This True Detective review contains spoilers.
True Detective Season 1 Episode 7
True Detective ended last week on the side of a road. A car and a pickup truck, each driven by one of our true detectives, on the outs with each other for over a decade, idled after miles of hard road. Dust hanging in the air. You could almost smell the gravel. Rust Cohle invites Marty Hart to buy him a beer. Marty checks the chamber of his gun to make sure he’s loaded.
I don’t remember when I’ve wanted an hour show to extend into a two hour show more. I started anticipating that meeting before the scene was over. I knew it was going to be the last scene and my mouth was watering to share that beer with them. I was not disappointed. Watching Woody Harrelson go one on one with Matthew McConaughey is like sitting courtside watching him do layups with Wesley Snipes in White Men Can’t Jump. And I don’t mean watching in the movies. These two bring you in. You’re watching through the chain links. This is a country street battle. “Nice hook, Marty,” as Cohle said last week.
True Detective’s new episode, “After You’ve Gone,” opens with a tease of a song just dripping voodoo blues. Swirling harmonies and slow jungle beats crescendo in the fadeout. It’s just a fucking bar. No bar on earth deserves the kind of mojo Fukunaga puts into these swamp saloons. They are portals to Carcosa. It doesn’t matter where you wet your whistle in bayou Dixie, there’s always a devil to buy you a drink. Cohle worked out the anagram of the spaghetti monster and calculated his debt times two. Rusty doesn’t want to be there and Cohle couldn’t give a shit either way, except he needs things. You get hungry chasing the spaghetti monster and any true detective who loves his craft will share a plate of time with his partner in Carcosa.
Cohle interviews a former student from the Tuttle Schools. When he was a young boy, he thought he was dreaming when men in animal masks took pictures of him and did other things. It wasn’t just the drugs that made him repress those memories into dreams. Peel off another layer and he might be split into little parts. Part of him is turning tricks even as he speaks to Cohle. A lot of kids who were molested turn to hooking as a reasonable career choice. Nic Pizzolata, the screenwriter, throws in so many details to make every aspect of this descent into the surreal world of left hand spirituality realistic. It’s almost a fetish with this guy.
Voodoo fetishes line Cohle’s storage locker. It’s supposed to look like he’s turned this oversized shed into a police crime hub. But no, it’s an altar. It has magic. Whether it’s the pent up energy of a psyche dislodged by staring into the abyss without blinking or it’s the aura of the mystical twigs themselves, the magic has become palpable. Cohle’s eyes are brittle because they have been roasted on the hibachi of the Yellow King and that’s not a fast food place (Rusty’s truck passed a fast food restaurant that had a yellow crown a few episodes ago. This show is very detailed). They eat time in Carcosa.
I love the consistent style of building, building, building and then pulling back to another scene to show a reaction before the viewer knows exactly what is going on. Pulling back from the video tape to show Marty talking to his wife, Maggie Hart (Michelle Monaghan), is a case in point. It gives you a chance to exhale. It gives you a chance to build up some horror in your mind. To conjecture, as Rust would say, and then hit you with something that satisfies your expectations. Masterful. Hitchcock would giggle himself thin watching this series.
And that wasn’t even the halfway point.
When Cohle and Hart are getting biographical information for “mineral rights,” they talk to an old woman who worked for Tuttle for 19 years. She giggles at secrets. She empathizes with the man with the scars. But it is the drawings of the twig sculptures that jog her memory into a spiritual reverie. Death is not the end. She is convinced of that. What are they doing in those woods? What do they conjure in these homicidal rituals? Whatever it is, whatever Cohle and Hart will uncover, it is enough to make this old lady swoon. She is convinced. She is a believer. That makes it scarier. This sick shit might just work and that is a horror you can’t afford to look away from.
Michael Potts as Det. Maynard Gilbough and Tory Kittles as Det. Thomas Papania, or “suck and fuck” as Hart calls them, are also on the job. A little behind and too full of themselves to see what they’re stepping over. Did we learn nothing about lawnmower men from Stephen King? Don’t these guys live on spaghetti and drown out the sound of their John Deeres with green earmuffs?
I know I’m concentrating too much on the acting here. But even the smallest parts have so much behind them. As a side note, when HBO sent me these screeners, the episodes weren’t finished. Sometimes the music is a little different. Sometimes there are green screens. This is a joy, not a complaint. You get to see different sides of acting. In this episode, the big difference is the video that Rust makes Marty watch. The one that convinces him. The bleeding heart of the episode. I know now that it is a ritual, but when I watched it, the scene that Marty was watching, the one that broke him, looked like a fifties western movie. I’m sure even that, the thing the audience never sees, is significant and I will look for that movie. But, watching Woody Harrelson react to something that is in reality quite benign as if it was the most horrific snuff film ever made is very revealing about Woody the actor.
I said before that I was most looking forward to watching Harrelson when I threatened Mike Cecchini, our fearless leader, for the right to review this. And I mentioned that McConaughey stole this thing. Not anymore. This is a one on one. These are two great players and whether they love each other or hate each other, want to shoot the breeze or put bullets behind each other’s ears, they are the best team in TV history. They’ve displaced Walter White and Jesse Pinkman for me. There, I said it. Once again, I should lose the right to review something because I like it too damned much. Fuck you HBO, you’ve ruined television for me. Again.
I have mentioned Angel Heart in reference to True Detective and written on the satanic detective genre as a whole. This series is so fulfilling. It’s like watching Angel Heart, if that’s your cup of darjeeling tea – it’s one of my all-time favorites, in slow motion. Reverb first. Every nasty detail splayed out in front of you to enjoy. I mean, yeah, it’s broken up into hour long portions, but think how it’ll be when you binge watch this motherfucker.