True Detective – Too True to be Good [Spoiler Review]

HBO gave me a bad case of Lovecraftian blue-balls.

“True Detective” is a frustrating show.  It flirts with greatness, but can’t lift itself out of the mire of post modernism until it’s too late to be saved.  The slow investigation into the death of one nameless hooker spirals outward – a nice motif – until the leads find themselves racing around trying to get their arms around a full blown child-sex ring conspiracy complete with references to the King in Yellow and Carcosa, and then chickens out at the last minute.

I should probably be grateful that the Lovecraft references were red herrings – Hollywood’s take on Lovecraft has almost universally been as bad as its take on Robert E. Howard.

The detectives do catch “their man”, but the glimpses of Lovecraftian witchery all turn out to be hallucinations.  The cabal is not brought down in the end, only two or three of the bottom-rung members.  Maybe one of the higher-ups, but the justice meted out to the corrupt governor who tried to cover up the extent of the crimes in only implied and only happens off camera.

Our twin protagonists are both unlikable.  Harrelson’s Martin is a lech and cheat.  McConaghey’s Rustin is a bitter old nihilist who never shuts up about how meaningless everything is unless he’s ranting about how important something he wants is.  It makes the show hard to watch, and not because it’s so “real”.  I can watch real – I watch it sixteen hours a day, thank you very much.  I see cuckolds and philanderers and clever men who mistake cynicism and cunning for wisdom and intellect all round me and on every show produced over the last ten years.  It isn’t novel, and it isn’t interesting.

The actual investigation?  Now that is interesting.  How these two guys manage to unravel the mystery despite the best efforts of their bosses is fascinating.  The small clues, the interviews, the small deceptions and the large, the heroic lengths to which Martin and Rustin go to bring down a vicious cabal of child-raping perverts is great.  Particularly in these days when such things appear in the headlines on a regular basis, the central crime seems far less fantastic than it must have even two short years ago.

More frustrating is the fact that the cabal goes largely unstopped.  Martin and Rustin end up catching a few players in the game, but the larger circle goes unpunished.  So that’s at best a tie for the “good guys”?

It’s a shame they had to ruin a potentially great show by making the heroes sympathetic only in comparison to the men they are chasing.  Martin and Rustin are disgusting, and I didn’t like either of them.  If they had died in the final confrontation, I would not have shed a tear over either of them.

The show is only saved from my dumpster file by Rustin’s last second conversion.  When faced with death, he experiences his daughter’s love shining in the night, and seems to place one foot firmly on the path toward redemption.  In literally the last minute of the show, they finally give us a reason to root for Rustin personally and not professionally.  That bumps the show up and over the bar from “typical Hollywood trash-fest” to “watch it with your finger on the FF button.”

“True Detective” manages to be a good show that too busy wallowing in the mud and filth to reach the heights of greatness.

Yes, Tina Turner, we really do need another hero.  He could have made this show one of the all time greats.

About Jon Mollison

Jon Mollison was weaned at the literary knee of Tolkein, Howard, Moore, and Burroughs. He spent decades wandering in the wilderness of modern genre fiction, wondering when the magic and wonder went out of the world of dragons and space ships. In his darkest hour, he encountered a wise man who handed him the open secrets to crafting works that emulate the stories of the great authors who built the genre. They are easily summarized in but two words: Regress Harder. Now one of the twelve champions of the Pulp Revolution, his self-published works represent a more direct lineage to the tales of action, mystery, romance, virtue, and pure unalloyed adventure than the bland imitations churned out by New York City publishing houses in recent decades.
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