Let's Discuss: The First Season of 'True Detective'

I’ll admit it. I was late to the party last year when everyone -- critics and acquaintances included, were raving over the premiere season of HBO’s anthology series. Having caught a brief glimpse of the show several minutes into its runtime and completely out of context, I had pretty much written it off after it failed to immediately captivate.

Upon hearing a review from a trusted source who had responded similarly, it backed up that initial response. Making the decision to skip it, in spite of all of the buzz last season, a seemingly apt move. It was a choice that brought with it -- its own nagging feeling that it was a bad one.

Having been a fan of the cast involved, it seemed an impossible failure, although stranger things have happened. As it turns out recently giving the series a second chance has been one of the most rewarding entertainment investments of my TV-watching “career.”

The biggest lesson I learned having marathon watched the entire first season over the course of three days is that you should never judge a show based on the sliver of a snippet. Not to mention making the cardinal sin of not watching something from the beginning.

It is an inherent rule that allows for one to acclimate to the tone and pacing. Thus, minimizing any initial disconcertion. So, what spurred the overturned verdict? It was watching the premiere of the second season.

Getting an initial sense of series creator Nic Pizzaloto’s style and how effectively he utilized his cast in the season premiere, threw doubt on how he could have possibly misused the behemoth talents of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. Throwing caution to the wind, the in-demand button became a familiar friend.

Starting with the pilot, the engagement was immediate. The plot was dark, the writing sharp; the dialogue rich with realistic banter and deft philosophical abandon that never rambled.

The two lead characters were easy to root for. The kind of guys that seemed to walk right off the streets of real life. All while simultaneously brimming with a majestic Hollywood aura that piqued interest.

The non-linear format took viewers between timelines with a mercurial bent that flawlessly flowed from one time period to the other. A task few mediums succeed with. 

Opening where these guys ended up as they took present-day detectives and viewers back to where it all began -- the series jumped back in time. Not just to the origins of their partnership but the integral case they had been working, all of those years ago.

From the first episode, you have questions. Why are they not partners anymore? Is Marty still with his wife? Why has the once put-together Rust let himself go to this degree?

Their tentative start as partners left one wondering as to whether they could or would ever become friends. Theirs, is a bromance that’s outcome, is not so certain. What happened between these two in between the past and present?

The portrait of these two very different individuals, struggling with life’s big problems and trying to make sense of it all, carried with it tremendous moments of pathos and humor.

Coming together for a common goal, they drift through lives that have seen arduous person turmoil and at times, self-made catastrophe. They are self-destructive and simultaneously desperate to hold it all together. As much conflict as there was, there was also a lot of ruminating, soul searching, and a compelling philosophical bent to its rhetoric. Did they really believe everything they were saying? 

As an exposition on the perspective of the modern male, it was fascinating. Questions surrounding primal masculinity, native sensual drive, and the desire to evolve past a role as “sentient meat” all coalesced to create one explosive scene after another. This is what great television does. It asks questions, not just of its characters but of its audience.

As much as Rust Cohle seemed to be preaching, he was probing. Throwing his theories out to whoever would listen to see if his philosophical notions could withstand the heat of thoughtful opposition. In Marty, he found a true sparring partner, not willing to readily back down and open-minded enough to keep listening even when he wanted to shrug it off.

These characters were complex; raw in their human simplicity and equally captivating when displaying their more complicated sides. In Rust, you saw a highly intelligent individual, understandably worn down and disillusioned with the world. At the same time, he remained resolutely optimistic in his pursuit of justice for a case that others might have lacked determination in solving.

While in Marty, you saw an incredibly compassionate and demonstrative family man with a rough side that did not easily suffer foolishness or evil. Emotionally tormented by his job, he desperately tried to separate his two lives as they helplessly hemorrhaged into each other.

McConaughey and Harrelson were riveting. McConaughey downright mesmeric; as he disappeared into Cohle’s gripping skin. At times shaded with a bit of his go-for-broke performance in “Killer Joe,” it is the tenderness that comes through in somber waves that caught one off guard. Cohle was complicated, a cacophony of harsh and broken, reconciled and wandering.

Harrelson was the season’s one-two punch. Without him, McConaughey’s work does not soar to the levels it ventures too. He creates a characterization with all of the panache and bravado McConaughey manages. As a team, they are an unstoppable dynamo.

This installment of the series sticks with you, haunting your thoughts long after its finished. As it unfolded, the feeling you were watching something so exquisitely unique, a true lightning in a bottle piece of art was overwhelming.

In keeping with its name, the series was “true” to its characters, never hitting a false note. A rare gem such as this is truly something to behold, and I’m happy to have finally experienced it. No matter the disappointment that season two was, viewers, will always have the masterpiece that was season one to fall back on.

[Featured Image by HBO]