Powerful performances drive HBO’s ‘True Detective’


Photo Credit: Connor Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

In the short span of two episodes, HBO’s crime anthology series “True Detective” introduced viewers to the most intrinsically complicated duo since “Breaking Bad”’s Walter and Jesse.

“True Detective” can be considered HBO’s answer to FX’s “American Horror Story.”  Each season will serve as its own self-contained narrative with a definite beginning, middle and end. The first season zeroes in on detectives Rust Cohle and Martin Hart, whose investigation of a grisly murder evolves into a 17-year search for answers. While the whodunit aspect of the premise is the superficial drawing point for viewers, the show’s most essential aspect is its psychological exploration of its two leads.

Cohle and Hart, played with fiery chemistry by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, respectively, are polar opposites. Hart is the good cop, a man who claims to live simply. He adheres to the stability of a married life and fits the mold of a good father to his two daughters. He serves as an entry point for viewers, and, at first glance, he appears to serve the role of an everyman counterbalance to McConaughey’s eccentric Cohle. 

As of the second episode, the thin veil of this self-purported family man has been all but torn away through his steamy love affair with a much younger woman. Rather than acknowledging this misstep, Hart instead justifies it as a means of keeping his marriage alive. This believable reversal of viewer expectations in the span of two episodes is a deft feat of writing prowess coupled with a passive aggressive performance by Harrelson.

Rather than continuing to explore Hart, episode two shifts narrative gears and brings viewers into the bleak and kaleidoscopically disturbed mind of Cohle. After a life of great tragedy and emotional upheaval, Cohle is a shell of a man who exists because he must. He enters the story following a failed marriage perpetuated by the accidental death of his 3-year-old daughter. This event spiraled Cohle into a whirlwind of drug abuse and violence, which further stoked his inner workings. 

The show has its share of dark humor, with Cohle often spouting his dogma of depression much to the hilarious chagrin of the more grounded Hart. From Cohle’s existential musings comes the show’s best writing, exhibiting a brooding tone that carries with it a hauntingly insightful wisdom. McConaughey is brilliant here, giving an unusually subdued but altogether commanding, performance that is unlike anything he’s done before.

“True Detective” is shaping up to be one of the best shows of 2014. In just two episodes, the stunning performances of its two leads have shown that this is not only a show about solving a mystery. “True Detective” is a show about solving the minds of two men by uncovering the skillfully hidden clues within human relationships. The mystery is just icing on the cake.