I recently finished watching the entire eight-episode season of HBO's hit from last year, True Detective. Set in the backwaters of Louisiana's Cajun country, this is the story of two policemen struggling to solve a bizarre murder, a strange trip that brings them into conflict with each other, the officers in their department, and a raft of local characters. This bayou noir spans a period of seventeen years.
The two detectives are Rust Cohle, played by Matthew McConaughey, a troubled soul from Texas who arrives in Louisiana just in time to take part in this odd case, and Marty Hart, a Louisiana good-old-boy cop played by Woody Harrelson. Rust Cohle is metaphysical in nature with a propensity to talk in circles, while Marty Hart is more direct. Hart, for example, has no problem asking a jailer to leave a cell door unlocked so that he can beat the hell out of two young men who were found misbehaving with his daughter in a parked car. ("You play a man's game, you pay a man's price," Hart told the two young men as he commenced pounding.)
The case that brings the two disparate detectives together deals with child torture and murder, and it is steeped in Cajun religious lore. Most of it is told from an over-the-shoulder perspective as the detectives are interviewed by state investigators who are trying to determine if the two local police officers broke laws during their protracted investigation. In addition to the horrendous crime that is the focus of the series, the private lives of the detectives are also explored.
McConaughey's performance in particular is stellar. His hospital scene in the eighth episode surpasses anything he did in Dallas Buyer's Club, the film which garnered him an Oscar for Best Actor.
The key element that makes True Detective so strong is the writing. Nic Pizzolatto did an amazing job creating and scripting this crime drama. Pizzolatto, who at one time attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, apparently pushed for this series to be filmed in the Missouri Ozarks, but it was relocated to Louisiana because that state's legislature created tax incentives to attract film projects there, while Missouri had not. (The Missouri Legislature is awfully good about protecting its citizens from outside groups who might bring money, jobs, or respectability to the "Show Me" state.)
True Detective will be back in 2015, but with a new cast that will include Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell as the detectives. As long as HBO has the good sense to keep the same writer, it ought to be a hit!