The first season of True Detective concludes on HBO Sunday, so I thought it was time to say a few words about it. Started a little slow - I guess I was expecting something more along the lines of Criminal Minds and its pacing - but True Detective has become one of my favorite shows in the history of television, with an indelibly philosophic and anguished detective we've never seen the likes of before on TV and likely never will again.
Matthew McConaughey won the Oscar Sunday night for Dallas Buyers Club and he deserves an Emmy and more for his portrayal of Rust Cohle (in 1995 and 2012, and a little in 2002 as well). Make-up does part of the job, but McConaughey's rendition of an aging character is right up there with the best of them. The truly searing persona, the detective whose depth of analysis and grasp of human existence would have done Socrates proud, is the Rust of 1995. The combination of McConaughey's voice - almost mesmerizing - and the literacy of what he says is something I don't recall ever seeing or hearing on television or in the movies.
Woody Harrelson does a fine job as Marty Hart, Rust's partner. If Rust has the intensity and out-of-world spirituality of a Jesuit, Marty is a man of the world. Although both are usually able to keep their emotions in check, Marty is the more likely to let his frustrations boil over and out into the world and those around him. Harrelson, in fact, delivers a characterization of a partner as powerful as McConaughey's of the protagonist detective - and just as memorable in this only slightly secondary position.
The plot's not bad either. Rust is so intense that, in the first part of the season, I was thinking he might well be the serial killer he and his partner were hunting in Louisiana. But once the new detectives investigating the case in 2012 made clear that this was indeed their view, it became pretty clear that Rust is not the killer. There's also a rewarding attention to detail in the story. Although Marty tells everyone that he's sure Rust is not the killer, Marty packs a gun when he goes to Rust's place in 2012.
Women do not play major roles in this first season of True Detective, though Lili Simmons (Banshee's Rebecca) provides a bit of eye-candy, and Michelle Monaghan puts in a good performance as Marty's wife, who seduces a reluctant Rust after she learns of Marty's indiscretions. Rust's guilt over this, and his not wanting to look at Marty every day in the aftermath, is likely the real reason he left law enforcement.
But he didn't leave the investigation. And although his and Marty's reunion for one last time in last Sunday’s episode is a fitting conclusion to this story, it will be satisfying to see if the two can finally get their killer in the finale, and Rust's last words about it, whether they do or don't.