In episode four of True Detective, Cary Fukunaga’s crime drama came into its own in a big way.
A lot of media focus may be on Hollywood at the moment as we near award season (and rightly so, it’s been an incredible year for film), but there is one TV series that is causing a stir for reviewers, bloggers and audiences: HBO’s newest entry, True Detective. This Sunday, episode four near enough exploded onto American screens, which was a charming change of pace from the three preceding installments. So, why the universal acclaim?
The slow burn of the set up
From the first trailer, it was obvious that this wasn’t going to be a run-of-the-mill hour of hokum. Yet few viewers were prepared for True Detective to have so much room to breathe. By going ahead with this creative direction, the audience was greeted, in the first three hours, by a leisurely stroll, which helped vividly depict Nic Pizzolatto’s interpretation of the humid coastal plains of Louisiana, and all of the creatures that inhibit them. Most importantly, however, the leads’ psyches began to become unpicked, offering an explanation as to why each of them acted the way they did, but still giving the impression that both were holding back from each other and the audience.
Most have lauded Matthew McConaughey’s efforts in the series thus far, but Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of Det. Martin Hart has, too, been astonishing. With the illusion of being a straight-laced, scripture-reading family man, we soon learn he is nothing but a contradiction that needs his release in places other than the home. His on screen torment, often resulting in lashing out at the world, is a perfect antithesis to McConaughey’s often-comatose nihilism and quiet suffering. Marrying the pair’s opposing values creates a satisfying balance between the two.
The philosophy within the dialogue
Whilst the creeping pace of the opening chapters was welcomed, Rust’s (McConaughey) philosophical diatribes have been a problem for some. But, along with the seamless acting, this is another reason why one can separate it from other cop dramas. A serial killer on the loose can be one thing, but an existentialist with a clear understanding of the nature of man and the futility of existence is something that has left many a watcher staying up all night. To someone not paying attention, these speeches may seem tediously interpolated between scenes of action, but they serve as a window into the inner workings of a protagonist rarely seen in crime television.
Sunday’s screening of the fourth episode was a fiery injection of excitement, one which was greeted with acclamation – and rightly so. With the need to intercept a biker gang, the duo hatch a scheme that could prove costly, especially with Rust’s admission that the gang often deal with a Mexican cartel (a mob he’s had a run in with in the past). Further still, they decide to do this off-shift, leading to one of the best sequences of TV since Richard Harrow’s rescue of Tommy in season three of Boardwalk Empire.
To thank for this piece of brilliance, one must look to director Cary Joji Fukunaga, who, in one single shot, follows Rust as he is tasked with retrieving the leader of the biker clique (to take back for questioning) during an ambush of a rival gang’s turf that he has accompanied them to. In doing so, he incites carnage, which he must escape from with his man. As he embarks on this mission, the camera unflinchingly follows his escape for a straight six minutes. It’s truly masterful stuff, and definitely some of the most ambitious filmmaking that television will offer this year.
That True Detective has arrived at its second act with such assurance, style and rich characterisation is very exciting indeed. Whether the quality will remain consistent throughout is yet to be revealed, but in a recent Daily Beast interview Nik Pizzolatto assured fans that next week’s episode is “the most special of the children,” which will probably see the investigation heading into even murkier territory. So with big things promised for the next half of the tale, one can only consider the twists and turns that await. And who knows, perhaps Pizzolatto has even considered a way in which Matthew McConaughey can tastefully remove his shirt. Now that would be writing.
All images: HBO