Review: ‘True Detective’ – ‘Seeing Things’

Senior Television Writer
01.19.14 135 Comments


A review of tonight’s “True Detective” coming up just as soon as I’ve got some self-loathing to do this morning…

“I know who I am.” -Cohle

In the Cohle hallucinations that provide “Seeing Things” with its title, “True Detective” introduces yet another element that should arguably push the show into the realm of cartoon – here’s our beautiful, tortured cop hero, who sees lights on the highway as if he’s in a Michael Mann movie, and who sees birds over a crime scene flying in the same pattern tattooed onto Dora Lange’s body – and yet like the names, the monologues, the purple prose and all the rest, it absolutely works. Not only does Cary Fukunaga shoot those scenes as gorgeously as he films everything else, but there’s a matter-of-factness to this fantasy imagery that ties in perfectly with what we know of Rust Cohle so far, and particularly with the tension between him and his partner.

In both 1995 and 2012, Marty Hart presents himself as the folksy, easy-going “regular-type guy with a big-ass dick” who tolerates his partner’s eccentricities because they’re useful to the job, but who couldn’t possibly imagine what it is that makes this lunatic tick. He is, of course, full of crap. We got hints last week of an anger lurking below the good ol’ boy exterior, and here that rage comes to a boil when Rust calls him out on sleeping with his mistress instead of his wife. Everyone views Rust as the crazy half of that partnership, but in that confrontation in the locker room, they’re just different brands of crazy: one cold and composed, one primed to explode.

Through the course of the hour, we make some progress in the case, notably in getting some background on their victim, Dora Lange (including implications – “Why wouldn’t a father bathe his own child?” – that she was molested by her father). What strikes me most about all the investigative scenes, though, is the sense of utter despair that’s palpable in every scene, and in every location the two cops visit. It’s such a poor, ruined corner of their world, and it’s hard to look at some of these people and locations and not understand where Cohle’s nihilism – the belief that creating a child is an act of hubris, “to yank a soul of non-existence into this meat” – might come from.

In fact, we learn an awful lot about where Cohle comes from and what drives him, as he explains to the 2012 detectives(*) how his daughter died, how the accident destroyed his marriage and nearly destroyed his career, and how his extended stay as an undercover cop stripped away whatever was left of him. In 1995, he’s this hollow thing that at least knows how to keep up appearances most of the time – even though he angers Quesada with his response to the religious-themed task force, and has a gift for driving his partner’s blood pressure through the roof (loved Hart’s reaction to Cohle saying his mother was “maybe” still alive) – where by 2012, he doesn’t even care that much. We spent a lot of 2013 joking about TV wigs, whether the infallibility of the ones on “The Americans” or Megan Boone’s incredibly phony one on “The Blacklist,” but the ratty, uneven one McConaughey wears in the 2012 scenes (and the droopy mustache accompanying it) is such a vital part of the wreck this character has become that I can’t imagine making fun of it, even as it vaguely evokes Wooderson.

(*) IMDb lists the two characters as Gilbough (Brouther Mouzone) and Papania (not Brother Mouzone). In my notes, I have thus far generally referred to them by actor name; if/when they become more than just an audience for Cohle and Hart’s monologues, I’ll try to remember what they go by and how to spell it.

Meanwhile, the more we see of Hart’s personal life, the more we can tell just how few answers he genuinely has to how life works. He’s intensely jealous of what his mistress does when he’s not with her, bone mean with his wife when he feels like it (telling Maggie that even her own mother thinks she’s a ballbuster) and so oblivious to what’s going on with his family that it doesn’t feel all that shocking for him to find his daughters’ toys left in what appears to be a gang rape tableau. (Then again, it could just be him, and us, seeing things in the way Cohle does, given the nature of the case and the rest of the show.)

So even though some progress is made in the case, with the ruined church having a familiar-looking antler painting on one of the surviving walls, what we have mostly investigated here are these two men, one of whom claims to have all the answers but really understands almost nothing about himself and his surroundings, the other of whom understands far too well, and has therefore given up. Flip a coin as to which one of them you’d want to be. Neither option seems appealing right now, even as “True Detective” itself only becomes more engrossing in this second installment.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at

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