The new HBO series, True Detective, comes as a breath of fresh air amid the onslaught of sappy romance dramas and constructed reality shows appearing on television these days. With just its first season out, the show has garnered massive critical acclaim for its philosophical approach to crime, drama and mystery. At the heart of it, the show goes right down to the ugly truth — the animalistic nature of humanity and the make-believe reality we live in.
True Detective is set in the coastal area of South Louisiana where the protagonists, Rustin Cohle (Mathew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson), are homicide detectives for Louisiana’s Criminal Investigations Division. Cohle is depicted as a brilliant man in pain, who suffers from hallucinations induced by previous encounters with drugs. These hallucinations are showcased not as the workings of a deranged mind but as a cloud of consciousness where Cohle is perhaps seeing more than anyone else around him. Hart, on the other hand, is shown at first as an ordinary American man with a nice family, a house and a stable job. His character gradually unfolds to reveal a complex personality, where the lines between right and wrong often blur.
The show begins in 2005, where both detectives are grilled over a case they investigated way back in 1995, when Cohle was transferred to Louisiana and partnered with Hart to chase down a ritualistic serial killer. Both lead actors are phenomenal in their roles, while writer Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Joji Fukunaga do a fine job of penning and executing the flashback from the present to the past along with portraying the intensity and the inherent depravity of human nature with brilliant precision. The first half of the season focuses on the act of killing and its degeneracy rather than the killer, unlike most other criminal series which mainly revolve around the pursuit and apprehension of the murderer. The second half of the season focuses on the lives and ideologies of Hart and Cohle.
On one hand, we have Hart who illustrates the contradictory nature of man; where morality comes into play only when it concerns others, but is overruled for oneself by the temptations of the mind, body and soul. On the other hand, we have Cohle who displays an existential, nihilistic approach to life. He sees each individual as devoid of meaning or purpose, with no innate value. The idea propagated by many shows that man is intrinsically good is completely disregarded here, instead it brings to the fore the darkness and mediocrity hidden within people. With brilliant use of Louisiana as the backdrop (especially the barren lands that depict the barrenness in humanity) and the accompanying soundtrack, True Detective is a show that needs to be on everyone’s watch list.
Kifah Qasim is a freelance writer.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, July 13th, 2014.
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