True Detective, above all else; beyond its crime/thriller/mystery narrative, is an intricate character study. The psychoanalysis of the characters that populate its story is the primary conceit; the plot of Dora Lange’s murder, along with Hart and Cohle’s investigation into it, is what enables this viewing platform into their characters. Papania and Gilbough’s questions often glean more about the two men on the other end of them than they do of the case itself.
Rust Cohle’s persistent philosophising on the human condition often refers to how we habitually avert our gazes from the rationalistic truths of our existence in favour of fanciful notions and ideals, but he is unable to introspect quite as critically. His own condition is only ever vaguely remarked upon; reducing his synaesthesia, insomnia, and whatever else he’s addled with to dismissive diagnoses: ‘PTSD, exhausted nerves, whatever.’
He circumvents his own adage of ‘truth’ by projecting it onto the rest of the world; blinded to it by their delusions of grandeur, with him the only one that can see clearly through this illusion. Cohle’s elliptical personal reflections; the mother that’s “maybe” alive, and the daughter that he lost, summate Cohle as a person who diverts his scrutiny outwards, because what’s inwards is too traumatic to confront. He does not fully acknowledge that truth of himself; his past, and the demons it’s left him to contend with.
His candid remark about Hart’s apparent infidelity corroborates this precept of truth. Both he and Hart are aware of the facts, but Cohle’s snide reproof of it (‘Wash up. You got some pussy on you’) is at odds with Hart’s vindicating belief that his perceived misdeed is no such thing if there’s an upshot to it.
With this aversive view of his wrongdoing, Hart retains the perception of himself as an altogether good man. He even defensively dubs his wife, Maggie (Michelle Monaghan), “ball-buster” in a further attempt to embellish his actions during one very telling exchange. She is the constraint, and his mistress, Lisa (Alexandra Daddario) the extirpation of that; a temporary reprieve from the curtailment of his inclinations that he finds at work and at home. Lisa’s use of handcuffs and a parodied rendition of the Miranda warning are a metaphor for this perception of constraint elsewhere in his life. His adultery is not, then, in an attempt to improve his familial relations so much as it is a self-serving catharsis for the inhibitive restrictions placed upon him. He is oblivious to Maggie’s subtly suspicious glances and remarks; he is ignorant to the little details, which belie his belief that his adulterous activities ameliorate his home life.
Despite the seeming antipodal nature of these two characters; the equable, abstruse Rust Cohle, and the virile Martin Hart, they are flipsides of the same coin; an insight into man’s fundamental inability to face the unfavourable truths of ourselves.
The symbolism and allegories are rife in True Detective, but that so much of it can be found within the many facets of Hart and Cohle’s characters, and that they are conveyed through such a realist depiction, is a massive credit to Nic Pizzolatto, as is the evermore intriguing murder of Dora Lange.
The ritualistic nature of Dora’s death was apparent from the outset, but it now appears to have been perpetrated by some messianic, cultist figure; the Yellow King. True Detective is avoiding the ‘whodunit’ clichés admirably; the presumed killer has been ambiguously identified, and in such a way that it suggests the killer is someone we’ve still yet to meet.
Papania and Gilbough clearly suspect Rust Cohle, but we’re privy to the events he’s only disclosing to them in selective detail, and it’s made abundantly clear that he’s not the perpetrator (see: his reaction to the horrific mural of Dora Lange that he finds on the burnt down church; the Yellow King’s previous residence). Unless there are some amnesic effects concealing the truth of his crimes even from himself, perhaps involving his synaesthesia, then it would seem he’s nothing more than a red herring at this point.
Compelling; best sums up True Detective. It’s fascinatingly unconventional, and just about perfect in all regards. It doesn’t demand that close attention be paid to all the little details, but it does reward it. It can be enjoyed as just raw entertainment, or it can be closely inspected to unearth all the pieces of symbolism; the metaphors and the allegories, further enhancing your experience watching it. I simply can’t recommend this programme enough for casual viewers and television aficionados alike.