Sometimes there comes along a season that grabs a certain sect of the TV universe in a vice grip. It strikes a chord with the audience so deep that it alone stands apart from all other renditions or imitations. True Detective Season 1 did just that. It made waves early on with the casting of A-list lead Hollywood actors, Woody Harrleson (Detective Marty Hart) and Matthew McConaughey (Dectective Rust Cohle). The latter was smack dab in the middle of his “McConaissance”, coming off the mega-hits, Dallas Buyers Club (which he won the Oscar for) and The Wolf of Wall Street, and this was just before Interstellar hit. If there was any question about the validity of television as compared to its big screen counterpart, both Harrleson and McConaughey solidified the mediums’ standing as legitimate place for Hollywood’s elite.
Here’s the list so far:
#14 – True Detective Season 1 – Score: 28
I remember watching this the first time and being immediately grabbed by the location and environment of Louisiana. It fit with the bleak and pessimistic Rust Cohle. There was a certain mysticism that held my attention in those first 4 to 5 episodes and the landscape was part of the reason why. The savagery and the symbolism of their first case, as much as it was tough to stomach initially, was captivating me. Was there really this wealthy elite who were a devil-worshipping cult pulling all the strings in the desolate south and sadistic sacrificial murder was their calling card? It’s like those Illuminati videos that you sometimes get sucked into watching, you think to yourself “total bullshit” but at the same time, “why can’t I look away”? After each episode the curtain is pulled back a little further, and the pieces of “The Yellow King” and “Carcosa” puzzle is slowly put together. That is what made it for me. The clues that you try to look for and make sense of a much larger purpose at hand. When you catch someone else up, you wonder why they focus on a billboard. What does the symbolism mean? I see the spiral, does that correlate to life is a flat circle? Why the antlers? Is Rust really this fucked up……wait a minute, perhaps he’s brilliant. Good lord those are the greatest tits I have ever seen! Sorry, but I had too, any guy had the same thoughts about Alexandra Daddario.
Season 1, particularly the first 5 episodes, had their share of landmark moments. I’ll save the best one for later, but did anyone else let out a WTF when you saw Reggie Ledoux walking in the sticks with just underwear, a gas mask and a freaking machete?! That image has been forever seared in my mind as Cohle talks about “the monster at the end of the dream”. Throw in the shootout that followed in episode 5 as you saw the duality of both 1995 and 2012 versions go down was pretty cool to take in. And anytime we can get McConaughey to go on a prolonged monologue about the grand spectrum of how we process time and life, well I’m completely all in.
Acting Performances: 9
When you sign two esteemed actors like Harrelson and McConaughey, you know what you’re getting. And given that much of the dialogue is centered around those two, it should be no surprise that this category pulled a 9. McConaughey gives a virtuoso performance as the philosophical but yet mysterious and complicated Rust Cohle. Not too far a deviation from the roles he did for all his “McConaissance” movies. He certainly has found a groove in that “out-there” style of performance. It nearly nabbed him the 2014 Emmy, but it was Cranston’s last dance with the pantheon show Breaking Bad.
As for Woody Harrelson, he was the perfect counterpart to his partners doom and gloom. I particularly found amusing their attempt at on the job male bonding. Harrelson dead pan looks at the sheer ludicrousness of his partners view on humanity and their back and forth jabs at each other brought a welcomed light to such a dark show. He was the perfect balance to McConaughey. But it wasn’t just these two, I found every villain or low-life scum in the detective’s way to be worth the squeeze; Dewall, Reggie Ledoux, Charlie Lange and the biker drug-addict Ginger. And I cannot forget to mention the two investigating officers, as Michael Potts (Det. Gilbough) and Tory Kittles (Det. Papania) were solid as well (you’ll see their other shows on this list as well).
Defining Moment: “The Tracking Shot”
This for me takes the cake. By the end of this scene, I was clutching the couch with white knuckles and absolutely on edge with tense feeling I couldn’t quite shake. What the hell just happened?! Only a minute later as I began to come down was I told that this scene was a single tracking shot that lasted 6 minutes!! No edits, no cuts. Just 6 minutes of pure perfection. It is considered one of the greatest tracking shots ever done.
Season Plot Arc: 6
I’ve sang some pretty high praises of Season 1. But if I had to point out a flaw, it’d have to be how the story seemed to stall in the final episodes before the finale. And I get it, not every show can continue to build the tension and anticipation episode after episode. True Detective started out a little slow but that was necessary for the plot, then it ramped of with the pursuit of Ledoux and the first rumblings of “The Yellow King”. In my opinion the story really peaked after episodes 4 and 5. And it makes sense, the 1995 storyline was always a little bit more interesting. Almost an origins story on how present day Rust and Marty came to be. Like what exactly led to Cohle looking like this in 2012? I myself felt a waning interest when the show veered towards the “Rust did it” arc. I thought it was a cop out, it was too easy for us to believe that storyline and yet the show did it anyways. It also delved into the demise of Marty Hart as well. Not unwatchable but also not like both the detectives going undercover in a highly dangerous drug mulling biker gang. I will give them credit for keeping the pacing going with the Yellow King storyline and Carcosa. In those weeks leading up to the finale, every possible scenario was thrown out on who was the man behind the curtain and his monster who did his bidding.
There are times when the anticipation for a certain event or closure of a show are at a fever pitch. Breaking Bad experienced this when they concluded their series run. The reveal of “The Carver” in Nip/Tuck’s Season 3 finale was up there as well. Unfortunately, the reality almost never matches the hype. This was the case for the True Detective finale. The whole series we were pulled by this carrot of the Yellow King of Carcosa. We finally knew who the monster at the end of the tunnel was as Errol Childress was revealed at the end of episode 7 to be the man with the horrible scars. Their pursuit of the Childress into the hellish labyrinth that was Carcosa definitely lived up to its billing visually. Even the final showdown between good and evil in that open tower was pretty amazing to take in. This inherently evil monster that seemed to have super human strength only added the lore that was built up around him. But when good prevailed and Marty and Rust dramatically defeated the monster. I was left feeling a little let down. Who was the Yellow King? Where was this cult of wealthy devil worshipers? The finale ends with both Rust and Marty improbably surviving and recovering at Lafayette General. Marty helps Rust outside so he can look at the stars. Rust goes on another monologue about life and what he saw of the after-life. It hits him pretty hard. And he even leaves with some optimism, “if you ask me, the light is winning”.
But to not even touch the subject of who the true Yellow King was, even after leaving clue after clue was disappointing to say the least. But all in all, it was a good finale, not epic but at the end of the day I felt that I finished something that was special. And that means something more to me, the experience, that is what will stay with me forever.