The Philosophical Underpinnings of True Detective

I usually dislike detective shows, unless they deal with corruption such as in the case of The Shield; in that case, I just don’t care for them. True Detective was suggested to me by a good friend, who in no way watches series of the caliber that I am accustomed to. I was not disappointed however: True Detective revealed itself to be a brilliantly written and performed mini-series (which HBO has recently renewed albeit with different actors). The series has for all meaningful purposes nothing to do with the subject matter of classic detective shows. Instead, it deals with the grim reality of human cruelty, as suggested by the show’s thematic line “man is the cruelest animal”. Matthew McConaughey effectively exploited his emaciated post-Dallas-Buyers-Club look (a movie in which he plays a man affected by AIDS during the early days of the epidemic) to play a cynical former DEA undercover agent Rust Cohle. Rust is bitter at the world after the death of his daughter, and is occasionally affected by visions caused by his chemically misbalanced brain residual of his days under LSD. Rust arrives in Southern Louisiana from Texas, and partners up with Marty Hart, played by Woody Harrelson. Marty heavily contrasts Rust because Marty is a highly respected official that respects the traditional religious culture of Louisiana, unlike Rust, and is also a husband and a father. The two’s relationship spans across 17 years as they pursue different leads and explore all social levels of Louisiana in order to solve a series of heinous murders performed by what attribute to be a cult. The plot is merely a vehicle to introduce intense situations that hare heightened by the dark atmosphere percolating throughout each episode. The situations are then analyzed and reflected upon by Marty and Rust, and their man to man conversations are what drives the pure awesomeness of the show as they attempt to answer the questions that arise when delving into just how horrible and cruel life can be. The level of intellectual depth present in True Detective is truly remarkable, for it can be grasped by a lay audience while still captivating even those well read in the philosophical writings of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida, and so on. These concepts are not approached directly in a didactic manner, but rather arise out of their applicability to the situations Marty and Rust face: from incestuous rape to infidelity. In addition to reflections of existential profundity, the show also includes copious amounts of terrifying moments that will get you hooked to the show even more. Concluding with a brief discussion on symbolism, True Detective deploys many of the techniques that make Mad Men noteworthy such as the marriage of motifs and color imagery, that really reaffirm the atmosphere, but most uses verbal and situational irony more effectively than virtually any other show out there. These techniques, from the use of a single camera shoot to show Rust escaping a shoot out to the symbolic significance of the little devil penetrating the angel on the desks next to the bed when Marty is cheating on his wife after promising her not to ever do that again, contribute heavily to the show’s literary depth. The show really goes a long way to explore evil and cruelty, posing disturbing questions on the nature of Man as we ask ourselves whether we do or should connect and root for any of the characters on the show. These 8 episodes are worth watching even if just the one liners that will leave you breathless and in contemplation after every episode.

Lorenzo Barberis Canonico

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