I never watched True Detective when it was originally airing, nor have I seen it up until now. All I knew about the series prior to beginning was that it starred Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in critically acclaimed roles for both of them and that it was about detectives solving a murder. Little did I know that by taking the plunge and firing up the first episode of this show would start me down the path of creating this column.
"The Long Bright Dark"
Character development is a serious problem for modern television dramas. Too often, essential roles are atrociously characterized, leading viewers to rely on the story alone to carry a show. True Detective not only disregards this unfortunate trend, it spits in the face of the very idea. In one episode, both Detectives Hart and Cohle are incredibly and astonishingly fleshed out without show creator and writer Nick Pizzolatto losing any of the core depth that frames the story structure.
The story itself – a murder case involving a ritualized killing and occult display – moves at a snails pace because it must. Real murder investigations take a lot of time, and Pizzolatto does a phenomenal job of making a little bit of information feel as important and necessary to the case as any new piece of evidence would in real life. Crimes of this magnitude aren't solved in 45 minutes.
Matthew McConaughey’s Rustin Cohle is a paradox that acknowledges and accepts his own duality. He doesn’t care what others believe about the world because his personal philosophy points to a universal truth that precludes opinions and emotions; Cohle's an asshole because he doesn’t care. It’s this same “flaw” that makes him such an incredibly observant detective. At the beginning of "The Long Bright Dark", Hart (Woody Harrelson) warns Cohle of adding his own narrative to the case, something that quickly becomes a moot point as viewers are shown how Cohle sees the world; he could never attach emotion to a case because he doesn’t believe in emotional nuance. This doesn’t mean he can’t feel anything, only that he usually disregards those feelings.
Harrelson as Detective Martin Hart is a testament to the man’s acting chops. Hart is a Louisiana man through and through, but his good, Christian, country boy persuasions are coming under scrutiny by a man he doesn’t even like. Hart is an everyman that doesn’t yet understand that he wants to understand more. Hart has convinced himself that he’s happy, when in reality, the weight of his job crushes him far more than he wants to admit, and Cohle’s unique worldview challenges everything Hart has ever known.
The dialogue, especially, is what makes “The Long Bright Dark” such an effective and engrossing first episode. Clever, witty dialogue and comedy aren’t mutually exclusive, and Pizzolatto knows this very basic concept. Cohle’s lines are meant to seemingly refined, only rough when examined closely. Hart wears his heart on his sleeve because it isn’t incredibly vivid anyway. The interactions between these two characters foreshadows a long case that pits their ideological differences against each other.