True Detective: Seeing Things

Fox on True Detective's second episode.

I paid much more attention to the opening credits on this episode. They’re fairly typical of an HBO credit sequence. Beautifully shot and edited. A tad abstract. But what’s terrific about these credits is exactly what they depict. The sequence uses double exposure to project cityscapes, highways, church interiors and other locales onto the faces, foreheads, and abdomens of the series’ various characters. It shows these men and women as completely made up of their surroundings. They’re products of their environment. While this isn’t completely original thinking by any means it is a great entry into the headspace this series wants it’s audience to occupy. People are indeed a product of their environment and when opening moments of "Seeing Things" returns us to the back and forth narrative structure of past and present, we’re forced to think of how this gothic, murderous depiction of Louisiana is going to mold young Rust and Marty into their present day forms. And that’s just the first two minutes.

As if to call back to my comments last week about this not really being an according to Hoyle original cop drama, Marty has a great line of inner monologue where he likens police work to screenwriting. “You’re looking for narrative. Interrogate witnesses. Parsing evidence. Establish a timeline. Build a story. Day after day.” It’s a great insight to how his character approaches police work that completely backs up what we already know about him. But it’s also a nod to the audience. Cop stories have been done to death on TV. This show’s creators know that. And they’re really hoping you’ll stick with them to discover what they think is going to make this one different. Luckily I think we already have an idea. Star power is a great marketing tool but in the age of HBO finding stellar nobodies to fill roles it’s not everything. So when a series like True Detective tracks down two very killer performers I like to think it’s because the show’s creators know they’re going to need a deep bench. They're going to take these two lead characters into difficult territory and they need to be sure that whoever did land the parts would be able to bring them home.

True Detective’s second episode takes it’s leads to task right away. We learn from present Rust’s video confessional that even before the ’95 case he worked four long years as a deep cover narc. He cites a double cartel murder he committed with little more than a wave of his hand. We also see a hint of a smirk sneak into his thousand-yard stare as he asks the interviewing detectives, “you boys didn’t know that?” This revelation sort of scares me. Whatever happened to Rust between the ’95 case and now must really be something to have affected him so much. Especially when we know that his deep cover work was filled with drug addiction and violence and that resulted in a great, if stone faced and occasionally PTSD-and-hallucination stricken cop. The creators know that we want more insight into that period before the series ends. It does seem to inform why Rust dropped off the grid for so long after the ’95 case concluded. But what happened during those years to get him to his present state? The mystery box remains wide open.

This episode also gives us more insight into Marty’s character. He really wasn’t given much screen time in the pilot so he earned himself some more in this outing. It rapidly becomes clear why: Marty cheats on his wife with a woman named Lisa who works at the courthouse played by Alexandra Daddario. This is nothing new for a modern television audience. Don Draper and Tony Soprano had plenty of trysts in their respective series and we round out the antihero trinity with Marty echoing Walter White saying his cheating was “for the good of the family”. This facet of Marty’s character doesn’t do much for me but I really don’t think it’s supposed to. What’s important here is that we aren’t supposed to side with Marty. Unlike the leads on Mad Men or The Sopranos Marty isn’t our audience’s only direct line into the series’ established universe so we don’t have to try and justify what he’s up to just to like him more. If this show were about Marty Hart exclusively, it wouldn’t be all that good. Quality aside, we’d have seen it all before. But because we’re given Rust as his foil we’re allowed to see into a world we really haven’t been able to before. Neither Mad Men nor The Sopranos provided its leads with a distorted mirror image and this aspect is what’s going to keep me watching True Detective

Last week, I wrote that humanity is the singular cause for evil in the world, in True Detective’s world. And whether it's the cause or effect of that evil, humanity managed to escape nature during its rise to autonomy. So it’s only natural then that those who live on the outskirts of society return to nature. Marty and Rust spend some time this episode investigating a group of prostitutes who live quite literally in the middle of nowhere. They’ve dragged some trailers out into the swamp and treat it as their own private sanctuary.  And even while Marty berates them for their life styles they really appear as the only truly loving group of people in the series so far. And that’s part of why this show continues to have me hooked. It presents itself as one very familiar type of series. Cops and killers. Hookers and junkies. But just as quickly as it sets up its camps, True Detective quickly tears down our pre-existing ideas of who these people are and gets to the complex, dark, and surprisingly vulnerable creatures within.

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