Thoughts on True Detective (Season One)

The first season of True Detective is carried by the strength of the actors. Without the strong performances turned in by Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, and Michelle Monaghan (on the rare occasion she's given something to do) the show would collapse under the weight of the script's overindulgent philosophical soliloquies and metafictional meanderings.

This isn't a formal analysis of the show and I've only watched it once, but I have a few thoughts, some of which might even be meaningful. Spoilers abound.

"Time is a flat circle. Everything we have done or will do we will do over and over and over again—forever."

In the mid-season climax Hart and Cohle disregard proper procedure, rush into a confrontation with their suspects, and end up killing their only link to a wider conspiracy of pedophilia, rape, and murder, allowing the true culprits to escape justice. In the season finale Hart and Cohle disregard proper procedure, rush into a confrontation with their suspects, et cetera. But it's okay, because Cohle almost dies and has an epiphany that maybe life doesn't completely suck. Cohle's like, "Hey, what about all the evidence that this was a massive conspiracy with people at multiple levels of government covering up gang rapes perpetrated by more men than the three we've murdered?" and Hart is like "Nah, bro, my mangst is assuaged now, let's not worry about that," and Cohle's like, "Okay, sounds good to me, bro. The light's winning."

It's an unsettling ending. The literary tradition of cosmic horror that brings us the King in Yellow and Carcosa teaches us that happy endings require giving up the pursuit of knowledge, because there are things that you are better off not knowing. This is in tension with the title of the show (detectives are supposed to uncover the truth) and Cohle's repudiation of his earlier belief in an uncaring universe where consciousness is a grand error. The little priest settling for killing one evil man seems insufficient.

"It's like, in this universe we process time linearly forward. Outside of our space-time, from what would be a 4th-dimensional perspective, time wouldn't exist. And from that vantage, could we attain it, we'd see our space-time would look flattened, like a single sculpture with matter in a superposition of every place it ever occupied."

True Detective fails the Bechdel test. Just as in M-theory a hypothetical observer with the correct perspective could view the entire worldvolume of a brane as a sculpture, True Detective's universe is a sculpture that we can step back and see the whole of. It is the story of two men and their pain, and there is no room for women unless they're intersecting our protagonists. This choice of focus is intentional and core to how Nic Pizzolatto wants to tell the story, but that doesn't mean I have to love his choices. In the same way Childress incorporates his victims into his sculpture of Carcosa as literal objects, the writer incorporates women into the show as agencyless objects of desire or control.

"Do you wonder ever if you're a bad man?"

Here, Hart is talking about being a bad person, but since he's a walking, talking personification of toxic masculinity it's hard not to read something else into it. "A man's game charges a man's price," he says as he brutalises two teenage boys for having sex with his daughter. He's fucking Alexandra Daddario's character Lisa behind his wife's back, but in a fit of jealousy breaks into Lisa's apartment and threatens the man she's with for encroaching on what he sees as his property. Hart has a particular conception of masculinity that warps all of his relationships, which is the main reason that he's a bad person.