UK TV review: True Detective – Season 1, Episode 1
James R | On 21, Feb 2014
“I’m not great at parties.” “You’re not great outside of parties either.”
That’s Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) proving the buddy cop formula is still going strong in HBO’s True Detective. Paired up to face a grisly murder, they soon start rubbing each other up the wrong way. But while the series, which begins tomorrow on Sky Atlantic after huge US acclaim, may seem at first to follow the rules, it soon unravels into something much darker and mysterious.
The show is written by novelist Nic Pizzolatto – and it shows. Told in flashback through video interviews with our lead pair, their investigation into a horrific corpse found off a Louisiana highway is given a voice-over that immediately recalls crime literature. But the question isn’t “whodunit?”, rather “who’s finding out?” – because for all their thoughtful insights into each other, we barely know a thing about our boys in blue.
Martin is the easiest to read: a straight cop with a family who knows how to get along with people. And Harrelson plays the lead detective perfectly, bagging all the best one-liners while still being haunted by the body on display, complete with Satanic scribbles and mutilated flesh.
McConaughey, though, is the one who fascinates. Nicknamed The Taxman by the others (because of the large notebook he carries everywhere), the near-silent man exists outside of the pleasant society occupied by the grave police chief and concerned local vicar. He turns up on the doorstep of his daughter’s house for her birthday, his sunken face wracked with guilt, depression, loathing – and other substances. She looks terrified of the figure who was once her father. In those two seconds, we learn a surprising amount about him.
When Rust appears in the present day for his vox pop, the transformation from his clean-shaven, youthful self is striking – what, you wonder, has happened to him?
True Detective is in no rush to find out. Director Cary Fukunaga shoots the proceedings at a slow, slow pace. But it’s the little moments of characterisation that keep you hooked; the series is relaxed yet methodical; long-winded yet concise. Nothing, you get the sense, is in here that doesn’t need to be – and so much is left out completely.
The first chapter reaches something of a climax when out partners collide – not in a fight, but in a quiet dinner scene that grips more than any car chase. As they pass the salt and exchange niceties, the chemistry between Harrelson and McConaughey eats away at the civilised facade like Rust’s moniker.
“I lack the constitution for suicide,” Cohle confesses to Hart in one rare, frank discussion about the decline of humanity. He looks into the distance like he’s stared into the abyss – and the abyss is looking right back at the screen.
Martin’s face is more shocked by Rust’s loathing than by the brutal murder they’re trying to crack. Because the case in hand isn’t the crime at all: the case is his partner. And judging by Episode 1, this truthful detective is one dark mystery that may never be solved.
True Detective Season 1 and 2 are available on Sky Box Sets. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it legally on NOW, for £9.99 a month, with no contract and a 7-day free trial.
Where can I buy or rent True Detective online in the UK?
All photos: © Home Box Office, Inc. All rights reserved.