Time is a Flat Circle
Every once in awhile I like to watch a good drama--something heavy, cathartic; an intense plotline I can get emotionally invested in, with complex characters I can relate to. HBO specializes in this exact brand of original series, and I have enjoyed quite a few of them, Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies to name a few. There's nothing like a dark, raw story to cleanse your palette after a month of quarantine, 24/7 parenting, and homeschooling.
I recently rewatched True Detective, season 1 (the other two seasons are subpar), and I was reminded of how absolutely (or should I say, absurdly) perfect this show is. This time around, aside from consuming its content with a twisted pleasure, I also tried to figure out why it is so perfect. Here are a few (somewhat educated) guesses.
Cast and Acting Quality.
Having Matthew McConaughey star opposite Woody Harrelson is like porn to me.
It's one of those wildly successful casting choices, like Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, Brad Pitt and Ed Norton in Fight Club, or Bob De Niro and Al Pacino in Heat. It. Just. Works. They both embody their characters flawlessly, and have the right kind of chemistry as a duo. Their performances (as well as those of the supporting actors) are masterful and captivating, deep and subtle at times, and also nuanced, especially in terms of how their characters change and develop throughout time. McConaughey and Harrelson simply disappear into their characters. Good acting, as demonstrated here, is free of pretense. It draws you in, organically, without overtly demanding your attention, and it stays true to the character--which tends to the story, and does not rely on the liking (or even the approval) of the audience.
Characters and Story.
Occult murder, mysterious disappearances, poverty and violence set against the backdrop of the Deep South Louisiana culture in the spirit of Mardi Gras and Voodoo: old religion, philosophy, and superstition intertwined, in turn clashing with reason and science. Good cop/bad cop, only you can't tell which one is which. There's a back-story that unravels, but the time-line is non-linear. Problematic relationships, trauma, loss, and unresolved, haunting past. The characters are obscure, odd, a bit off. Everyone is fucked up in some way. What could possibly be more fascinating than that?!
Good vs Evil, but make it very weird. Existential questions: life, death, and time. The supernatural within the trivial. It's genius.
Cinematography and Directing.
The entire thing is cohesive, homogenous thanks to having one writer (for the most part)--Nic Pizzolatto, and one director--Cary Fukunaga (he was supposed to also direct Stephen King's IT remake, but he dropped out in the last minute, which explains a lot...) It was shot on 35mm film. There are beautiful ultra-wide shots, striking close-ups, and one six-minute long tracking shot of a shootout. The continuous, transitional shots just before the credits work flawlessly to reinforce the mood.
It's the little details in the script... The way Marty checks the payphone slot for coins after every call. The way Rust checks his pulse when he's loaded or in danger.
The music is exceptionally well chosen (Americana-folk-country), and the iconography and symbolism are clever, original (though it appears that "Carcosa" and "The Yellow King" are borrowed from Ambrose Bierce).
Too many to list (especially the nihilistic, atheistic monologues by Cohle), but I love the repeated mention of his "aftertaste of aluminum, ash". My favorite is "Nothing grows in the right direction."
Total score: 12/10, would watch again whenever I'm in a self-loathing mood.
P.S. Rustin Cohle is hot.