True Detective Is Getting Weird(er)

Categories: Film and TV

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Anybody watching HBO's True Detective?

I know Downton Abbey is a thing that is happening and Sherlock just started back up, plus we're in kind of a Sunday night downer lull until the return of The Walking Dead (February) and Game of Thrones (April). What I'm saying is, it's understandable if you may have overlooked it.

But you might want to start watching it, for while it's only been on the air for two weeks, last Sunday's episode hinted at some potentially interesting developments, the likes of which we haven't really seen before on a high profile show like this.

For the uninitiated, True Detective is a new crime anthology series. It takes place in 1995 Louisiana, as two state homicide detectives -- Rustin "Rust" Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) -- investigate the ritualistic murder of a former prostitute named Dora Lange. Created by author Nic Pizzolatto, the show will feature a different case and characters each season.

The show would already be notable for the Southern Gothic setting and the performances of the two leads.The atheist, hallucinating, pill-popping Cohle is about as un-McConaughey a role as any he's played, and in my opinion is better even than his recent turns in Mud and Dallas Buyers Club. To wit:

"I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware: nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself, we are creatures that should not exist by natural law.
[...]
Maybe the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction. One last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal."

That's pretty Debbie Downer for a debut episode. Harrelson's portrayal is more typical; Hart is a fairly by-the-book cop of the sort who swaps bawdy stories with his comrades and loves his wife and two daughters, never mind the occasional affair. Or, as he describes himself, he's "a regular dude with a big ass dick." Shades of Bunk Moreland.

The show jumps back and forth between 1995 to 2012, after Cohle and Hart have had a falling out and gone in different directions career-wise (to put it mildly), And all that would've made for a straightforward -- if more morbid than usual -- procedural, and then this happened:

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That's a page from the murdered woman's diary, right next to a reference to the "Yellow King." For those not into turn of the (20th) century horror lit, "The King in Yellow" refers to a collection of short stories written by Robert W. Chambers. Released in 1895, all the stories revolve around a fictional play ("The King in Yellow") which drives those who read it insane. "Carcosa" is a setting in the play, and was borrowed by Chambers from the Ambrose Bierce short story "An Inhabitant of Carcosa." Both writers were influences on H.P. Lovecraft, who you hopefully *have* heard of.

True Detective is bleak enough as is, what with Cohle opining that his two-year older daughter's accidental death may have been a good thing (sparing him "the sin of being a father"), ominous rumors of a strange church Lange had recently joined, and Cohle's hallucinations, hinting at powerful forces at work beyond the ken of human awareness. But if Pizzolatto is taking things in a Mythos direction, things are going to get grim indeed.

If I may get my nerd on, the whole thing is starting to remind me of a Call of Cthulhu campaign. Chaosium's venerable horror role-playing game pits "investigators" run by the players against the dread forces represented by Lovecraft's Great Old Ones, among others. Cohle's background -- tragedy coupled with a stint in a psychiatric facility -- is just the kind of thing CoC players would cook up for their investigators. Hell, his worldview even fits in with the cosmic indifference reflected by Lovecraft's writing: "It's all one ghetto, man. A giant gutter in outer space."

Though considering how close to 0 his SAN already is, he may not be the best choice for the job.

Even if things stay relatively conventional, all signs point to an unpleasant outcome. Hart and Cohle have glossed over the "falling out' they had in 2002, with the latter sans wedding band in the 2012 scenes (surprise) and Cohle clearly no longer worried about his alcohol consumption. References have also been made to events still to come: "that thing in the woods" and something involving children. All keeping in with HBO's tradition of uplifting Sunday night entertainment.

And I don't even want to know what the deal is with that big ass owl.

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1 comments
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I'm watching the hell out of this show. 

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