‘True Detective’ Goes Off Book In More Ways Than One

Published 1 year ago by

Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey in True Detective Season 1 Episode 4 True Detective Goes Off Book In More Ways Than One

[This is a review of True Detective season 1, episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]

When Detective Rust Cohle tells a rather despondent Marty they have to go “off book” in order to get close to their suspect Reggie Ledoux, it’s one of the few times True Detective doesn’t ask Rust’s dialogue to be filled with existential conclusions about the notion of humanity’s place in the universe, the “smell of the psychosphere,” or that a town feels like “someone’s faded memory.”

It’s as if Rust’s eagerness to confront Ledoux has him peeling back the layers on his own personality and going “off book” from his prescribed style of handling things – especially when he’s talking to Marty about certain dalliances with a court reporter that recently blew up his marriage.

The off the books quality generates a matter-of-factness that resonates throughout all of ‘Who Goes There,’ and as the series reaches its halfway marker, the episode itself feels like something of a turning point – or at least another possible incentive for those who haven’t already fallen under the show’s spell. Now there’s a lot about the episode to like, but when it comes to something worth loving, the discussion naturally shifts to the unbroken six-minute tracking shot that ends the episode in such grand fashion it will deservedly be the focal point of tomorrow’s True Detective conversations.

Woody Harrelson in True Detective Season 1 Episode 4 True Detective Goes Off Book In More Ways Than One

But while the segment is another example of the exemplary direction of Cary Fukunaga and the stellar acting of the two leads, the sequence itself is carried mostly by McConaughey, growling his way from chaotic moment to chaotic moment with such believable energy that he elevates the sequence past many of the potential pitfalls of its deliberate showiness. That synergy of McConaughey’s actions and Fukunaga’s lens allows the whole thing to come off perfectly, and without it feeling overly engineered.

As a whole, ‘Who Goes There’ is really just the setup for a more explosive piece of the narrative down the line, as Rust’s plan to get close to Ledoux leads him and Marty into a clandestine operation, wherein he resurrects an old alias to infiltrate a Texas biker gang called the Iron Crusaders, that, coincidentally, has all its meth cooked by none other than Reggie Ledoux.

While Hart and Cohle are deceiving their superiors and fellow detectives – which stirs up some questions in 2012 for Papiana and Gilbough – Rust is also telling Marty exactly what he wants to hear regarding his crumbling marriage, after Maggie is informed by her husband’s mistress of his philandering ways and throws him out.

In many ways, this is Maggie’s (and Michelle Monaghan’s) biggest contribution to the series to date. Criticism about how underwritten Maggie’s character is – and, frankly, how underwritten all the female characters are on the show – has grown increasingly loud as the weeks have gone by, including a pointed dig from Justifieds Natalie Zea on Twitter that demonstrated the problem wasn’t merely True Detective‘s.

While developments here can certainly be seen as a positive, it’s unclear whether or not this episode will quell the criticism and begin the process of turning Maggie into a full-fledged character, or if it will simply be a short-lived adjustment halted by the narrative’s developments in the last four episodes.


True Detective continues next Sunday with ‘The Secret Fate of All Life’ @9pm on HBO.

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  1. That long take at the end. Absolutely incredible. This was one of the greatest television episodes in a long time.

  2. Got to agree with Kingslayer. That ending was the most fun I’ve had watching tv in months.

  3. As mentioned by others. That final scene was beyond epic. My favorite series right now. Followed by Game of Thrones and Arrow.

    • Definitely my top 3 shows, as well!


  5. One of the greatest shows i have ever seen.

  6. That great cinematography aside, the episode was an interesting look into the way both detectives were willing to descend into wanton lawlessness to break the case. Their little roommate bit was funny because Marty just sank into the insanity instantly, probably blinded by his collapsing family situation.

  7. Stellar episode through and through. The tension was practically unbearable.

  8. Halfway through the one-shot I whispered a plea to the show NOT to cut until they got into the car as it would be utter perfection. They did not. It was utter perfection. The genius was it all felt natural. There was no showing off at all during the 5 minutes 52 seconds (I timed it. Always do. Says more about me of course) and this scene will be correctly celebrated for the remainder of the year (as it absolutely should be).

    An episode about focus, then. About realisation of actions in the now offering infinitely more than it does after consequence. Rust the former, Martin the latter. Both are paying for their respective male id addictions and their need for validations through these addictions are the particular high points of this fascinating character study.

    Sure. Of course. The female parts are woeful. But it must be remembered that we are essentially seeing all of this unfold from the perspective of highly flawed male characters. Reminds me of when ‘GTAV’ came out and accusations of misogyny were thrown around. Both that game and this show is viewing everything from an unbalanced male perspective. When taken in this manner, the females parts are therefore both woeful but absolutely nailed on.

  9. This show just gets better and better. What a treat HBO, as well as McConaughey and Harrelson, have given us. This show truly has come out of left-field and revolutionized television.

    I just hate that it’s an anthology series and we’ll only get 8 episodes of this particular story. I hope HBO tries their damnedest to only go up from here (if possible), and not make the next series(s) about witches or haunted houses…I’m so over that s***.

    Phenomenal show, great review.

    • it’s an anthology series about law enforcement. why would the next season be about witches?

      • He was making an off-hand comment about American Horror Story, which has also been doing this kind of “one and done” season arcs before switching to different characters, settings and plots in the following season.

  10. BF & I thought show made no sense at all last night. Hart behaved completely unprofessionally at job, endangering undercover Cohle, parallel story lines virtually disappeared, became nothing more than a convoluted shoot-em-up, ending in Cohle’s kidnapping a character he could have kidnapped 30 minutes earlier. And how were all the police already there when Cohle un officially undercover & out of jurisdiction? It was like a friend of mine jokes: when in doubt about plot, send in a guy with a gun. Or, in this case, 50.

    • Hold up, are these gripes for real? Can I make a suggestion for you to go back and re-watch the episode? All of the answers to these things that “make no sense” are right there. Why wouldn’t Cohle have kidnapped him earlier? He even says to him “we could’ve done this the easy way, you effing moron” – meaning his initial plan wasn’t to kidnap him, but now he’s forced to do it only as a last resort because they starting killing people instead of getting the drugs and leaving. He knows that if he would’ve kidnapped him from the outset, he may not have gotten the information he wanted. As for the cops coming: who says it was Hart or Cohle that called them? There was a bunch of gun fire in a neighborhood where police helicopters constantly patrol because of what a s***** area it is. Couldn’t the police have been called by a heli or neighbor, etc.? As for Hart endangering him: I don’t think so. This is why he had the story of “looking for a friend that he doesn’t want to fall off the wagon.” Was it a little risky? Maybe, but he was concerned, had a plan, and it added to the tension (which in storytelling is more important than logic, anyway). I’m all for pointing out logical inconsistencies, but at least make sure they’re legit. These you point out wouldn’t even be worthy to make the cut on a Cinema Sins episode.

    • It always cracks me up when people sit there and nitpick things in cop shows. Some are warranted, but in the case of True Detective, Hart & Cohle’s recklessness in the 1995 era is part of their questioning in 2012 and therefore it’s fine. They are obviously not by the book detectives by any means. As far as kidnapping the guy 30 min earlier: what are you talking about? When could he have taken him? You seem to forget he was also with two other gang members and the hostage. Cohle was waiting for the right opportunity to take Ginger, and it unfortunately didn’t happen until the shootout began. You’re looking for problems that aren’t really there. The episode was fantastic.

      • As far as the cops already being there, it’s likely that the projects that they were in are notoriously violent and therefore the cops patrol the area frequently (hence the helicopter).

      • The case they are working on is being investigated in the present time because there has been another crime and they want to know if their cowboy antics might have something to do with it. The moral ambiguity of both Hart and Cohle in addition to their addictive and self destructive personalities makes it plausible that they cut a lot of corners (and clearly broke a few laws) to clear this case. Whether something more sinister is a play here remains to be seen.

    • Alyssa Rosenberg made the argument a few weeks ago that these guys aren’t really all that good at their jobs. Cohle looks like your standard genre trope mentally unbalanced supergenius detective, but he’s really just a run-of-the-mill cop who’s also mentally unbalanced. They’ve latched on to Reggie Ladoux thanks to pretty ordinary grinding-it-out police work, not because anybody had a blinding revelation.

      So, if you start looking at them as regular cops who may be in over their heads while dealing with a whole bunch of personal crises, then their behavior in this episode is still stupid and unprofessional, but in a narratively justifiable way.

    • I agree with Kingslayer in that these aren’t illogical plot beats at all. I would make one small amendment to the “kidnapping” thing, though: Rust wanted to initially get the information from Ginger without kidnapping him, but was forced to do it that way when the bikers started killing people in the apartment. He even said, “You couldn’t do this the easy way, could you?” He just wanted to get the job over with, go back and sit down with Ginger’s boss, spin his fiction about the Mexicans and find out where Ledoux would be that way. As far as the cops showing up: yeah, in a crappy area with helicopters flying around all the time, why couldn’t one of the choppers have called the police or even one of the neighbors after hearing gunfire? It wasn’t Rust or Hart that called them in. I’m all for pointing out plot holes or leaps in logic if they exist (otherwise we would not have the endless entertainment that is Cinema Sins), but at least make sure they’re legit before doing so.

      • Oops, never mind. I re-watched the episode and they planned to kidnap him the whole time. Still, though, there was never a time where Rust could’ve done it prior to when he did.

  11. This show is just so beautiful. Beautiful writing, cinematography and directing. That last shot though…beautiful and fun at the same time.

  12. Not getting this show until the 22nd but early last month, I heard people raving about how brilliant the show was and when I read the words “any fan of HP Lovecraft will be guaranteed to love this show too”, I was sold on it while before, I was likely to ignore it.

    • The show is awesome, tense, and just keeps getting darker. I don’t really understand the Lovecraft connection except perhaps referring to the sort of impending sense of dread that has permeated this show and has continued to sharpen. We know the Horror is coming. Wonderful, hypnotic show.

      • Yeah, I’m getting that feeling now. The permeating dread that soaks up all characters involved in the 1995 scenes rather than some kind of non-human monster that I assumed.

        Doesn’t take anything away from the show though. Just had this episode in the UK last Saturday and while some parts initially confused me, it all made sense the more I thought about it.

  13. Complaining about the women in the show is ignoring reality to make your own misguided point. The show is first and foremost about the characters and the crime. All the other characters, including Maggie, inform those narratives. We don’t need extended Maggie time anymore than we need extended time with the two 2012 interrogating officers. We need only as much as is necessary to keep the plot’s perspective in focus.

    • I agree. I think it’s usually unfair to look to each show individually to give you equal measures of every kind of character whether we’re talking about gender, class, race, or anything else. If we’re talking about media or entertainment in general, then these things are relevant and can be discussed more appropriately. This is essentially a story about the two leads and this investigation. More concentration on Monaghan’s character would only slow down the show.

    • They did not go into anymore detail about Maggie’s friend who Cohle said he dated for awhile either. They showed when and how they met and it fit in with the context of how his partnership with Hart developed. As it stands now Maggie is out of the picture and Hart is following Cohle down a really dark rabbit hole.

  14. Why does Maggie need to be a full fledged character? She’s ancillary and not essential to the proceedings, which is solving the crime.

  15. Television at it’s very best. Absolutely brilliant. By far the best show on TV right now, it puts other productions to shame.

    That final scene with the one tracking shot, epic, oscar winning cinematography.

  16. I only got to see the first episode (had a free weekend of HBO). I may have to break down and subscribe, I don’t think I’ll make it until the 1st season DVD is released…

  17. Glad Rust is there to keep cliche prima donna Hart in line. I just cannot figure out how he contributes to the investigation as opposed to any other investigator other than bringing his impeding personal baggage aspect to the show. They should have more continuous shots, has a certain feel to it.

  18. Just watched this show On Demand last night. What a freaking episode. I had the chills from the moment Rust entered the biker bar until the end where all the gangsters and cops had the shoot out.

    Incredible TV!!! Since Breaking Bad is gone, I didn’t think I would find such good stuff on cable anytime soon.