Midway through watching “The Long Bright Dark,” right after Rust Cohle’s monologue about human consciousness being “a tragic misstep in evolution,” I wrote down a simple question: “Do I want to watch many hours of Matthew McConaughey saying this stuff?”
It was already clear by that point that McConaughey was doing something special with his haunted performance as Cohle, that he was well-matched by his pal Woody Harrelson, and that Nic Pizzolatto and Cary Fukunaga brought a distinct voice and eye, respectively, to the project. But it also seemed like an awful lot of talent being thrown at material that’s been done to death in the last few years of television(*), and do we really need an A-list version of “Criminal Minds”?
(*) Pizzolatto at least demonstrates a sense of humor at times about the show’s use of tropes, like Hart’s explanation to the 2012 cops about how all cops fit certain familiar categories; when asked which type he was, he says, “Oh, I was just a regular-type dude with a big-ass dick.”
In time, of course, I fell pretty hard for the show, not only because the use of the talent was just so overwhelming, but because Pizzolatto’s stated lack of interest in serial killers was apparent even before I interviewed him about the show. Cohle and Hart are looking for the man who put the (very “Hannibal”-esque) deer antlers on the body of Dora Lange, but “True Detective” is mainly focusing on Cohle and Hart themselves.
I really like the interview structure, and not just because one of the two modern detectives is played by Brother Mouzone himself, Michael Potts (in an episode that also featured a brief appearance by Clarke Peters as the preacher). Not only does it allow both of our leads to explain themselves at length – at times offering a version of the story different from the one we’re actually seeing – but the younger cops’ insistence on getting every last detail suggests these aren’t just routine interviews. By the end of the episode, in fact, it’s pretty strongly implied that they’re looking at Cohle himself as a suspect in their current case. And despite Cohle’s protestations that he’s not a maniac, there is something very dark and broken beneath that McConaughey-looking exterior, to the point where you can see why he might be a person of interest all these years later.
I’m honestly not sure how I’m going to cover this show weekly (especially as I recover from my ankle injury), because it’s such an odd beast and because its interest in the mystery at times feels casual. But I do know that I want there to be a place for discussion of it, so I’ll find something to post here every Sunday for the next couple of months, and we can try to unlock the show together. Right now, I’m curious for your reactions. Many of the advance reviews were raves like mine, but others were mixed, from people who never let go of the reservations I had early in the premiere. Did you feel McConaughey lived up to the hype? Are you interested in the mystery and the 1995/2012 structure? Would you rather all these people were working on a project with a different subject? Or were you hooked early on?
Have at it.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com