Last night, HBO’s True Detective ended its eight-episode first season. The atmospheric tale of a murder unsolved since 1994 played out like a novel week by week. Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughy star as a pair of Louisiana detectives who thought they had solved a horrific case 20 years ago, but find themselves called into the state police headquarters to recount the old case when a new eerily similar case presents.
The series started begins with the two lead characters as much a mystery as the case they are working, and as Marty (Harrelson) and Rust (McConaughey) discuss the old case and much is revealed about them, their lives the past 20 years and where they now find themselves, we are plunged into the midst of deeply atmospheric Louisiana noir.
Rust in particular is a conundrum. Many years out of police work, he is philosophical, perceptive and very, very smart. But he’s a hard-drinking dropout, tending bar and living in a dump: cynical and bitter, he doesn’t really giving a f**k about much of anything. Like the police re-investigating the 20-year-old ritual murder, I began to wonder if Rust was somehow involved (although I knew in my heart it couldn’t be–there had to be some other explanation).
But as the series began to draw to a conclusion, I felt the tension, so beautifully built up during the first seven or eight episodes, the conflict between Rust and Marty, both personal and professional, began to ebb, then finally sapped completely. The final two episodes were more procedural than anything: the hunting down and capture of a truly despicable madman.
Like a beautifully written novel whose conclusion was reached three chapters before the end, True Detective ended for me on an anti-climactic note. Rust and Marty’s relationship ties up neatly (more or less), and the killer is captured. It’s linear and with few surprises, given the story as it had unfolded. The final scene of the episode: powerful and beautifully acted by McConaughey as he discusses death and life, the stars and the nature of humankind seems a tacked on epilogue, as if the writer realized where the series had come from and where it ended up, needing a return to the air of mystery it had so beautifully developed. Perhaps the series would have been better as a 12 episode run, giving it more room at the end to fully fill its promise.
Despite the flaws, I highly recommend the series for the beautiful writing (if disappointing finish), soaked in Bayou culture and mysticism, high production values, and fabulous performances, especially from McConaughey. True Detective will undoubtedly play again on HBO (and is available through its HBO to Go on-demand service for your binge-viewing pleasure). It will also likely be available on DVD in the coming months if you do not get the premium cable channel. I’ve intentionally not given away major plot points, so that new viewers won’t be too terribly spoiled by this review!