Wednesday, March 19, 2014

TRUE DETECTIVE - A PESSIMISTIC REVIEW.

(Spoilers ahead)

I usually review shows on my other blog, but this is a case that actually brought forth interest of the "pessimistic" web community, mostly because of one character that displayed a lot of what we already know as valid arguments on pessimistic stanzas, but what other people at large were being shown for the first time in prime time TV (or one of the first times anyway). So I had to do this review, if not to put our blog on the list amongst the multitude of others talking about this phenomenon of a series. As a pessimist, I had to do it. 

To this day, the character of Rustin Cohle is thought of, by and large, as a nihilist, despite he also displaying obvious feelings regarding antinatalism, as it is stated right out of the bat in the first episode of the first season. And as we all know, nihilism doesn´t exactly translate to antinatalism, but it´s an expected mistake to have seen it mixed up by people of all walks of life that were watching the show. So, no problems there. At least in the beginning. Let´s jump in, then, to the synopsis. 

SYNOPSIS

In this first season, True Detective was about the life and struggles of two detectives, Martin Hart and Rustin Cohle, as they try to unravel a series of  murders happening in rural Louisiana. 

WHAT WENT GOOD

True Detective (TD) had everything to be another police procedural, but it started differently, and right from the bat the cinematography plus the dialogue, acting, and pretty much all production values are top notch. Also they had the amazing ingenuity to introduce an edgy character called Rustin Cohle, which is characterized as 'talented but troubled detective [...] a loner and a cerebral, intense thinker [...], all the while spouting antinatalism in an as cool manner as Don Juan hitting on girls, and you got it - people got hooked on it, and pessimists of various sorts and tints were in for the taking.

People got mesmerized on the way it was structured: lots of dialogue and very little of the same old same old police dramas schtick, all the while feeling like a first hit at something new  - a mix between the gothic, the noir, the hard-boiled detective genre and with a dash of Americana, mainly represented here, beautifully, for Louisiana. It was definitely a first, hard blow to the chin of every casual and profissional TV watcher (reviewers). I´m very, very difficult, nowadays, to be pleased with any kind of entertainment media. I can sometimes get lost in a big action movie, in theaters, and the diminishing good stories and plots we still have lingering on, but I confess I am rather critical to be really hooked up on anything, nowadays, media-wise. It was a surprise to me, then, from the moment I first knew about True Detective, I got "addicted" to it, almost instantly. 
"So we have an actual pessimistic guy in this one? An actual pessimist, not one of those jerky, kinda-asshole, sons of bitches, that pass for pessimists in general media, but an honest to 'God' pessimist in this one, and one of the 'good' guys, nonetheless? Well, sign me up for it, then!" -- That was generally my thought process when it came to True Detective. 
From then on I was watching the episodes soaking it all in, and I got to confess it was one heck of a ride. Beatiful shots, good drama, and a mistery. Oh, the mistery. Yeah, besides putting a pessimist on a international broadcast channel, on prime time TV, it had a mistery of its own, to remind us of Lovecraft and all. This time, it was about The Yellow King, and while he is not from the first that come to mind when we think Chthulhu mythos, if you know your weird fiction, you know that The King in Yellow is a book by Robert Chambers that kinda preceded and in turn influenced Lovecraft on the whole cosmicism/cosmic horror genre. And the titular character, the Yellow King, is as much part of Chamber´s mithology as it is Chthulhu´s, after it was adapted, later on, to be one of the Old Gods of Lovecraft's mythos. 

Ok, the recap is over, the thing is - the show did a lot to separate itself from what a normal, run-of-the mill cop drama is all about. It wasn´t so much a cop drama than it was a veritable mix and match of different genres (like I pointed out before: noir, horror, etc). It didn´t quite get surreal - well, not so much anyway - but we got almost all these obscure genres mixed up in there, in a manner that brought in a lot of pessimist and other types of interested fellows to this TV show.

And believe me, it has all kinds of artistic merits to it, but in my book, the inclusion of a plot point mistery such as the Yellow King, and a veritable pessimistic hero were the major selling points, without a doubt. 

There was a lot going on for TD. It almost seemed too good to be true, really. And in part, it was. I confess that I´m not the one of those that are terribly disappointed with TD, though. For what it was, it was good, really good, even.. And to see Lovecraftian entities gaining the small screen was amazing. People complain that a lot of the mysteries weren´t solved, and I can subscribe to that, to some degree. But on the other hand, the very fiction of Lovecraf touches upon the topic of forbidden knowledge, and 'things men are not meant to know'. While this may seem debatable and all (and very convenient to authors and writers, sometimes), it is still very true that it resonates with the way Lovecraft (to cite just one) dealed with his own plots and themes. Leave the monster to the imagination? You know?

The character of Rustin Cohle is, without a doubt, the powerhouse subject of the series. Nothing against the performance of the actor that played Martin Hart, of course, it´s just that that Martin is your regular, machist driven, bully of a cop. Both have moments in which they play with the law - meaning they trespass that fine line between what they are doing and what is permitted by the codes, legislation, etc. All the times Cohle does it, feels tragic and you feel like he is driven through tragicity, like the very pathos of the character is driving him through making these choices. In all the times Hart does it, it feels just like he is a prick. Both when he abuses his powers of an officer of the law, and when he punishes the kids who did wrong to his daughter, his character feels like is driven by nothing but conceit, prejudice and an enormous ego bullshit sense of what is right. He is also being driven, alright, but not by any sense of tragicity, in other words, we don´t much relate to the guy - I know I didn´t - we just feel like he is a douche. 'Captain-of-the-football-team, I-want-to-get-all-the-girls-macho-alpha-bullshit' douche.

He gets to become more than that by the end of the show, alright, even going as far as counseling and genuinely trying to converse with his friend in a wheelchair, and that´s a huge character improvement. We get to see how much he has changed, by the end of it. And that´s what literaly and figuratively saves his character, both in the plot, and to us, the viewers.


WHAT WENT WRONG

However, there were some things that found resonance to fans and reviewers alike. The fact that some hints were given to the audience and that weren´t addressed in the least in the ending. Yes, there were fan theories, and yes, many of them were wrong - and some pointed to aspects that would´ve greatly impacted the series as a whole, for better or worse. But nevertheless, the most important thing to note is that there were clues that were left behind - the all too known fact that the daughter of Martin Hart designed a scene almost out of a gang rape with her dolls, the fact that there were hints to existing "five horsemen", or five important figures that were supposed to be linked to the murders, and so on and on. The acting, while top notch 99% of the time, felt somewhat flat during some moments. Some things were quite not explained - perhaps they will be in other seasons? Who knows? Anyway.

By the way, there are a lot of blogs and websites containting the thoughts of people disappointed with the finale - see here another one.

From this one, we have:
True Detective‘s disappointing ending doesn’t diminish Matthew McConaughey’s “locked room” monologue or Cary Fukunaga’s jaw-dropping tracking shot. Rather, it’s a reminder that those components are part of a whole we haven’t seen yet. In that respect, it joins the ranks of Lost, another mystery that couldn’t deliver despite having its fair share of high points, and American Horror Story: Coven, another miniseries whose strong start didn’t amount to an equally strong finish.
The locked room monologue is this, if you didn´t catch it, or want to catch it again:



Or, in a more stylized way:



Oh, yeah, the quote mentioned the dreaded ending, which lead us to this very hot topic...

THE ENDING 

The ending brought some division throughout the fans, once again, mostly because of the way the character of Rustin Cohle supposedly embraces a higher cause, afterlife, God, and everything. In summation, the whole "born-again" package. I have two things to say to this, in regards to the whole experience of watching Cohle unveil as a character. 

The first one is considering the whole embracing of the "God, the Universe and Everything", that many people supposedly think it is the case. Regarding this, and if that´s the point of it all - considering some thrown around reference about light vs darkness, etc, then I supposed it´s a shame, in fact, to take a character such as Cohle, and transform him in everything that he was not - namely a born again Christian - in the worst sense of these words. But of course, there is the possibility, or so I believe, that what happened was another type of transformation. 

It may seem that the 'transformation' went from cynical-nihilist to born-again theist (at least). But the thing is, it might have been from cynical-materialist to believer in something...something... not necessarily "God of so and so... christian denomination". 

What I mean is, Cohle may have completed his transformation from a non-believer in nothing but materialism (metaphysical materialism) to another thing altogether, all the while keeping his edgy, grim take on things. Believing in something else, doesn´t meant that the person has to be an ordinary 'fish-on-wagon' kind of guy. If I´m right, then this ending is not so much of a let down after all. He just "saw too much" and know he knows that 'death is not the end'. Doesn´t mean that necessarily there exists heaven and hell, and the whole hierarchy of baby cupid angels waiting for him when he kicks the bucket. 

And while he may have said deep stuff about being in touch with his daughter and everything he loves, and all the while this is kinda 'old school tv emotionalism', it is nevertheless what makes us a bit human. The fact that he shed a tear in the end, cracking all that image of a "bad-ass" he had, and all the while having passed through what he passed, we know that there lies a human being, and we connect with this emotion. And whatever is left after a person witness such degree of pain and distress is humanity in one of its purest forms. So, all the while, this happened, it also means that he is human and fallible, and therefore, even if he saw that "death is not the end" he may be mistaken about what it is, or if there is ever any happy ending to be had after all. Despair is one possible of reaction amongst many, of all our powerlessness, a theme that resonates with this series as well (at least with its beginnings). There´s also a bit else to confirm this too, if those are not are red herrings. The first is the fact that Errol Childress, the main antagonist of the last episode, before dying, called Cohle "little priest" for various times, and also Reggie Ledoux, when he said that he saw Cohle in his dreams. It is possible that Cohle had, because of his ability to see this 'negativity', a certain resonance with all their negativity, but in a different frequency. 

That´s why they could see him - in his dreams and all - and even possibly wanted him to join his cause. The cultists knew him, a bit, even if not directly. All because of this connection that he also shares, indirectly. He knows the negativity and through it, he connects with them. He refuses to succumb to it, thought, and that´s key here. But this is akin to one who knows about Lovecraftian deities and Old Gods without becoming their servers, in the stories. The one who knows about all the 'negativity' these entities are made off/bring about, but is not one dedicated to their cause. This may be the case with Cohle. 

In the end, I thought that what happened between them, the last scene in the hospital, was well enacted, and was quaint, though, as I said before, it may apparently be out of character for Cohle, it is also understandable that it is so, after all, people are only human, and in times of distress, even the most badass mofo may just want some lap to rest upon. And it was a really good scene between people who at long last recognized themselves as friends, without all the masks and all, even if just for a moment. A really kick in the nuts of their egos. Even if the dialogue was not that bright (pun intended) it was still quaint and heartful. 

And if people didn´t quite agree with the fact that Cohle abandoned his old pessimistic self, then it´s just as easy to see that it never was much the intention of the creator, Nic Pizzollato, that it was so. Nic said various times that Cohle was never this much pessimistic, and that he was "too passioned" to be a full blown nihilist, and also said once that he disagreed, in the ending, with philosophies the like of Thomas Ligotti. Since Cohle, most likely than not, was representative of Nic´s points of view, it is possible that he is presenting his middle ground take on things, which is also the majority between those that write edgy, gritty, noir and gothic tales of mystery.

Edgy, gritty and noir as they may be, in the end, they won´t necessarily be antinatalists, or pessimists, for that matter. And that´s what is most important for us to take from this. To differentiate the aesthetics, the bravado, the allegation, from the real thing. 

So, that´s my take on the first season of True Detective. 

Many cheers to all. 

9 comments:

  1. Thanks for the synopsis, haven't had a chance to see it yet. I've seen a few different takes on the end, but I'll have to stay open minded until I've seen the thing myself. Until then, I'm thinking 'no such thing as bad publicity'. :)

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    1. Yeah, people have been crazy about the ending! You can´t find two websites that agree on it.

      No such thing as bad publicity, that´s right! Kudos to you for being an influence on the show as well. I´ve read about they reading your book!

      Right on, Jim!

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  2. The first video clip, in which Rust opines that the murdered girls, in the last moment of their lives welcomed death, is straight out of the end of the Ligotti novella My Work Is Not Yet Done. The protagonist, a man "born to fear", is no longer afraid of death He cannot wait for it, moments before he dies. What do you think, Raf?

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    1. I don´t remember much MWINYD from Ligotti, but I believe you are right. They even cited Ligotti being an influence to the series, and also they´ve read Jim´s book as well (Confessions of an Antinatalist). My girlfriend was seeing one episode once and she couldn´t help to notice how close Rust´s arguments was similar to what me make here, there and everywhere. It´s probably they surveyed this blog and the commenters to fully flesh out Rust Cohle´s pessimism. Right on.

      What I do remember is that Frank Dominio (the character from MWINYD) was a man born to fear alright! Good reminder!

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  3. "...what people at large were being shown for the first time in prime time TV (or one of the first times anyway)."
    That feature pretty much accounts for the attraction of the show. Some of the
    "failures" of the show might only be attributed to the producers attempting to keep things accessible to those not acquainted with the Gothic horror genre.
    That being said, it seems that in the last year there was some interest cultivated in the works of Poe, especially in the guise of "The Following" and perhaps "Raven".
    In the former, we see a much more "regular approach to horrific mystery and serial killer detection.
    In TD we have a full flavour of the horrific condition and impact on individuals, but never a full scope of the horror, only the impact of exposure. Perhaps this was one reason for the "letdown" at the conclusion of the series. Carcosa was "skeery" but there was little indication of other-worldliness. Perhaps the other invisible villain in this story, "a mixture of LSD and Meth", would shed some light.


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    1. That´s right, I thought that "The Following", for as little as I have seen of it, was very intense and full of 'shock and awe' moments. I also agree with you about the TD ending. Carcosa felt like something was missing. Right on.

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  4. Great review. What i loved about Errol was his reason for killing : to ascend and escape the eternal recurrence.

    "The one who knows about all the 'negativity' these entities are made off/bring about, but is not one dedicated to their cause. This may be the case with Cohle. "

    It reminds me of the manga "Berserk", Guts also fights against the idea of "evil" while his friend/enemy Griffith surrends to it and ascends. As for Cohle's breakdown, some dreams have an impact on me for days...a NDE can be powerfull stuff. Still a man learned as Cohle should've seen it as an illusion.

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  5. Berserk is also an intriguing series and worth of debate.

    Good comment as well, TheGodHand.

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  6. That dream in the locked room is the person. It's a story we tell ourselves that we aren't puppets....

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