‘True Detective’: Striking the Right Kind of Balance

Published 1 year ago by

Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in True Detective season 1 episode 2 True Detective: Striking the Right Kind of Balance

[This is a review of True Detective season 1, episode 2. There will be SPOILERS.]


About midway through the second episode of True Detective, it becomes clear that the series isn’t as much about reaching a particular destination as the title might suggest. There are still plenty questions regarding the whodunit aspect of Dora Lange’s murder, but in ‘Seeing Things,’ the investigation soon feels like an accompanying aspect that will be picked up later; it is the vehicle from which Nic Pizzolatto sends his characters into the study of one another and of themselves. By the time Cohle has had his third hallucination in the span of a television hour, and he and Hart are peeling overgrowth from the only standing wall of a charred church, the murder is just as much the motive for these two men to do their sworn duty, as it is for Cohle to digress into some theoretical truth-seeking.

What makes the series stand out at this early juncture, then, isn’t the ongoing search for whoever murdered Dora Lange and so diligently adorned her with antlers and the kind occult iconography – or satanic graffiti that has Louisiana’s Governor Tuttle ready to assign a special task force to the case. Instead, the prominent aspect of the series so far has been the way Cohle and Hart embody the two facets True Detective is so eager to convey – which is: a solid mixture of philosophical (bordering on wearisome) introspection, with a healthy dose of the prurient coarseness that’s only found on such pay-cable destinations.

That kind of balance is not entirely unlike the claptrap coming from Hart in his interview with Papiana and Gilbough, about how, as a detective, you have to “decompress” and “get your head right,” which, for Marty inevitably means stopping by the bar for a few drinks with some work buddies, and then heading over to his mistress’ apartment with a pair of handcuffs and a bottle of booze. According to Det. Hart: It’s for the good of the family.

Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in Seeing Things True Detective season 1 epiosde 2 True Detective: Striking the Right Kind of Balance

In that sense, in spite of the disparity between them, there’s something about Rust and Marty that’s the same: They both know themselves, but filter that truth in dramatically different ways; neither of which is terribly acceptable on a social level. Marty walks into work with some self-loathing to do, after an evening of doing something for the good of his family with a court reporter (Alexandra Daddario, Percy Jackson), while Rust’s penchant for brutal honesty begins to paint the darkness that follows him everywhere in an impossibly deeper shade of black. “I can do terrible things to people with impunity, he tells a pill-popping prostitute in one instance, and then belittles Marty’s self-serving “moment of decency” with another young prostitute, after they manage to locate the Ranch thanks to Cohle’s impeccable “eye for weakness.”

The opposing forces that are Hart and Cohle, help to keep the series and its contrasting elements in check. Deep down, though, the balance in True Detective is how it delivers its entertainment in structured doses of pulpiness that alternately reads like a dime store paperback and a senior thesis. There’s plenty of mystery yet to be solved, but there’s plenty of thinking on that subject yet to be done as well.


True Detective continues next Sunday with ‘The Locked Room’ @9pm on HBO.

Photo: Michele K. Short/HBO

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  1. I love this show so far. Now I will say that overall there really hasn’t been THAT much that has happened, but overall its an intense and dark show. I love it. The dark complexity of McConaughey’s character against the firm morals of Harrelson’s. Both are great. And man, there are few detective shows that have actually scared me like this one. No it’s not a horror show, but it plays like one, and the mystery of this “satanic” killing is freaky. Can’t wait for next week!

  2. Loving it so far

  3. The beauty is the dichotomy between the two time periods. Cohle being presented as the unstable one is the earlier segment, Hart very much the unstable one in the latter. It is abundantly clear something happened between the two that superseded the actual conclusion of the case. The genius then is the balance that so many shows find impossible to do. That of the sedate nature of the character study in contrast to the necessity of momentum the plot itself demands.

    Both the main cast are sublime. Okay, Woody Harrelson is Woody Harrelson. Many of his roles are variants on similar characters. But that is not a criticism. Always coming across as one of the most relaxed, likeable performers, his familiarity automatically puts the viewer at ease. I absolutely believe this is intentional for the reason stated in the first paragraph. McConaughey though is just startling and is in many ways the moral center of the story. Clearly damaged by influences and events he describes himself, it presents the one fundamental question the show left me with as the episode finished.

    Which one of the two is going to lose it first?
    (my money is on Hart)

    • I think that what is brilliant about this show is the fact that both Hart and Cohle harbor a similar darkness that has manifested itself in different ways. Hart holds on to a double life where he plays the family man by day while still womanizing on his off time to “decompress” as he puts it. His moral outrage and seeming soft spot for the underage hooker (that Cohle picked up on and needled him about), shows the dichotomy of the character. The scene where he sees his daughters haves set up what looks like a mock gang-rape painted a picture of what must be one of his greatest fears, and that is the dirt he sees at work following him home.

      Cohle on the other hand clearly went over the edge and never really came back fully. His nihilism and drug induced trips are how he copes with a world he seems to be indifferent too at best and probably hates most days. Why he even still cares enough to investigate cases is going to paint a better picture of what he is about, but I suspect it is just another addiction that keeps him going and stops him from killing himself in a more expedient manner. At a point that might be what keeps him from wanting to let this case go and helps drag him and Hart further into something neither will come out of completely whole.

  4. wow… i know this is immature but ol’ girl from percy jackson was gorgeous… just wow…wow.

    • YEP!!!

  5. As the layers peel away you can see that despite what Hart thinks him and Cohle aren’t all that different.
    I noticed in this episode (I’m sure everyone else did last week) that Hart isn’t wearing a wedding ring in the 2012 segments so while wee can plainly see what has happened to Cohle there’s a lot more to be learned about Hart.

    • One of the interesting things about the way this story is being told is that we are seeing what happened in the past, but is that what is being conveyed to the police doing the interviews. The way Hart is telling the story to the other two cops he has not really indicated the details of all of his possible misdeeds, we as the audience are privy to them though. Cohle looks like a mile of bad road, is drinking during the interviews and admitted to much of his bad behavior before and during the investigation. Hart may just be trying to keep appearances like he always has and may be telling the story that way.

      • @ Slayer

        That’s exactly how I’m seeing it…
        While there is obviously quite a lot to still be learned about both men, after these first 2 episodes and as the season progresses I think Hart will be the more interesting study.

        With Cohle everything is laid out in front of you and all you have to do is ask the right questions. He sees no reason to cover up or pretends to have any misgivings about who he was then and why he is where he is today.

        Hart on the other hand seems to be putting on a front in both narratives. There’s the man he wants you to see and believe he is but he’s almost oblivious to the fact that you can see right through him and if he gets the sense that you do he’ll deflect the conversation or situation to where he wants it to be.