After approximately four years since the release of the first season of HBO’s critically acclaimed anthology crime drama, True Detective, it has become one of the most beloved and cherished by fans of the genre for its experimentation, precision and expertise in the medium of television. At the surface level, this is a conventional police procedural with a buddy-cop relationship at the heart of the narrative and a homicide investigation influencing their journies into identity and compromise. Beneath the surface, however, this is much more than a mere season of television. It’s a breathtaking cinematic experience through the murky, gritty Louisianan bayous, exploring the internal struggles and difficulties faced by two detectives. Despite its controversial conclusion, True Detective Season One presents screenwriting, acting and directing at its very finest.
Set in the swampy, gritty landscape of Louisiana, True Detective follows the journies of two homicide detectives, both professionally and personally, as they investigate a ritualistic, occult murder over the course of seventeen years. While its structure appears to be similar to other texts in the genre, it is the execution and overall delivery that pushes this beyond what many others have done before. Every piece of dialogue feels purposeful and develops a greater sense of who these two men are, taking a thematic approach of masculine identities and the typology of the flawed protagonist. Nic Pizzolatto’s script boasts confidence and refinery that, while sometimes feeling quite slow-burning, absorbs and consumes the viewer with every minute, particularly in regards to Matthew Mcconnaughey’s character Rustin Cohle. Once the script kicks into gear and places you into the full force of the narrative, you will hope to savour those moments because they are utterly brilliant, compelling scenes. To some the ending to the anthology season might be considered controversial and slightly underwhelming, but it is only until you delve further into the writer’s decision making and vision that you begin to understand the true meaning behind it. This show, from beginning to end, feels like an engaging, beautifully crafted film in an episodic manner, and it can interest you in the simplest of ways. When a drama can be as intriguing and addictive as this without the need for a plentitude of action sequences, you know it’s worth the investment. And that’s exactly what you get here: a grounded, character driven narrative with sharp dialogue and equally effective plots.
Another salient feature to note is the direction and cinematography on offer here, which obtains a particularly gritty and dark aesthetic thoroughout. Since it was shot on 35mm film, this drama projects a gorgeously crisp and detailed appearance, whilst maintaining the stylistic tone of the piece. Cary Joji Fukunaga, director of True Detective’s highly acclaimed first season, uses every technique in his arsenal to produce some of the finest camerawork on television in a long while. His popular tracking shot in episode four is nothing short of magnificent and jaw dropping, but only adds to the variety of beautiful establishing, overhead shots and intentionally significant wide shots. There are times where you simply have to appreciate and acknowledge the technical genius behind this craft, because every single shot or angle has a particular purpose. Fukunaga’s directional role in this project was highly influential in the overall thematic and atmospheric approachs; since he directed all the episodes individually, they all combined as a very visually coherent, consistent drama that many shows have difficulty to sustain. The directing is as powerful and memorable as the script and the acting.
As an anthology series, True Detective has gone on to impact upon the narrative formats of many other series, such as The Night Of and The Missing, but also in its translation between the mediums of film and television. Not many dramas were able attract such largely noted actors, in this case Matthew Mcconaughey and Woody Harrelson, at least not until this point. These two were top-notch, providing performances of the finest quality. Whether it be their facial expressions or heir delivery of dialogue, their prowess in the field was highlighted in every single scene. It didn’t matter what the scenario was, they were truly magnetic and absorbing to the next level. In fact, this is some of their strongest work as both a collaborative pair and as individuals. Their chemistry bleeds onto the screen with plenty of personality and charm, keeping true to the cop duo intentions in an effective manner. Seriously, this drama is worth watching just for the acting alone.
Another particularly incredible feature this series exceeds standards is in its opening title sequence. While this might not interest or appeal to some viewers, the title sequence offers something very unique to its existence: an artistic, coherently crafted montage of double exposure shots that beautifully summarises the central themes in a matter of minutes. Undoubtedly, this is one of the richest, thematically present openings to grace the small screen.
In conclusion, True Detective Season 1 is a cornucopia of rich storytelling, intelligent dialogue, powerful performances and technical mastery across the board. Despite its initially slow pace, every episode builds upon the central preposition that drives the deep characterisation and well structured narrative forward to its eventual conclusion. If you’re seeking a procedural crime drama that is filled with quality material, there really aren’t many that can surpass the brilliance of what this individual season of television achieves in its eight episode journey. It well and truly deserves to be known as one of the greatest seasons of television ever produced.
VERDICT – 9.8/10
True Detective Season 2 Review is Coming Soon