No HUGE spoilers here, but you might want to skip everything after the words “wrapped round head” if you’re still watching the show or planning to.
I caught the first episode of Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective on Sky Atlantic at a friend’s place in London, and then had to wait a while until I could see more. Then Fiona and I consumed it in almost one go. So I can attest that it’s a very well-conceived machine for inducing voraciousness in the audience.
It also has two very showy star turns, with Matthew McConaughey using his newly acquired wiriness for the wired Detective Rust Cohle, a hallucinating synesthesic intellectual insomniac behaviorist atheist nihilist — manifested as stoned intensity with a John Carpenter makeover for the contemporary scenes. Woody Harrelson sucks his big wide Humpty Dumpty mouth into a tiny slit, lips like squinting eyelids, juts his jaw into an inverted Death Valley butte, setting off innumerable small pops, ripples and bladder-bubbles in his cheeks, while his furious ball-bearing eyes shoot murder from the shadow of his granite slab of brow.
The eight-episode structure proves really ideal, allowing a convoluted mystery to be ravelled up, without quite losing the viewer amid the tangle. Twin Peaks (an influence, I think, alongside James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia) and Lost went on so long their subplots and red herrings got attenuated into nothingness and even the show’s creators couldn’t remember how many balls they had in the air. There comes a point when a juggler stops juggling and just goes into a protective crouch with arms wrapped round head.
The tendency of American films to pare away their interesting attributes and wind up with what Olivier Assayas characterises as “a fight in a warehouse” was also present, which meant the ending wasn’t as satisfying as it could have been. The show throws in hints of diabolical cults and widespread corruption and child abuse, but ends up handing us a disfigured serial killer and letting the rest slide. I’m curious as to whether the references to Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow, which basically go nowhere, will be picked up in subsequent series. The idea that follow-ups will deal with different protagonists is a really appealing one. In any case, Rust Cohle is broken now, by which I mean he’s healed. If he’s not a soul-crushing pessimist, he’ll be no fun to have around.
As you can see, the title sequence is a masterpiece in itself. Series director Cary Fukunaga envisioned a Magritte-like feeling to the show’s use of flat landscapes, and that is taken up in the surreal title imagery, which at times recalls James Bond, True Blood, Polish movie posters and H.R. Geiger. By the eightth episode I was still spotting new details in the creds.