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True Dat

“True Detective’s” greatly anticipated first season finale aired Sunday night and as warranted by its cult status received a lot of critical attention. The Internet wasn’t around in ’72 when “The Godfather” came out. Back then if you wanted to read a critique or analysis you had to do so in select newspapers or magazines. This is by no means an argument for putting ‘Detective’ at Godfather-level .. it was not. But when a well-written television show delves into topics like nihilism and the occult, dropping obscure references and twisting plot lines along the way, it’s bound to generate a kind of online chatter not seen since Mohamed Atta’s AOL account on the night of September the 10th. 

The show bugged me in the beginning. Maybe it had something to do with Woody Harrelson’s marble-mouthed, southern-slurred accent or the high dose of male bravado mainlined into his dialogue with star Matthew McConaughey. I’ve never been a huge McConaughey fan even after his recent turn toward more selective script reading. ‘Detective’ also had a self-consciously styled, broody Louisiana vibe that, while meticulously crafted, wasn’t exactly novel or unfamiliar to recent HBO productions. And its soundtrack or score, while exceptionally good, had me paying select attention to the writing to see if it was all just so much window dressing. The series-opening ritualistic crime scene complete with nude female victim posed with antlers seemed suspect too. All a bit too creepy, all a bit too easy.

But something clicked for me after re-watching one of the middle episodes and McConaughey’s “illusion of meaningful Self” rant. He was actually pretty good here, better than ‘Dallas Buyer’s Club’ and perhaps on par with his never-graduating high school senior in ‘Dazed and Confused.’ And the writing, while leaving itself open to accusations of pretension, had a kind of poetic interest to it. The guy holding the pen, Nick Pizzolatto, was really going for it here. At its core this show was about big-picture meaning and the mysteries of the universe; the choices we make to live in the stories that we tell ourselves. On this level I found it intriguing, neither overtly critical nor accepting of any one perspective. It took a risky turn and accomplished no small feat by making its anti-hero a man devoid of belief and aptly equipped to articulate this stance. Plus he was the most competent cop on the show by good measure.

The other stuff, the spooky bits and Rosemary’s Baby-esque horror nods, was really just the series’ paint job along with its music, sets and cinematography. I found the finale ambitious and well-executed if flawed. The embodiment of McConaughey’s “monster at the end of every dream” was a creepy character to be certain but one that gave human definition to the darkness; robbed it of its scope and made it less powerful. This is where I found the conclusion oddly effective, though, in not attempting to tie up all the loose ends. It thrived in Pizzolatto’s writing which left plenty of darkness undefined while lending some catchy words to ponder as they were dropped on the anti-hero via some kind of supernatural PA system wired through the evil bowels of a Carcosa catacomb. For once this guy had to shut up and listen. The Christ metaphors abounded too, from the steel in Cohle’s side to his flowing hair and Holy Tunic hospital gown. None of that bothered me, not even the reluctantly hopeful suggestion that light might be gaining ground on darkness in the only story worth telling or simplistic realization that love is a single heart beating in the void. How else were they going to conclude such an epic and relatively brief storyline .. with a Sopranos-style jarring cut to black? Harrelson’s tempered cynicism and McConaughey’s measured belief represented a subtle perspective switch for the two main players and a decent enough character arc for an eight part series. For a self consciously and darkly cool production the “OK there may be something out there” admission was a welcome breath of fresh air.

“True Detective,” given its success, will certainly be back for a second season, but the McConaughey and Harrelson characters are done. All of which gives rise to more questions. Will T-Bone Burnett continue with this great musical soundtrack and who will the new detective pairing be? I’m hoping for some off-typecasting – perhaps Pauly Shore and Ellen DeGeneres – and a more irreverent, light-hearted storyline. All of this big-picture contemplation can wear a guy out.

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