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True Detective S01E02: "Seeing Things"

"Some things just got your name on it, like a bullet. Or a nail in the road." That's how Rust Cohle thinks of the universe. Things have it out for him. Things are coming to get him. He was meant to collide with certain things that are out there, waiting for him. And in Rust's terms, True Detective might have my name written on it. The HBO drama's second episode penetrated my mental state quite literally: The night I watched "Seeing Things," I dreamt I was part of the show. I kid you not, I was out in the country with these guys, solving murders. I'd call that invasion of my subconscious a compliment for a series that's only two hours old. We're in no danger of hyperbole when it comes to praising True Detective, whether we're awake or not. This show is flat-out amazing.

"Seeing Things" improved on the first episode simply because we, as viewers, were in a better state to appreciate it (though I wouldn't argue that every piece of the show improved incrementally). Having already watched the excellent first episode and collected and reassembled the fragments of our skulls that covered our living rooms, the experience of "Seeing Things" felt more worn-in as we started really getting to know Cohle and Martin Hart, for better or for worse. 

See, these two guys are dirtbags from opposite ends of the dirtbag spectrum, and the joy I get from watching True Detective comes from witnessing them interact with both each other and the world around them. Early in "Seeing Things," we witnessed typical morning for both of them while voiceover described the routine of the job: Cohle wakes up to nothing but a crucifix hanging on his colorless wall and a cigarette, with a look of emptiness on his face, almost as if he's shocked he lived to see another morning. When he opens his eyes, he's not looking forward to a pancake breakfast, he looks like he can't wait to go to sleep again in hopes he won't wake up. But every morning, he does. And that eats away at him. At least he knows it. 

In contrast, Hart is kissed by the sunshine and his daughters to welcome the day. Father and husband of the year, right?! But what makes Hart's life more depressing than Cohle's is the fact that he can't see that he's living a lie. "I wonder if you even know you're lying," his wife Maggie said o him in a particularly brutal and captivating scene. Clearly, he doesn't. I can't help but hang onto what Hart said in the first episode: "Past a certain age, a man without a family can be a bad thing." And to him, his family is just a possession. We suspected he was cheating on his wife in the first episode, and boy were we right. On the surface, this man praises the value of family—and then he shits on it when no one's looking. And he has all kinds of excuses to justify it. He blames the job; you don't want to bring back the stuff from the job to the family, he argues, so you have to let it out somewhere else. He thinks it's okay if he crosses lines, but believes those lines should be sky-high walls for everyone else. His inability to see who he is the saddest thing about True Detective, so much so that we have to investigate the Satanic murder of vulnerable girls to cheer ourselves up. I'm guessing I'm in the minority when I say I find Hart to be the more interesting character of True Detective's main duo; he's an absolute train wreck. 

But to look at them only as individuals is to underappreciate the mastery of the series. I can't recall a show with dual leads who had this type of dynamic. Usually it's a weirdo and a straight man solving crimes, with the weirdo being the main draw and most of the interpersonal drama coming from the regular guy putting up with the weirdo's quirks and coming around to appreciate those quirks after they help solve a case. But what the heck is going on here? These are two bad men working in close quarters, and neither one of them serves as an entry point to the casual viewer. True Detective isn't trying to win us over by having us identify with either of them, yet both characters are so well-written that the process of making them relatable so they'll feel more real doesn't apply. Cohle wears his darkness like a medal; he's not trying to hide a damn thing. And Hart covers his with a smile and a sense of superiority. Both men are consumed and broken by their job. It's the combination of the two that makes True Detective mesmerizing. 

but I suppose we should discuss the murder case, even though it's secondary to the rest of the series. Finding Dora Lang's killer is still a long ways off. Clues are hard to come by, leads even harder. This isn't a typical detective show that keeps moving from Point A to Point B to Point C and so on until one of those points leads to a suspect. This is tedious, dirt-under-the-fingernails, mind-numbing work. Interviews with Dora's former co-workers didn't turn up suspects, they shone a light on Dora's state of mind and helped to paint a picture of the man who killed her. That's a heck of a lot more interesting to me than the rote TV detective methodology of catching red herrings and digging through emails or social-networking profiles. In the present day, it's clear that the detectives working the new case have a hunch that Cohle could be involved in these new murders. But if you ask me, it's Hart who's the more likely suspect. I do not—not even for a second—trust that guy.

This isn't going to be the easiest show to review on a weekly basis, especially if the murder case continues to take a backseat to the stellar characterization. But that's okay with me, because Hart and Cohle are such amazing centerpieces that feel like I can talk about them for days. 


– Once again, Cary Fukunaga blew me away with his direction. True Detective is a thing of beauty. The music is top-notch. And Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson—McConaughey in particular—are astounding. This series has so many strengths that all the individual facets, from the direction to the music to the acting to the writing, can be overwhelming when they're combined in one package.

– Cohle's backstory is SCARY. He was deep, deep undercover in the drug trade, and he still has hallucinations as a result of the experience. I'm not sure what to make of these visions. Are supposed to further discredit him? Will they play a substantial role in the series? I don't know. But mother of God they look amazing. And when he said, "Back then, the visions, most of the time I was convinced I had lost it. There were other times I thought I was mainlining the secret truth of the universe," I wasn't quite sure what to think.

– Cohle still shows no signs of slowing down in getting on Hart's nerves, and I love it. Whether he's telling Hart to wash off the odor of his sexcapades or accusing him of purchasing an underage hooker, every barb Cohle throws at Hart is hilarious. And Hart doesn't take them lightly: "Is shitting on any moment of decency part of your job description?"

– Fellas! Hart's mistress: YOW-ZA.

– Do you think Hart and Cohle like each other? Or is there enough professional respect between them that they can ignore their differences?

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 3/9/2014

Season 1 : Episode 8

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