of bad guy bars with nothing more than his cojones and a natty leather jacket to protect him. It’s a wonderfully realised scene and, while an intense trip to the dark side, never quite badass-for-badass’ sake. The message here is that Cohle, the man who alienates all of his colleagues, whose wife left him and who has no evident friends (even Hart) fits in here seamlessly. It’s ironic that this Texan Mos Eisley, with its codes and managed dress code (‘you still look the part’, says Ginger of the natty jacket), seems to give Cohle more reassuring structure than anywhere else we’ve seen him. If any further clue was required as to the fact that this is Cohle’s territory, note how Hart to be trapped on one side of a peephole door, unable to find out what was happening to his partner, recalling a similar shot into the maddened Lange’s cell at the beginning of the episode. 

The scene is so intense, so involved in itself that it’s almost impossible to imagine that it’s a mere cul-de-sac, an circuitous attempt to track Reggie Ledoux, who, let’s not forget, is still merely the lead suspect in the case. True Detective is far more about the journey than the destination and when the trip is as exhilarating as this, it’s worth every moment. 

Still, the destination has to be worth the journey too as the Grand Theft Auto: Beaumont climax of this episode makes so abundantly clear. The six minute single take is bravura filmmaking and a masterclass in the control of cast, movement and timing that Fukunaga has confirmed was done straight with no editing suite wizardry to help out. An astonishing sequence, made all the better by the fact that it had been earned. The episode had been building inexorably to this as the detectives followed twin chains of evidence into the case and their own psyches. There was no way out other than to keep going to the end and Rust Cohle, that outlaw from his own past, remained calm and in control. He didn’t just belong there, Rust Cohle thrived

Read Michael's review of the previous episode, The Locked Room here

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This was actually episode 4!

To be honest: I didn't like this episode at all! It was far too much testosterone fuelled for my taste. And Cohle didn't say a single thing that was actually intelligent. They seem to have forgotten about the 2012 timeline for the bulk of the episode and the plot was to be frank, quite rediculous. I really hope next week's episde's better otherwise I'm out.

WOW you must have been watching something different from the rest of us Starbuck.

It may have been testosterone fuelled but for the most part it travelled along the same road the previous three episodes had taken, great narrative and scripting and with one of the greatest endings to an American TV show in recent memory.

The sound design alone is so unique, you feel a sense of foreboding just from hearing those loud blares as they roll out from the screen and pass your ears, this is not just TV, this is film making brought down to scale.

If this show keeps up this level of competence in acting, script, cinematography and atmosphere then it is going to fast out pace Breaking Bad as the greatest show America has ever produced.

You have to commend HBO on doing something outside of the box and hiring inexperienced guys but guys with a vision for something fresh, not just a procedural, not just another CSI rip off (mega yawn), this is TV at it's best and I find myself longing for the next weeks episode very quickly after the last has finished.

Special mention must go to the two leads who are putting in powerhouse performances of their careers, from Rust's understated meanness to Harts overpowering bravado masking a fear of life and loneliness, a dynamic combination that has so far popped and fizzled and seems close to an explosion that will tear the two apart and lead to the reason why they haven't seen each other in so long in the present day sequences.

I don't know how many episodes this season has but already I have the feeling it is going to be too short as the production values are so high I can't see them making too many episodes a season if they want this to be profitable.

Roll on next week.

*ridiculous

Where's the question mark??? There. I've given the show and the review one each. :)

I wasn't asking I was telling!

Yeah this show is really turning out to be one of the best I have seen. As chris_1975 said, this is Breaking Bad territory we are talking about. The last 20 minutes of this episode had me on the edge of my seat. The music/sound during the sequence really, really fit the whole foreboding feel.

Damnit, it's so sad that the movie/TV thing has reversed for me: I used to hate TV with it's safe garbage and boring, predictable stories and loved movies for the audacity of the storytelling. Now? It's the complete opposite. Now all I watch is fine TV shows like this.

2000-2014 has been a damn good dozen years or so of TV, with the last 3 or so being the best there ever was.

To the producers of True Detective: keep it up!

Could you elobarate on that? I mean I'm not bashing the show. I've been raving about it since episode 1. But I just didn;t liek the brawn over brain attitude f this episode. Each of the previous episodes had somehting to say about human nature with some really good lines for Cohle. This one just lacked the depth of the previous episodes and just had Cohle acting like an action hero. I guess the end scene was pretty good if you like action. But though I've never been much of an action fan the older I get (and I'm still in my early twenties) the less I start to like action. I usually just wait for it to end so the final scene didn't really do anything for me.

There's no need to defend the show on the whole. I am a huge fan. And the first three really had me longing for more. I agree with you on a lot of points. I definitely like the sense of location and atmosphere they manage to create in the show and the characters are fantastic. However for me the real appeal is the depth of it all. As I said, each of the episodes so far had something to say on human nature and human existence. This one simply didn't. I can see that it is an important episode for Rust as a character but the side of him we got to see here was one that I didn't find very interesting. I find Rust at his best and the show at it's most compelling when he's depressingly philosophising on the validity of mankind. I found Rust's speach about "the dream of being somebody" to be far more exhilirating than this episode's shootout. But like I said I don't like action. I used to not mind it but the older I get the more I start to resent it. These days when I look for a new show to watch one of the first things I look at is "how much action is in it?" and if it looks action packed I tend to skip it. Game of Thrones is one of the major exceptions here. So basically my beaf with this episode can be summed up as: "too much action, not enough depth"

As for the other shows you refer to: I think Breaking Bad is critically overrated. I liked it well enough but for me it's not in the same league as something such as The Wire or Game of Thrones. It worked as the story of one man who went from being a goody two shoes to basically a villain and doing it in a completely understandable and relatable manner. But on the whole it didn't really have anything to say beyond that. There were no greater themes lying underneath the surface of the show.

And as for CSI. I hate procedurals and CSI is without a doubt the worst of em all.

But really in the end it's all a matter of taste and what you are looking for in a tv show. That's why I wrote "I didn't like it" rather than "it was bad"

He is just pointing out you don't spell ridiculous with an 'e'

With this single episode, 'True Detective' went from being an intelligent serial to a mainstream action cop show. Excellent dialogue took a back seat to idiotic sub-plot involving outlaw-bikies and black gangsta's. It's as if the incredibly over-rated Kurt Sutter ghost-wrote this episode, so clumsy was the 'story' - all of which took us back to precisely the same place we were at the conclusion of the previous episode.

Silly shoot-outs - especially those as implausible as this one - have no place in a serial which has, 'til now, been flawless.

'White face in Harlem! Good thinking, Bond" (Strutter, Live And Let Die) encapsulates the insulting idiocy of this ep. Bikers 'cleverly disguised' as uniformed police officers? Cohle, dragging-along his biker-chum, successfully navigating a circuitous, gangsta-filled, route without as much as a hair out of place, rendezvous' with Hart, who has arrived at the exact same place, at the exact same time. Such rubbish has Sutter's name all over it.

The incidence of 'hiatus' after only three episodes coupled with the 180-degree diversion in the style of storytelling, suggests that this ep involved re-shoots to altogether change the original direction of the story.

Utter crap!!!!!

100% in agreement, including being 'out' if the next episode follows this 'new' course. If I want to watch standard-formula cop show's - which I don't - I'll stick to one that isn't trying to pass itself off as serious drama.

...there should be a '-' between 'pointing' and 'out'.

(Sorry for the english, I'm french canadian)
Personally I'm like you Starbuck! I don't like action in tv series, like all of those CSI things or this show with Kevin Beacon (I watched two episodes and I was already done.). But I really, really liked this action scene. It wasn't an unnecessary, melodramatic action scene that we already see for me, but an exciting and superb sequence that bring us to a part of Cohle that we never seen, a part that the naive Marty will soon see and surely will change him. And this scene explain how much why they needed to lie in there report, and it changes A LOT of things. Nobody behind them are supposed to know how the murder looked like - but, if their report is false, what are they hiding? Are they really the only ones who knows how the murder looked like? This is something that I really like personally.

Yeah just as the internet always does when it finds time to react to something it does so in a knee jerk fashion so I apologise for jumping on your comment.

I do however want to add that the end of the episode, I feel was necessary in a couple of ways.

1. It shows I think why the Feds are looking into the investigation hard again as there are inconsistencies in the story they have given and that stems from what happened at the end of episode three.

2. It also goes to show that Rust can take care of himself in any given situation, considering that LeDeoux looks to be a big and powerful boy they are going to have to be able to mix it up, they are not going to be able to take him down with psychobabble.

It's all well and good that they are doing something different and showing you how someone like Rust can get into a killers head but he can't be a one note character and let Harte do all the heavy lifting, there has to be room for physicality or it just becomes a cerebral process of pointing the finger at someone and deducing a way and means.

These men are Detectives and as such they will encounter violence in their jobs and they must react to it in kind.

For me episode four was a culmination of what had gone on in the previous three episodes and topped it off immensely. I don't think there will be another scene like that in the rest of the season but if there is I will be on the edge of my seat once again.

Though I wouldn't put it as strongly as you did I do agree with everything you just said. And I definitely agree with you on the Kurt Sutter part. I really hate The Shield and it always angers me when people put it in the same category as the near perfect The Wire.

As I said this was something a long time coming. I mean Cohle mentioned his time in drug enforcement several times so it was gonna come up at some point, It's just that I didn't find it interesting. But that's personale preference. Personally I'd be pretty satisfied if they would just deduce who the killer was and point the finger but like you said: that's not how policing works.

I think it was important to see what kind of a character Rust Cohle was before. So yes, we need to see him in action and witness what he's capable of. You mentioned him being like an action hero but I think it was more a glimpse of a monster than a hero.

Maybe...just *maybe* the show is brain AND brawn. The question is: would you be happy with this "new show" now that you know that it is NOT only about pseudo-intelectual ruminations? if not, this show is not for you. Think about it.

I'd have to see further first. Probably not. But that's just my taste. And it's not pseudo intellectual. If you think about it, it's actually quite deep and thought provoking.

I dunno. I found the scene with the garage shop owner to show more of the monster inside him than this scene. I like Cohle more if he's undertstated menace than when he goes berserk.

- 'White face in Harlem! Good thinking, Bond" (Strutter, Live And Let Die) encapsulates the insulting idiocy of this ep. Bikers 'cleverly disguised' as uniformed police officers? - Isn't that the point? They're high on drugs and have come up with this plan. Cohle even questions what the escape strategy is and one of them gives him some stupid response, this isn't supposed to be some brilliantly thought out heist.

That's even why the other people in the projects get suspicious almost straight away; I could be wrong but I doubt any gang member is going to approach an armed police officer while reaching for their own weapon.

For me, it showed the extent to which Cohle will go to in order to solve this case.

Also, the filming and sound during the heist was done brilliantly in my opinion. Having one camera follow the action around helps place you in the scene so that you experience almost what Cohle is. The soundscape is exaggerated and unrealistic but gives the impression that danger is surrounding you. This might have something to do with the fact that Cohle is on drugs and therefore so must you be.

My point is that this episode should in no way deter you from the series. The 180-degree diversion, as you put it, could have something to do with Cohle needing to alter his own persona so that he can go back undercover; he has dumbed himself down to play the role of biker and the storytelling has mimicked that.

I really, really enjoyed this episode, I have watched it two or three times already... the count depends on my level of drunkendness.

I felt it was a depiction of a nightmare. And that's why I don't consider it as an action-packed episode, I think it was more like a view into the subconscious of both of the protagonists, Hart and (of course mainly) Cohle.

As a depiction of the unknown... the subconscious, this was the best I've seen in television since Twin Peaks... and it may even over ride that. And that is alot to say.

In fact, I just watched it the third or fourth time... depending; and it just keeps getting better. This is sick, true sick television. Wow. The directing is perfect. This director is in no need of an Oscar, he deserves a Cannes Palme d'Or.

I agree. A, so far, great series transmogrified into Weird Science. WTF?
It's like Dusk To Dawn but in a bad way.

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