So when did I know that I was watching greatness? I was certainly hooked from minute one, but the second they switched the past scenes from 1995 to 2002 I knew that I was really watching something special. At the show’s core, it is simple a cop drama. What sets it apart from the literally hundreds of other shows of the same variety? First and foremost are the characters. Has there ever been a more character driven show on tv? Sure the story is really great, but the characters are what make it so. Martin Hart (Harrelson) and Rustin Cohle (McConaughey) are two of the best characters I have ever seen. Why? Because they were real. Not like as in “based on a true story” real, but real as in the fact that these were real men. Bromance was a fun term that has been overused and ridden into the ground, and Hart and Cohle took the term and turned it on it’s head. This wasn’t a buddy cop show. It was about two real men that were vastly different that were brought together over a common goal and we see the 17 year evolution of the relationship and how it eventually leads to actual friendship. Hart was a man that may not have believed in honor at home, but he damn sure believed in it at work. He was a good cop with a sense of loyalty and duty to his partner but was being ripped apart by his home life with his family, which even he knew was his own doing. Cohle was a brilliant mind and brilliant detective that was bound by loyalty and duty, not to the job, but to the victims and to himself. Cohle was a man that was being ripped apart because of his lack of a family that was shattered when his daughter was killed in a tragic accident.
Hart and Cohle didn’t always have to like each other. In fact, the incredible journey it took for them to actually like one another was one of the best parts of the show. But their relationship as partners was that of a teammate. You may not like each other, but you do respect each other. And God help anybody that messes with the one if it’s not the other. Hart’s tolerance and eventual acceptance of Cohle’s existential psycho-babble is hilarious to watch. Cohle, like a true guy and friend, covers for Hart when he is out fooling around, but in the same sense, is also man enough to tell Hart he is an idiot for screwing up something that he himself misses dearly. The final episode of the season is the best episode for many reasons, but one of the main ones is the pair’s interaction with each other after they have at long last accepted one another. Every guy, and any woman close with a guy, can relate to Hart and Cohle’s discussion about their fight that happened years ago. Ten years later and Hart still wants to know if Cohle held back in their fight. Ten years later and he still wants him to know that he could take him. Fast forward to the hospital, where they insult each other and flip each other off as a sign of friendship and respect, or Hart giving Cohle a gift and it’s his brand of cigarettes. That’s what guys do. It’s sometimes idiotic and it’s sometime’s childish and it’s always egotistical, but it’s real. The realism that these two brought to the screen is almost unmatched in tv and it set True Detective apart.
Equally important to True Detective’s greatness is the way the story is told and it’s pacing. Cary Fukunaga’s direction was brilliant. True Detective was a REALLY dark show. And everything from the lighting and set design, to the written dialogue did a masterful job of conveying that tone. But to stand above all other crime dramas, the mystery had to stand beyond all others and it certainly did. From minute one, the gruesome and bizarre murder of Dora Lange captivated us. But as the story began to take us into the world of the parishes deep inside the Louisiana Bayou, the story got creepier and more intriguing. There were cults, gangs, meth dealers, and even a deep rooted political conspiracy. True Detective had it all and it let it unfold at a slow deliberate pace that kept us constantly yearning for more.
The true brilliance of the storytelling was really captured when they split it into three parts. Much of the early episodes are spent in 1995, with the middle being in 2002 and the last few episodes in the present (2012). Not only was this a brilliant way to lay out the case for us so that we didn’t miss a detail, it added a whole new mystery to the story for us. The mystery of Hart and Cohle. From the very beginning we see there is a drastic difference in Hart and Cohle in the present compared to the past. What turned Cohle from a brilliant but troubled young detective into an obsessed alcoholic with delusions of grandeur? Why does Hart seem so much more put together now? Why do they seem to have a resentment toward each other? Why are they even being questioned about a 17 year old case? To be honest, I had NO idea what was going on with this show during the first two episodes. There were so many questions raised as the two separate mysteries began to unfold. I just knew that I was watching two amazing characters and I HAD to know what happened to them. And watching the mystery of Hart and Cohle unfold was every bit as satisfying as the search for the Yellow King.
While the storytelling and the characters were the heart of True Detective, they were just ideas and words on a page. The show was able to achieve true greatness for one reason. The acting. Matthew McConaughey just won an Oscar here at the start of 2014. Mark it down now, he will win the 2014 Emmy for his portrayal as Rustin Cohle. The race is over. They shouldn’t even nominate other people. His ability to portray one of the more complex and deep characters I have ever seen at three different stages in his life is awe inspiring. If they do nominate someone else, it absolutely should be Woody Harrelson for his portrayal of Marty Hart. Harrelson kept up with McConaughey’s brilliance stride for stride, hindered only by the fact that his character isn’t as dynamic as Cohle. Together, they put on an acting clinic that all tv shows will try in vain to keep up with. Sure there were some other great small roles. Michelle Monaghan as Maggie Hart was particularly great for what she needed to be. Yet, McConaughey and Harrelson were asked to carry this show and make it something special. And they delivered.
When the show ended, I didn’t even know what to do with myself. It really is one of my favorite feelings when a show leaves me that way, as it doesn’t happen often. The end of the show was perfect. I said before just how incredibly dark this show was, and Hart and Cohle’s surprisingly hopeful discussion about light and dark was the perfect ending. To see how far they had come as individuals was moving. Hart’s joyous breakdown as his family finally comes back to him is subtle, yet powerful. And Cohle, who has verbally denounced any sort of after life, and who never allows a chink in his emotional armor, finally comes to grip with his daughter’s death and his emotional state and finds reason not just to survive, but to live. Their acceptance that they got their man, but that they didn’t get them all, and they never would was brilliant. There would be no grandiose standoff with Governor Tuttle. They had got their killer, and it would have to be enough. That’s a brave ending. It’s maybe not what we wanted to happen, but it’s a real ending. They went through two decades of hell and they came out on the other side as better men. That is what makes the finale of True Detective, just like the rest of the show, stand out as one of the best of all time. It’s real, and in that realism we have grown ourselves through our shared journey. That is true greatness.