Season one of True Detective follows two detectives in the Louisiana State Police’s Criminal Investigations Division: Rustin Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson). Hart is a career law enforcement man, who describes himself as “steady” and dedicated. Cohle is a recent transfer to the CID from a classified law enforcement program in Texas. Cohle is a brilliant but reclusive man, who rather lacks conventional social skills, considering most of the people around him to be idiots, and only taking joy in his work.
In 1995, Hart and Cohle are called to investigate a murder in a backwater part of rural Louisana. They find a dead woman tied to a tree, with a crown of antlers on her head. Local law enforcement is stumped by the lack of evidence and satanic symbols surrounding the murder, forcing them to call on the state police for aid. This case becomes the focus of Hart and Cohle’s professional lives, haunting them for over 17 years. The story is actually told in a series of flashbacks starting in 2012 by the now retired Cohle and Hart.
Although at first glance True Detective seems like a rank and file crime drama series, it's really more of a character study of Cohle and Hart. In a sense, the satanic murders play second fiddle to the odd and twisted partnership of Cohle and Hart. Cohle is haunted by many demons, including the loss of his two year old daughter. Her loss drove him to near madness, leading him to become a nihilist, believing that there is no point in human existence. During many of the episodes, Cohle stares out the window of the cop car and muses about the futility of existence, to the chagrin of Hart. Marty Hart prides himself in being the “normal” one in his partnership with Cohle, with a loving wife and two young daughters. However, as the series progresses, Hart proves himself to be a less than wholesome figure as he is revealed to be a serial philanderer.
Perhaps what I love most about True Detective is the atmosphere that it creates. Much of the series takes place deep in rural Louisiana, in bayou territory. The buildings are worn and crumbling, and the people subscribe to a mysticism that feels older than Christianity. The murky atmosphere of the bayou is the perfect place to stage a conspiracy involving satanic murders and abuse. With their own rather questionable morals, Cohle and Hart are the perfect pair of detectives to deal with this rather dangerous conspiracy.
Of course, Matthew McConaughey is the star of season one, nearly flawlessly portraying Detective Rust Cohle. McConaughey is able to capture so much of Cohle’s pain and anguish, whilst also giving the outward sense that everything is under control. Season one takes places over 17 years, and as the years pass by, Cohle’s inner darkness weighs on him, making him more and more jaded. What makes True Detective exceptional is its slow pace and attention to detail. Unlike a Sherlock Holmes mystery, the crime is not solved in a week using an almost magical sense of deduction and extremely convenient clues. Moreover, the case has a visible psychological effect on the detectives. True Detective is one of the finest examples of crime drama television, featuring moral ambiguity, complicated, nuanced characters and a thrilling mystery. This show is a must see for any TV aficionado.