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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Wednesday, April 17, 2024
Callie Kollenbroich

'True Detective' leaves behind a myriad of clues and qualms

A few weeks ago, I raved about HBO’s newest crime drama, “True Detective,” and warned you all about its irrevocable tendency to drive a previously sane person down a path of complete and utter madness—in the best way possible, of course. After deconstructing its myriad interconnected parts and scouring for what I believed—what we all believed at the time—to be “clues,” I settled on three predictions for how the season would culminate, one of which turned out to be true. Well, half true. Nevertheless, I consider myself victorious.

After a mere five episodes, I was convinced “True Detective” had proven itself as one of the best television seasons of the last decade. Not only was it beautifully shot and carefully constructed, it had awoken in me something of an amateur sleuth that had lain dormant since my days as a Nancy Drew fangirl. While decoding its clues, I felt involved in its mystery. Things felt personal. Suffice to say, there was a lot at stake.

Since then, the season finale has come and gone, which means it is now time to assess the wreckage. The first five episodes were near perfection and I was metaphorically tipping my hat to creator Nic Pizzolatto, Cary Fukunaga and the rest of the crew. Not only did they have myself and thousands of others searching tirelessly for obscure literary references and visual motifs, they managed to reinvigorate a once tired and worn genre: the police drama.

Matthew McConaughey played brooding homicide detective Rust Cohle, complete with a tainted past and nihilistic worldview, and he performed the hell out of it. Paired with his Oscar-winning performance in “Dallas Buyer’s Club,” I have no doubt that he will continue a long and illustrious career. Woody Harrelson had some equally incredible moments as Cohle’s partner, Marty Hart, who struggled with the delicate balance between his duty to his family and his primal desires.

Another aspect that struck me about “True Detective” was how well shot it was. It exhibited a degree of craftsmanship that is often lacking in the television medium as a result of limited time and resources. I feel compelled to drop cinematographer Adam Arkapaw’s name somewhere in this piece because he deserves the recognition, so here it is. Sprinkled throughout the season were delightful bits of artistic prowess—shots that demanded the viewer to appreciate it as a piece of art rather than superficial entertainment.

Arguably the most grandiose of these shots was the acclaimed six-minute long take at the end of the fourth episode. A difficult feat for even the best of actors and cinematographers, this one deserves recognition as one of the greatest long takes in television history. By minute five, I no longer had any fingernails to bite.

The aforementioned glory episodes weren’t without their flaws, though, the first of which has to do with some of the sound mixing. I know what you’re thinking. Sound mixing? Who cares, right?

Sound is incredibly important when it comes to film and television. When you are immersed within an onscreen reality, any missteps in the sound design have the potential to catapult you out of that space. There were several instances in which some of the sound effects were either too loud, i.e. the coffee slurping in episode one. Or, completely inadequate, i.e. the spaghetti crunching in episode six.

Similarly, the show has been criticized for its sexist portrayal of women as objects to be used. However, the season itself was about two dysfunctional men in a dysfunctional, masculine society. More screen time for Michelle Monaghan could have bolstered her character, but would that really have been necessary? The feminist in me is shaking her head but I am inclined to say no.

After the fifth episode, I began to feel as though the glimmer was waning. I reasoned it to be a sort of calm-before-the-storm and prepared myself for a mind-blowing finale. However, after the season had finished my head was still intact. Rather, I sat there scratching it, wondering why so many “clues” had not been resolved or even addressed.

The tangle of clues and motifs suggested a crime complex and sinister, yet the resolution seemed fairly straightforward. Questions surrounding the Tuttles, Marty’s daughter and the series’ complex mythology were left lingering. As the final minutes came to a close, I began to wonder if it was possible that all the sleuthing and madness had made “True Detective” into something that it wasn’t. When everything seems like a clue, maybe nothing is a clue.

As an anthology series, we must say goodbye to the actors and storyline and prepare ourselves for something entirely different. Despite my ambivalence toward the ending, my intrigue surrounding season two continues to mount.

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Still enthralled by “True Detective?” Send your opinion to Callie at ckollenbroic@wisc.edu

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