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True Detective S01E04: "Who Goes There?"

Wow. Sometimes the universe has a plan for you that initially looks foul before turning into something so fortuitous that you wouldn't want it any other way. For whatever reason, there was a mix-up at the old HBO screener factory, and I never got an advanced screener of "Who Goes There?" That means I'm writing this True Detective review on a Monday morning instead of fighting the onset of the work week by staying in bed, my regimented schedule has been completely blown up, and my Pulitzer-Prize winning feature "10 Supporting Characters I Want to Snuggle with for Valentine's Day" will have to wait until tomorrow. But a big thank you to the winter storms or DVD duplication process errors that put me in this situation, because I got to see those final six minutes of "Who Goes There" in stunning high definition instead of the horrible less-than-DVD quality of an unfinished screener that still needed color corrections, about one million more pixels per square inch, and audio that didn't sound like it was recorded underwater. 

Those six minutes–a ridiculously complicated one-shot one-take of Cohle's entry into and escape from a botched stash-house heist in the projects–were among the most amazing six minutes of television I have ever seen. I'm still buzzed from watching it.

We could go on for hours and hours about that final scene, but let's not forget that there was more to the episode. "Who Goes There?" was all about getting into it, not just getting your hands dirty but becoming the dirt under your fingernails. Most of the episode was more of the thankless detective grunt work that goes into following one shaky lead to the next, but these two desperate cops were no longer sifting through the slop for anything as they did in the first three episodes. There's a man out there who is killing women and they think that man is Reginald Ledoux, the mysterious lurching nightmare from the riveting end of last week's episode. They weren't putting a picture of this monster together anymore, they had the picture and were asking "Have you seen this man?" to anyone who would listen. And because Hart and Cohle have been so good about finding people since the series began, the tension of knowing they could find him at any moment–coupled with that insane image of Ledoux from last week–heightened EVERYTHING until it exploded in the final minutes.

As Ledoux's scent got stronger and stronger and the case more consuming, Hart and Cohle both saw their lives snatched away. For Hart, it was the dissolution of his marriage after his indiscretions were exposed. Sorry Hart, but you deserved every bit of the pain. For Cohle, it was back to his old life as a deep undercover narco cop after having what passed for a normail routine. True Detective has hammered home the inverse relationship between cracking a case and being a human being, and its heftiest strike came tonight when Hart came home to a pair of packed suitcases and a GTFO note from Maggie and then told Lisa he would "skullfuck" her, and Cohle was willingly shooting up cayenne and ink to simulate track marks and bouncing from strip club to underground rave to biker party to go all in on the hunt for Ledoux. Hart, the hypocrite, saw the world catch up with him and the creeping case clutch his ankles with a vice-like grip. Cohle, the Nihilist, gleefully jumped into the chasm knowing that it was all going to end soon so he might as well be in charge of how he goes.

And in these times, when a normal life was erased by a job that exposes the worst in people, they were the closest to each other that they've ever been. The fact that Hart had to go live with Cohle–and just think about that for a second, Hart and Cohle as roommates–also shows how powerful a black hole Cohle can be, how Hart is being sucked into Cohle's existence, and how every other influence in Hart's life is discarding him there. True Detective is masterfully showing off the symbiotic AND parasitic relationship that festers from a partnership between two cops in an immersive hunt for a psycho.

But Hart still has a long way to go before he truly sees Cohle's world. Even as Cohle dragged Hart through the muck of this case–and let's be clear here, Cohle is several steps ahead of Hart in this case and pulling him by the hair towards new depths–he never shoved Hart's face into the reality of what he does when he's ready to commit. That's why these final six minutes of Cohle on a stash-house heist to prove his credibility with a biker that had a lead into Ledoux were even more engrossing. We heard about the horrors of Cohle's previous life as an undercover cop in the drug trade for four years (FOUR YEARS!) and how that fucked him up and brought him closer to Nietzsche, but like Hart, we hadn't seen it. We've only seen the chewed-up body it spat out. So Fukunaga showed us a glimpse of that life in this incredible six-minute single-continuous-shot of Hell on Earth. 

I mean, guys, this was incredible. I don't think I've ever seen anything like that in television. I think the Lost pilot had a sequence like this, but this was on another level. Alfonso Cuaron, master of the long single shot and director of Children of Men and Gravity (and NBC's upcoming Believe), was probably like, "Dammmmmmmn!" And it wasn't just the technical achievement of camera position, herding extras, and action choreography, it was the video-game immersion into Cohle's world and the visceral reality of what he did for four years that struck so hard. As soon as the heist went bad, and we all knew it would go bad, Cohle switched gears into survivor mode, dragging Ginger the biker through sheets of chaos as he ran this labyrinth of drug dealers, biker-gang members, and police to get the job done. Yet we could see the split-second calculations in Cohle's eyes that only added to Cohle's legend. He saved a kid's life by telling him to hide in a bath tub, he immediately went lone wolf once the bullets started flying because that was his best chance at snagging Ginger, and his stop-and-start hideouts in the middle of swarms of gangbangers saved both his and Ginger's life multiple times (Cohle's pause behind the wall after the camera swung through the room with the G's loading up a semiautomatic arsenal was genius on Fukunaga's part–that was the most tense part of the entire sequence if we're pointing one moment out). And after Cohle threw Ginger into Hart's getaway car and the two speed off with their man–maybe not how they intended to get him–the camera showed us a war zone below. The final brushstroke on a masterpiece.

We've seen True Detective master the art of discourse and dark characterization, but the question going into "Who Goes There?" was how the show would handle action. I think we know the answer now. The best show of 2014 continues to get better.


– I only have one question about how that whole heist went down. If Ginger didn't entirely trust Cohle/Crash with a business deal, was taking Cohle on a heist where Ginger's life would be on the line the right way to make sure Cohle was legit? Shouldn't it have been the other way around? Money first, then his life? I guess Ginger was that desperate for one more man on his mission.

– McConaughey for all the awards this year, please.

– Reggie Ledoux is 6'7" according to his file. Now he's even scarier!

– As great as the final scene was, we still have "the shootout in the woods" that has been referred to coming. I'm guessing it's between Hart, Cohle, and Ledoux, right?

– I love how Cohle wants nothing to do with Hart's imploding marriage. As Hart is about to pour out his soul in a moment of vulnerability, Cohle matter-of-factly said, "This is none of my business. I don't want to hear it." Foot down. No mushy stuff, Hart. 

– The cartel's way of dealing with people they don't like sounded like fun! First, they cut your face off. Then they hold a mirror to your face so you can see your faceless face. Then they cut off your penis and testicles. Then they shove your dick and balls down your throat, past where your lips used to be, while you watch. "So as far as high stakes goes, a bullet to the head, it ain't that." 

– I might have to ask my lovely editor if I can do reviews without screeners from now on. There's just way too much of a difference.

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 8/9/2015

Season 2 : Episode 8

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