Having spent four days bingeing on the 8 episodes of HBO’s True Detective (season 1) I was left bemused by the weak finale but otherwise in awe of the faultless acting of this superbly sustained TV drama.
The contrasting personalities of homicide cops Martin ‘Marty’ Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rustin ‘Rust’ Spencer (Matthew McConaughey) create a genuine sense of tension.
The mismatched pair travel down the lost highways of Louisiana on the trail of a demonic cult and ritualistic murderers.
Their long running investigation takes them into the twisted underbelly of American life where superstition and old-time religion hold sway. The moody atmosphere is helped by a magnificent soundtrack of traditional blues, folk, alt-country and hard-driving rock overseen by the ever reliable T.Bone Burnett.
Brilliantly scripted by Nic Pizzolatto and stylishly directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, the power of the gothic drama is undermined by a ludicrously contrived happy ending which sheds false luminosity onto this journey into the heart of darkness.
The scar-faced killer who escapes justice for so long turns out to be a stereotypical maniac retard. His weirdness is so evident that it beggars belief that the authorities would have been so blind to his role in the depraved murders for so long.
Marty and Rust’s remarkable (i.e, implausible) recoveries from their encounter with this madman lead to a final scene in which Rust is wrapped like a resurrected Christ in a white sheet. After his near death experience, he rises again to walk from his hospital bed spouting some pseudo-religious bunkum about seeing the light.
The transformation is a negation of everything that made McConaughey’s character so riveting. Prior to that I was prepared to rank Rust as one of my all time favourite TV characters. Smart, cynical, and fearless, he sees the world without filter scorning the myriad self deceptions that give illusory notions of happiness to the moral majority. “It’s not the job that made me this way; it’s being this way that made me right for the job”, he says at one point.
The feel good ending is what you would expect from a more mainstream police drama but, after maintaining such a hard-boiled sense of realism, the compromised solution was a let down. Highly recommended for the remaining 8o% nonetheless.