Review: True Detective, Seasons 4 and 1

I had never seen any of the previous seasons before watching season one, so instead of measuring season 4 against season 1, I’m going to do the opposite.

Let’s start with season 4. I watch a lot of British murder shows, and in those, the script is never embarrassing and everyone in the entire cast is a good actor. That’s very much not the norm in American shows. (I’ve also been watching The Irrational with Jesse L. Martin, where the scripts are often quite creaky and there are some absolutely terrible performances. He’s charismatic and actually looks great in a porkpie hat, so there’s that. Also great queer representation.)

So, here, as in a British murder show, everyone can act, and some (both Jodie Foster and Kali Reis) are extraordinary. Of course, part of this has to do with the kind of script they’re working with. Women just don’t get to play complicated, messed-up characters that you root for anyway, whereas there are probably five shows like that about men on right now. So kudos to Issa Lopez for giving great actors a great script to sink their teeth into.

Also there are some great and haunting images throughout, and the fact that the whole thing takes place in the long arctic night gives the whole thing a disorienting, nightmarish quality that I really liked.

It’s also the perfect length—it was only as long as it needed to be to provide us with character arcs and the resolution of the central mystery. No bloat, which is rare in prestige TV! Which brings me to Season 1, which I watched while waiting for Season 4’s last episode to drop.

But first, a sidebar on copaganda. Oh, geez, both of these seasons really wallow in the copaganda cliche: Sure, they bend the rules and sometimes summarily execute people without arrest or trial, but it’s just because they care so much, dammit! They’re trying to live by a code in a hopelessly corrupt world! Ho-hum. I think it’s okay to watch this stuff as long as you realize that the cop who cares too much is like a dwarf in the Lord of the Rings movies and shows. Which is to say, imaginary. If you see a short guy with a luxurious beard out in the world, you should not assume that they’re a hard-drinkin’, axe-wieldin’, scrappy metalsmith. And similarly, if you see people in the world who look like the cops you see on TV, you should not expect them to share those cops’ qualities. (Except for the alcoholism which is rampant in both the real and fantasy cop populations.)

Okay, on to season 1. As in season 4, fantastic performances, a gripping plot, and absolutely stunning cinematography. As not in season 4, a bit of bloat, in my opinion. This 8-episode series could have probably been 6 episodes without missing much. I know Rust’s philosophizing made a big splash at the time, but I just didn’t feel like we needed to be reminded of it several times per episode. And then the episode where Rust went undercover felt like it was airlifted in from a different show. Sons of Anarchy, maybe.

But also, this show is very interested in how men steeped in toxic masculinity navigate their ideas of what a man should be, and this is just not a topic I find especially compelling. Maggie is the only woman of consequence in the series, and even she is really just a prop in the real love story between Marty and Rust. (I don’t mean that their love is sexual, but it’s clear that for both, their connection with the other is the most consequential relationship in their lives.)

So, I mean, don’t get me wrong. I liked it. I just didn’t love it the way I loved season 4.

Of course, my love for season 4 was contingent on them sticking the landing. And, in my opinion, they really did. (Spoilers ahead, obvi). I was initially a little pissed at the Scooby-Dooification of what appeared to be a fully supernatural event, but what happened at Tsalal station was so cool and unexpected and fit so perfectly that I couldn’t stay mad. Also there were clearly still some supernatural elements at play. Like the tongue, and the ghost who located the corpsesicle!

So: loved season 4, liked season 1, am following everyone’s advice and not watching seasons 2 or 3.

#review #TV