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True Detective S01E01: "The Long Bright Dark"

HBO's new crime drama True Detective isn't a happy show. In fact, it's the pits and may just chew you up and spit out your bones. Yet the excruciatingly dreary premiere episode was captivating once you realized what you were watching. And thank god, because television has been worn down with the serial-killer genre to the point that there are no more red herrings left in the television cliché ocean. Despite ostensibly being about a 17-year-old murder case and the possibility of its killer on the loose again in present day, True Detective is about the two complicated and broken men who supposedly solved the case all those years back. Come for the ritualistic murder, stay for the dark examination of one forever out-of-place weirdo genius and the partner he routinely frustrates who may not be as good as he thinks he is. 

At least that's what we think we know from just the first episode. Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) are two Louisiana detectives in an oil-and-vinegar partnership. Hart is the happier of the two ("happy" is a relative term here), a man with a family but maybe not a family man, who admits he's not the smartest person out there but he at least knows how to talk to people. Cohle appears to be only visiting our planet, an introvert and pessimist whose personality quirks allow him to get into that messy headspace that makes him good at figuring out the murderin' that's going on. 

Big deal, right? Plenty of serial-killer dramas attempt to dig into the psyche of the hunters as well as the hunted. But True Detective commits to that cause and delivers it with its neat presentation. The series hops between Hart and Cohle in 1995 when they first investigated and closed a case, and 2012 when it looks like that case wasn't quite shut closed enough after a new girl shows up dead in the same fashion as the 1995 case. In 2012, Hart moved on from the job and is into private investigation but is relatively the same decent man he claims to be at his core, and a truck ran over Cohle's career and life, transforming him into a beer-swigging recluse with a sweet handlebar 'stache. Knowing the beginning point and the end point in the timeline, the question is no longer "Whodunnit?" but "Whodeseguys?" What happened to their relationship that forced their falling out in 2002? Did the case rip these two apart, or did something else happen? How much is truth, and how much is bent to support their own recollection? And somewhere down the line, who is killing these girls?

It's a construct that taps into our puzzle-box curiosity, and I'd bet that layers of mystery will peel back as the series progresses. By separating Hart and Cohle in detective interviews in 2012, both of their perspectives, whether they're correct or not, are shown to us and the story unfolded through their recollection. And it's through listening to their sides of the story and their takes on each other and placing them against what we see in flashbacks that really showed us who these men are. 

Though "The Long Bright Dark" focused mostly on getting to know Cohle and his mouthfuls of wordy Nihilistic buzzkilling doom ("It's all just one ghetto, man, a giant gutter in outer space"), there were moments where Hart, who we're led to believe is the least worrisome of the two, exhibited even more darkness. Early in the episode, Hart criticized Cohle by saying, "Past a certain age, a man without a family can be a bad thing." And Hart says this because he believes he can look at Cohle and pinpoint what he thinks is wrong with him based on the way Hart lives his own life. Yet it was Hart who had the family and slept in the living room, waking up to his wife asking him questions and quickly shuffling off to work. And it was Hart who had that suspicious visit from an attractive young clerk delivering depositions that were for his eyes only (he's giving her his own private deposition, right?). It makes you wonder which is worse, Cohle's pessimism and alcoholism or Hart's hypocrisy and inflated sense of self. True Detective seeks to examine the bad in men that bubbles just under the surface of the faces they wear day in and out. 

It's tough to center a series on a pair of dudes who aren't all that likable. Let's be honest here, they're both dicks in their own way. But in the hands of Harrelson and McConaughey, they're fascinating. Watching Hart's patience disintegrate from Cohle's constant gloom offers the only levity in True Detective, and it's hilarious. 

Cohle: "I consider myself a realist, but in philosophical terms I'm a pessimist."
Hart: "What's that mean?"
Cohle: "It means I'm bad at parties." 
Hart: "You ain't good outside of parties either." 

And as Cohle goes on and on with chatter about reprogramming human nature and putting the kibosh on procreation so that we'll all just fade out of existence, it's Hart's reactions that bring the show back to Earth out of Cohle's orbit. I'm fascinated by Cohle's odd philosophy and the damage (his dead daighter and broken marriage) that got him there. But I side with Hart when he says things like, "Stop saying shit like that, it's unprofessional" because Cohle is annoying as heck. Imagine being stuck on a long car ride with Cohle. You'd probably drive your car off a bridge the second his depressing psycho-babble spilled out of his mouth. Yet the two are stuck together, and Hart has no choice but to respect Cohle's brilliance as a detective.

However, there's no denying that True Detective is sloooooooow. Like checking to see if your DVR is on pause slow. But there was a steady stream of interesting points unlocked along the way for those who are invested, and it paid off. I watched the first episode twice; the first time, I dozed off (in my defense it was right after our annual Thanksgiving: The Sequel holiday meal). The second time, I was riveted. There might be some critical mass that needs to be reached in order to fully appreciate True Detective, and if you didn't get there from the first episode, I'd encourage another try.

In the final moments of "The Long Bright Dark," the detectives interviewing Hart and Cohle reveal that a murder they're investigating showed the same M.O. as Hart and Cohle's case from 1995 and it gives True Detective a jolt right in the plot. But it's Cohle's reaction to learning about it and being asked for his assistance in the case that made me eager for more True Detective. "Then start asking the right fucking questions." And we should do the exact same. Was the case closed prematurely? Did Cohle have anything to do with the murders? Are either of these men trustworthy? Who is the real bad guy here? The more I think about the episode, the more I can't wait to see the rest. This will be one fun puzzle to solve.



CASE NOTES

True Detective's fragmented storytelling could have been a mess, but it unfolds in such a way that it works really well. The reason it's so successful is that we're less interested in what happened, and more interested in how it happened, not to mention how it affects the two characters' relationships. Everything comes together as a more coherent character study than a crime drama.

– Cary Fukunaga did a fantastic job directing and bringing the setting to life. This is a gorgeous piece of television, and makes me want to see it in high-def (the screeners HBO sends out are of iffy DVD quality). 

– Nic Pizzolatto, who used to write for The Killing, created and wrote the entire series. Because of television's intense production schedules, it's rare for an entire series to be written and directed by the same people, but I think True Detective will be a case study for making it the norm. A series can only improve when it has singular visions on the page and behind the camera.

– It was nice of Clarke Peters to drop by as the priest! Always great to see him on television. 

– Each season of True Detective—should it get more than one season—will feature a new set of characters and a new mystery. Just like American Horror Story. Hopefully a second season would also draw a high-caliber cast. 

– There are a lot of reviews out there from critics who've already seen the first four episodes, but I'm trying to show restraint and watch them one at a time with you guys because I like you. That way we'll be on the same wavelength as I cover these episodically.


Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 8/9/2015

Season 2 : Episode 8

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I only started watching this due to the trailer i thought it was going to be another hannibal clone and now that turned out too gory not enough story. To my susprise this is brilliant dark but stick with it as the characters are well drawn and not one dimensional. I will keep watching!
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This is my new favorite tv show. I love this kind of intellectually challenging character study, with a possible seral killer throw in the mix. I agee with Tim that a second watching will be worthwhile.
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Sorry, I meant thrown in the mix, not throw in the mix.
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I miss The Killing soooo much!!!
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Brilliantly done, and talk about a stellar class! Definitely looking forward to more.
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Oops! I meant "stellar cast", not class.
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McConaughey & Harrelson are executive producers in this project. Makes me think next seasons to come are not gonna be as brilliant somehow...I mean, these guys have big money invested in this season, and it's probably just for this season.
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...slow?? It's MESMERIZING!!!!!!!!!!! I was captured by the puzzle story, the character, the acting.. in some point I feel a little lost on the event, but nothing too big.
Both Harrelson and McConaughey did an amazing job.. I'm not in the comedy or romantic stuff, so I barely know his name, but then I see Matthew in "Killer Joe" and that was a revelation.. insane, funny, tragic, creepy movie.. a must see!
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Fascinating show, I really like it already.
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The characters got me right into the story, and I couldn't stand The Killing or any show like it (If we're going broad, Hannibal did, as did early Dexter) due to the slow nature, mediocre cases, and cliche characters. This has none of those problems, it's great looking, well acted, and both the case and the characters seem to be interesting and well rounded.
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This show is not "slow".
In fact, I was glued right from the beginning to the end.
The acting is INCREDIBLE (the cast is almost unbelievable). The writing, directing, cinematography, etc. is awesome. I watch a lot of shows but this one is something special. I don't know about you guys, but I'm looking forward to an incredible season.
Also, Young Men Dead was the icing on the cake.
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Exactly!! Wach a lot of stuff, too, last time I felt like this watching a show was with Twin Peaks and Carnivale. Looking forward to the rest of the season!!
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Forgot to mention Hannibal. Loved that one, too.
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Very good opening titles!

I found it difficult at the very beginning, but I come from The Killing and I loved that show. After you get into it, this has a similar rythm. So this might be for me. I was a bit worried that solving the crime would take for ever and ever, so I'm glad to hear that it is a new story every season. I like that formula so much. It doesn't allow later changes of heart that would perpetuate a story till is crap.
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I enjoyed it the first time!
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Yes, you gotta admit if you're into this, then you are a really 'slow burner' fan. This show is slow but less depressing than 'The Killing'.
But it does makes you want to see more episodes, especially the conversation scene between Hart and Cohle. And Cohle, I swear that every time this guy opens his mouth to talk, anybody would just wanna punch him in the face. I wanna punch him in the face. And that is why he's interesting. I'll be watching this at least before it gets too depressing.
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best pilot since... i really don't know when.... Game of Thrones? yeah I guess so. I was totally stunned. Might very well be my Breaking Bad replacement. Both leads were extraorinary (although i think Woody was the strongest), and the photo even beat Top of the Lake. It honestly reminded me of the cinematic masterpieces of Fincher (Se7en), the Coen Bros. (No Country for Old Men), and Sean Penn (the horribly underrated The Pledge).
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I'll give it a 2-3 ep. chance, but, truthfully, I'm getting sooo tired of of the flash back and forth format, and this seeming need to make shows look like a reality show. I much prefer a linear storyline, and no fake pseudo-interviews.
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why did this fall off the main page (had to hunt for it to read it) but the "should I watch" article on this show is still up (and duplicate articles) on the main page?
rhetorical question....
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I do like this format as we know for sure there is an ending. Having it on HBO means it probably will NOT get cancel after 2 episodes like The Asset.

On the surface, this is like the Killing with a better cast and perhaps story writing but I prefer the scenes and raining atmosphere of the killing.

It is still about 2 cops solving a case.

However what is different is the show is more focus on the characters and what happened in relations to 2 similar cases that is of 17 years apart. For all we know, the 2 cases might not even be related.

Watching the first murder scene was like a scene from Hannibal so it was not as shocking for most since most of us already seen Hannibal.

Most critics out there are saying it is a very brilliant show. I still hold my judgement. It has 2 very good actors and a branded HBO but to say it is better than the Killing (some are calling it better than the wire), I would have to watch a few more episodes.

I do loved some of its dialogue like the following :-

"I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in human evolution. We became too self aware, nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist, by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, a secretion of sensory experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody's nobody," Rust philosophizes. "I think the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal."

I did wish we had more of that !

What some people did not realize is that Rust lost his daughter (died) and wife (divorced) so I think it is understandable that he has bleak views of life.

I caught the pilot later as I have The Good Wife, Episodes and Shameless to watch on Sunday night.



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"On the surface, this is like the Killing with a better cast and perhaps story writing but I prefer the scenes and raining atmosphere of the killing."

Sooo true!!!!
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It is slow but we need a bit of slow (as long as it's smart) in today's TV landscape. This has some serious potential....but I will also take my time with it and wait until I've seen a few more episodes before labelling it "brilliant" just because of the star cast, the attempt (and balls) to be different and HBO.
I can't say that I loved the first episode because I didn't. -Liked- is more the word I would use. I agree with Tim, it is sloooow. But maybe I just need to chill and get onto some de-programming - Cohle style. He is definitely the character I'm rooting for. The acting and directing is top notch, hopefully the writing keeps up. I love the fact that the whole season was written by one person, can't remember the last time we had something like that? Seems like that's how all TV shows should work. Either way, I hope we get more singular-vision work like this in the future.
The pilot was good enough for me to want to give this show a real chance and definitely the best pilot I've seen this year!
Good to know you'll be watching (and reviewing) along with us Tim.
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I was hooked by the end of the opening credits. Everything was great but that music and the credit design were superb. Cant wait for more. HBO has another classic on its hands if this keeps up
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McConaughey is absolutely brilliant so far. His views on life and the southern towns they work in are fascinating and his mannerisms (especially present day) are hilarious. Of course Woody is excellent as well, a perfect foil for Cohle. This show is everything I had hoped for and more. HBO continues to deliver some of the best, high quality television.
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So, no Woody or Mathew on season 2? What a shame! When I heard that they broke in 2002 I concluded that this was a hint that the series will have at least seven seasons. Rats!
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I enjoyed it. It has my interest to keep me watching it.
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The rambling interviews work as a plot device but only make sense if Cohle and/or Hart are suspects in the 2012 murders. Otherwise half the shit they were asked about is just a waste of time. The, "We heard stories" and "Just trying to get a handle on his process" didn't really work for me otherwise.

I'm also leary of the Christian v. anti-Christian themes. Not because I'm a Christian or even a Christian apologist but the meta of that issue can wildly overshadow and influence a show's creation, to its detriment.
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Best series premiere in quite a while. I'm not the biggest fan of McConaughey, but he was brilliant here. Can't wait to watch the next episode!
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I really don't like Matthew McConaughey, I tend to find him overrated. However he did an absolutely fabulous job as Cohle. He subtly played two different characters with extreme flaws and quite well. Definitely worth following for the season.
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He was indeed fucking fantastic in the opening ep. He's grown on me quite a lot over the last few years. Woody was great too.
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You see a TV series starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson and you don't want to get your hopes up. But I agree with everybody else. This was gripping television. The crime scene setting at the start was absolutely amazing. I loved the way they paid respectful attention to it. The reaction of the two veteran detectives upon seeing it really set the tone for me.

Fantastic photography and locations. You really got a feel for the people and the lifestyles that we were dealing with. Great authenticity and believability.

I must say that kudos must be given to the wigmaster. Seeing Woody Harrelson with hair was just so weird. And Matthew McConaughey is so thin. I think that spaghetti dinner he had at Hart's house has been his first meal in a long time.

I loved the way Cohle would not look the minister (Jay O. Sanders) in the eye. He seems to have a really good bullshit meter. And the conversations in the car were the best. It's like Hart was saying, "Do those things on the side of your head not work?"

A wonderful start to what should be a great ride.
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Wow that was great.I was expecting to be good but it surpassed my expectations.And McConaughey was so great that i almost forgot his comedy period.
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Mezmerasing acting, almost documentary style shooting, intelligent approach to characters, and slow but steady storytelling that adds a creepy note to the feel of it.

Lovin it.
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FINALLY something intelligent to fill some sort of void after Breaking Bad. The acting was so good I didn't even kinda recognize Harrelson. The story gave away just enough to make it interesting instead of forcing me to frustrated wait for answers.
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Your review was spot on.
Except I didn't get slow at all. It was riveting.

And I am very please to hear about the anthology format. It means we can count on resolution of the major plot points without having to wait years.

I'm definately looking forward to seeing more.
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Wow, I was really not expecting to love this show, but I was glued to it right from the start. If the show stays this quality, it will be one of my favorites. I loved the atmosphere, it was creepy and depressing, but so perfect. I have lived in the south most of my life, and they got the run down dying town thing nearly perfect.
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Pretty darn good. It's fairly rare for slow-paced shows to capture my attention that well; despite the pace, I wasn't particularly bored at any point. It's also interesting to me that I don't really quite care at all about the murder mystery itself, which is a nice surprise.

It's not always noticeable, especially with the high-quality that TV shows produce nowadays, but having two movie-star actors as the leads really was noticeable in the top-notch acting. I suppose much of that has to do with the writing and directing, too.

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The hour (not even 45 minutes, a full 60 ) flew by just like that! It was that frickin good! So calling this slow is very inaccurate. It was fantastic and riviting television. Woody and Matthew are brilliant in this and the perfect pairing. Damn this was good! Can't wait for more!
ps: brother Mouzone AND Lester? F'n A! :)
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I thought it was so-so, but I'll keep with it and see if it gets better. I guess I wasn't expecting it to just be soooo straightforward and serious. With that pair of actors, you've got comedy gold and yet everything is just played so straight. Too straight. imo, it should have had more elements of dark comedy.
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I think 'slow' isn't a fair description.
I don't understand why so many shows are called slow just cause they take their time and develop characters. If i'm not actually bored i can't say that about a show, personally i was so much more interested in the characters than the crime.
I really appreciate a show that gives time for characters to have a normal conversation, even more mundane than we got here.

I was immersed in this show, it captured my attention and changed my mood.
10/10
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I agree. I find that if the pace is measured like it was in this episode, than the dialogue is meant to be heard and means something. I find myself pausing and going back on other shows because they try to say so much in so little time. Every conversation between Hart and Cohle was important. I listened and I can't wait for Episode 2.
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Yeah, I agree. Breaking Brad is incredibly slow, yet it is pretty great. :)
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Slow isn't always said as a bad thing. The fact that you described it as 'take their time' suggests it's slow, no? Taking their time = taking it slow; they're pretty much synonyms. It doesn't have to always mean boredom or disinterest.
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You can mean it which every way you like the truth though is that a 'sloooooooow' show usually describes a boring show.
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I agree. And it is technically and artistically way more complicated to make a slow show that really captures your attention. Many people can do fast action, but it takes a certain quality - especially in actors - to pull off a slow character driven crime drama.
With lesser actors than Harrelson and McConaughey it might as well have turned out very boring. Add to that good writing (you can tell feel the connection to The Killing) and directing and you get a great, very unusual and captivating result.
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This was soooooo good. I have been waiting for this show to begin. I thought it aired the day before but I forgot I am a day infront of you guys.
The premiere of this show has sucked me in big time. I cannot wait untiil next weeks episode.
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On setting the scene, and making it authentic, just look at the homicide squad room, and the other cops. Unlike so many other police procedural shows, these guys actually look like homicide detectives. Young, fit, and good looking isn't the norm for this job, and True Detective lives up to its name by showing them the way they really are. The friction between Cohle and his partner and colleagues also feels very authentic for such an environment.
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Yup, its a keeper. I like the cinematic values, post Breaking Bad, do producers have a choice? They could lose the intro music, it sucks and blows, blows and sucks. Incidentally, was this shot post Dallas Buyers Club? Because McConaughey looks pretty scrawny.
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You know that breaking bad wasn't the first good show or the first one with good production values, right?!
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Yeh but its the one I want to use as an example, so that's why I did it...
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Throughout the whole time I couldn't help imagining how different the characters would have been interpreted if the two brilliant actors were given each other's role.
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Excellent. I get a feeling of immersion with this show that I haven't felt since Carnivale. 9/10.
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Kudos on the Carnivale drop ;)
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So there is a chance of a mature series for once? That would be rather shocking.
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Pretty cool show.

I noticed that Hart wasn't wearing his wedding ring in 2012 while he had one on in 95.

And Hart was saying he didnt bear any grudges, so my guess would be Hart was having an affair with that hot girl. And Cohle had an affair with Hart's wife. So the split.

We have to appreciate the details in this show, its details like this which make the show slow yet captivating, makes you watch it again to see if u missed anything which they meticulously placed in the show. Kudos :)
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Yes I agree about appreciating detail. I did not pick up on the weddimg ring. I will be watching it again tomorrow to look for other things.
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I was hooked from the first frame. Love Cary Fukunaga's direction. Makes me crazy excited for his adaptation of 'It,' if that ever gets off the ground.
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Anyone who enjoyed this should checkout a S. Korean film called Memories of Murder, you won't regret it. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0353969/reference
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I never liked the use of music in that one. Otherwise it has some qualities, definitely. The Host as well by the same director. A very nice guy btw :)
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It was definitely slow, but also powerful and engaging. Matthew and Woody are beyond amazing. I can't wait to see where it goes.

The whole crime scene reminded me of something out of Hannibal, and I mean that as a compliment.
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Yes, that crime scene definitely reminded me of the first Garrett Jacob Hobbes murder on Hannibal!
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Yeah, I kind of think Hannibal is better though.
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one episode so far, wouldn't jump to conclusions just yet.
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Love it. It was slow, but it wasn't as bad as i thought it would be from reading the previews. I was worried about the time line jumping around because, let's be honest, it's usually a mess. Here, It was done very well.

The best part was the getting to know you conversation in the car between the two characters. It also mentions Hurricane Rita, which no ever talks about.
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He's a Louisiana homicide cop. Bad hair may have been an artistic choice, and totally suits his character.
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