[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.
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 Justified's 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.