True Detective Season 1 Episode 4 Deconstructed

by: Michael Shields

True Detective arrives at its half way point with an earsplitting bang, bestowing us with its most extraordinary episode to date….

In six of the most exciting minutes in television history, we rode shotgun with Cohle and his co-conspirator turned hostage, Ginger, through the hollows of a housing project lit afire with gunshots and asperity. We darted with them repeatedly from swarming police, away from heavily armed gangs, through multiple homes, behind a concealing hedgerow of brush, over a fence, and finally into the safe confines of Detective Hart’s vehicle. It was riveting, demanding, and this scene, which has captivated a bevy of newly-minted True Detective enthusiasts, is an unabashed expression of the level of grandeur at play here.

Shot as a single uninterrupted six-minute take and spanning an entire neighborhood1 as extras, gunshots, police cars and helicopters circled about, this weeks True Detective, “Who Goes There,” featured a climactic gunfight not soon forgotten. Thus far, Nic Pizzolatto’s pitch-black prose has done most of the heavy lifting, while Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson contribute career crowning, powerhouse performances. But with a dazzling splash of flawless cinematography (a huge tip of the hat to cinematographer Adam Arkapaw here – bravo!), it is clear the team assembled in production of this stunning piece of work is capable on all fronts.

We have thus far delved into the psyche and unrest of our protagonists, learning considerably more about them than the actual case itself. Yet learning about Cohle and Hart, and their enigmatic eccentricities, was pivotal to moving forward with them into the underbelly of the Bayou, and to understand their actions within it, and reactions to it. But with “Who Goes There” we can feel the pendulum start to swing. With each intensifying moment we are digging in deeper and deeper. With each questionable decision that Cohle and Hart rationalize, in their implacable hunt for a killer, the tide pulls them further from shore, tethered to little but each other, and directly into the line of fire. A telling conversation with Charlie Lange (Brad Carter’s performance, although not impressing Detective Cohle, was brilliant.) led us to Tyro Weens, a pimp and EDM enthusiast, who in turn leads us to the Iron Crusaders, a rancorous brand of drug dealing bikers. As fate would have it, Cohle once ran with the Iron Crusaders while undercover in Texas under the guise of “Crash”. Where one would most likely see unfathomable peril, Rust sees opportunity. And opportunity that requires risking it all, dodging department regulations, concocting a lie, and going back undercover2.

It is hard to believe that Detective Hart would adhere to Cohle’s unauthorized and precarious plan. The man we first met played within the rules, barring those that apply to matrimony. But that man has changed, his world has crumbled before him due to his inability to sniff out “crazy pussy” (Cohle’s words, not mine!). Now he is broken, he is vulnerable, and in need. Rock-bottom is having no one to turn to besides “the Michael Jordan of being a sonofabitch.” Yet for Rust, this is where he needs his partner to be. In order for him to wrench Hart down this rabbit hole, he requires him uncertain, exposed, and susceptible. And that is exactly where we find Detective Hart, looking for comfort in the arms of the unbalanced, and empathizing with a convict about “living with someone talking insane shit in your ears.”3

As Rust makes impressively clear, the stakes are high. Incredibly so. Rip off your face, cut off your balls, and feed them to you high. But for the sake of another lead, Rust is going in. Back into a world that chewed him up and spit him out as the emotionally disfigured, introspective man we have become so fascinated by4. And, after all we struggled through this week, all the hurt and endangerment, we are only a hair closer to Reggie, and to uncovering the mysteries which will forever alter our true detectives.

Undoubtedly we speak all too infrequent about the 2012 interrogations. There is far more occurring here than meets the eye. Detective Gilbough and Papania’s motives are unclear. Sure, we are mindful of the case they are working which resembles Dora Lange’s murder, but their insinuated mannerisms hint at something else. Papania, the younger of the two, often appears frustrated and unimpressed. While Gilbough appears engaged, but only as if that is his role in this charade. It isn’t too much to assume that Cohle and Hart are possibly under the gun here in some manner (presumable Cohle). There is more at play here than has thus far been revealed, more than the manhunt for a killer. And in the case of the original investigation, it is more than about just apprehending Reggie Ledoux. A whole lot more (my suspicions are weighted towards Louisiana spiritual leader Billy Lee Tuttle, introduced in “The Locked Room” – it is becoming obvious he has a stake in this….). Charlie Lange revealed that Reggie once said something about Carcosa and the Yellow King. That he once spouted out about a place in the woods where “rich men go to devil worship,” where women and children are butchered. Reggie, he conceded, “had a spiral brand on his back,’” one we are all too familiar with. We have so much more to make sense of5, and now only four more episodes in which to do so.

True Detective has thus far lived up to any and all of the hype shouldered upon it. With this week’s magnificence it is now easily understood why prodigious talents like Woody, Matthew, Nic, Cary, and Adam (four recaps in and we are now on a first name basis…) signed on for this small screen endeavor. There is little difference between a film in this genre and True Detective, except for length, and that we are being fed weekly doses of this accomplishment, having our mind blow on a weekly basis.

  1. Cary Fukunaga, the director of each and every episode of True Detective, found an actual housing project to shoot in. He and the crew ran through the complicated steadicam shot seven times while the cameras were rolling. Possible edit points were built in, if needed, but the take used in the episode is a true single take, and a momentous achievement. The crew even built replica stash houses to practice in before shooting. If I am correct Seal Team six use similar tactics when preparing the raid on Bin Laden. This is the level of complexity we are discussing here! []
  2. Primus’ “American Life” was an impressive and welcome choice of music for the scene within the Iron Crusaders’ private club. []
  3. Hands down, the funniest moment of the series thus far. []
  4. It is important to note that we witnessed, in the heat of a very trying moment, another aspect of Rust that makes him so compelling – he adheres to a moral code of sorts, exhibited with finesse as he steered innocent bystanders into bathtubs during the gunfight. []
  5. In the premiere episode, “The Long Bright Dark” there is a mention of “carrying the kids out of the woods.” I am terrified of confronting this moment. []

1 Comment

  • Whoever is doing the music editing, and sync placement for this show is really killing it. I couldn’t imagine a better, more impacting song than “Honey Bee” by Grinderman to hit you in the face. The irony of Nick Cave moaning “I want someone to touch me” as it appears the gang is turning on the police is amazing.

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