Warning: Contains some spoilers
A bizarre ritual murder in a small Louisiana town. Characters exchange meaningful looks or stare off into the middle distance. There’s dust, trailer parks and a score by T-Bone Burnett. And nobody smiles.
It’s clear from the outset that HBO’s new drama True Detective is going to be dark, edgy and serious. People swallow their drinks very loudly and say improbable things like ‘this town looks like a memory of a town that’s fading’ or ‘I don’t sleep I just dream’ as freight trains wail in the background. Only characters in serious edgy dramas talk this way.
Episode 1 unfolds partially in flashback as two detectives, Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey), are interviewed separately about events that took place 17 years before. Back then they had only been partners for 3 months; Marty the solid experienced cop who loves his family and who you’d want to have a beer with, Rust his intense yet controlled, younger corduroy-wearing partner.
They are called to the scene of a murder – a young prostitute killed and posed in a way that suggests a ritual killing and, potentially, a serial killer. As they begin their investigation it becomes clear that McConaughey’s Rust is a man on the edge just waiting to unravel – the signs of his self-destructive inner turmoil (has there ever been a serious TV detective who isn’t afflicted with self-destructive inner turmoil?) are littered throughout this first episode – he had a daughter who died, he has a drinking problem, he takes Quaaludes, he’s disliked by his colleagues, he knows an awful lot about ritual murder.
Marty appears to be the stable one – or is he? In one brief scene there’s the suggestion of an affair and his marriage to wife Maggie (Michelle Monaghan) is perhaps not as solid as it seems.
As the narrative switches between present day and the past, the mystery of what happened between Marty and Rust becomes more compelling than the murder, which feels almost secondary. What caused the apparent bad blood between them, according to Harrelson’s character they haven’t spoken for 10 years? What pushed Rust Cohle over the edge and turned him into the crazy-haired derelict sucking on every cigarette as if his life depended on it and drinking Lone Star beer? I need to know.
It’s beautifully shot and the sense of place and atmosphere it evokes is palpable. It has a stellar cast, McConaughey in particular is mesmerising, and the dynamic between the two leads compelled me to keep watching. It’s moody, creepy and packed to its Southern Gothic gills with clichés but I loved it.
I can’t wait for Episode 2.