This True Detective review contains spoilers.
True Detective Season 1 Episode 4
The last image in the last episode of HBO’s True Detective showed the monster at the end of a dream. That monster was a man in his underwear with a gas mask on his face. A nightmarish image that Rust Cohle and Mickey Hart, the two true detectives played by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, were speeding towards.
True Detective Episode 4, “Who Goes There,” tells how the detectives got there. Cohle and Hart are hurtling toward their fateful encounter with the monster of both of their dreams, Reggie Ledoux. At first glance, a recap would make it look like a regular cop show transitory piece as the true detectives pursue the mystery of Reggie Ledoux through the Louisiana underworld. But I believe that director Cary Fukunaga and writer Nic Pizzolatto are taking us on a tour of Dante’s Inferno. To find out “Who Goes There” Cohle and Hart have to go through the nine circles of Hell.
The nine circles of Hell from Dante’s Inferno are Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Wrath, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, and Treachery. Hey, what cop show worth its silver isn’t filled with each of these. But Cary Fukunaga brings the circles to Louisiana. “The Locked Room” episode of HBO’s True Detective opens in a cell in a prison block with the convict who gave Ledoux his first whiff of Dora Lange, the victim. Brad Carter plays Charlie Lange like he’s trying to do the prison limbo under the soap on a rope. Sure, he showed his housemate a couple pictures. Carter deflates when he takes in what he’s done.
The first thing Charlie Lange gives up is a piece of local mythology about rich devil worshippers that sacrifice kids. The set ups are slow in coming on True Detective. This show doesn’t telegraph where its going, it comes at you like a backwards reverb. First you see the reaction, then you see the set up. It keeps you off balance and this episode follows that uneven keel. The guys Cohle and Hart are maneuvering through may look like the kind of guys where an evening of sacrificing kids to Beelzebub wouldn’t be too far a reach and they are making a lot of money. But that’s not the image we get of wealthy satanists. At least I don’t. I see Stanley Kubrick’s vision a la Eyes Wide Shut. But back to our story.
Dora Lange sent them all on a freefall to limbo. You want to know what it’s like to drink in Hell?
Bars are very cinematic. You can do anything in a bar in a movie or on TV. Given the lighting and the music, bars go from the friendliest saloons on earth to the most daunting of dives. You can sip at Cheers or you can go to that place on East Broadway in Martin Scorsese’s After Hours given a single spotlight. You can see how far Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson travel from beginning to end in this series just by how Fukunaga handles his liquor.
In the second episode there was a scene where Marty was telling about the first time he got a finger stuck up his ass and the bar he told it in looked like the kind of place you could take the kids for fries. Finger or no finger. The bar where the partners drank and danced on the double date had a small touch of the eerie for a hoe down when Marty’s ho came down. The tug between Maggie (Michelle Monaghan) and Lisa Tragnetti (Alexandra Daddario) on Woody Harrelson is like the moment between the shot and the chaser. Of course, the wife is a hangover so bad her later scenes take place in a hospital.
Marty spills his nuts out to Cohle in what should look like a friendly bar, but no, it’s shot at the wrong angle. There’s a disconnect. This isn’t a place for a nightcap. This is a bar that’s circling too close to hell. Marty is spilling about lust, gluttony and treachery and Rusty is too busy picking out the right color leather jacket. Watch the bars. The bar that Marty chases the dancer through on his way to finding ah – the kid who played Richie on Malcom and the Middle – it’s really just a dance club. There’s nothing to suggest that there’s anything disconcerting about the place if you look at the dancers. They’re having a blast. But there’s panic at that disco and Marty’s the only one who can smell it.
The bar that Marty loses Rust in, the one he’s kicked out of, is that bar really any more threatening looking than the one he tells the finger-up-the-ass story in? If you were at the bar, you’d probably be having a good time. There’s a couple dancing, how scary could it be? But this bar has tension. It’s circling hell. The tension is all coming off of Marty. Harrelson is so distraught he’s scaring the scary dudes and not in a way they’re comfortable with.
Cohle is all about greed and treachery once he hits that bar. And talk about gluttony, Cohle finds so many ways to snort in this episode it looks like it’s a competitive sport. This is the Super Bowl of blow and his nose is wide receiver. I think they first found Marie Fontaneau up his nose. And he doesn’t make it look tasty either. Compare his honking suction to the snorts in Lovelace where they made it sound so good the back of my throat got numb.
Matthew McConaughey cuts loose on Cohle in the projects, or whatever the projects are called in Louisiana. I was so confused I’d almost ask Det. Maynard Gilbough (Michael Potts) and Detective Shinn (Eric Price) what was going on? Why did he keep punching the guy who brought him there? Who did he shoot to get out of there? That was probably my bad. Did they say “my bad” yet in the early nineties? Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you.