True Detective Series Premiere Review: “The Long Bright Dark” (Season 1, Episode 1)

True Detective

It was quite a night for Matthew McConaughey this evening. Not only did the Texan performer win Best Actor at the Golden Globes for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, but his new series True Detective also premiered on HBO. While McConaughey may get the flashier part of the two leads roles, between himself and co-star Woody Harrelson we have what is instantaneously one of the most complex partnerships in modern TV police dramas. The series itself, so far, is a slow burn of an affair. As interested, if not more interested, in how two very different men work together on the job, as opposed to solving a grisly homicide in the coastal plain of Louisiana.

First, a tip of the hat to the production team and director Cary Fukunaga (Jane Eyre), because this show looks amazing. The cinematography is stark and vivid and the desaturated colour palette adds to the effect of memory created by the series’ conceit: a police case supposedly solved in 1995 may have implications on a new case in 2012. Stylistically, True Detective is akin to David Fincher’s Zodiac and Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal. I was especially reminded of the latter not just for the show’s central crime scene, but in the way it seems to paint McConaughey’s character, Det. Rust Cohle, as a haunted man whose past influences his insights and effectiveness on the job. The show’s score, meanwhile, is not so much a piece of music as it is a white noise generator, but it’s still eerie and overly effective.

The concept, by creator Nic Pizzolatto, whose previous credit was the AMC series The Killing, is that Rust and his former partner Martin Hart (Harrelson) are being interviewed by detectives in 2012 about a case they worked on in 1995; the ritualistic murder of Dora Lange. Dora was found bound in a kneeling position, naked, with antlers affixed to her head, in a burnt out sugar cane field. With some fanaticism over the idea that this might be the work of Satanism, Rust and Martin are pressured to come up with answers. From the excerpts that take place in 2012, we know that they arrested someone, but the detectives they’re talking to have just found a new body, and the specifics are eerily similar to the ’95 case.