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Scene from True Detective with Matthew and Woody.
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A Killer’s Mentality

Philosophical Genius + the Ill Ease of "True Detective"

Why you should care

Because with Homeland downhill, Girls sluggish and the whole world binging on Downton Abbey, we know you’re jonesing for your late-night TV fix. We’ve got you covered.

Fear not. Your TV cravings are about to be satisfied — and startled. The latest spine-tingling, binge-inducing TV drama out there? HBO’s startling Louisiana-based crime drama True Detective, which follows two detectives (Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson) in a wild ride as they search for answers during a 17-year hunt for a loose serial killer.

This is not your everyday, darkly layered, genre-shaking, Twin Peaks/The Killing/Broadchurch murder mystery. You know this as soon as detectives Rust Cohle and Martin Hart discover the naked corpse of a woman named Dora Lange in a disturbing ritualistic setting: blindfolded and posed as if she were praying to a tree, wearing a crown of deer antlers, with a cryptic spiral symbol painted on her back and surrounded by intricate twig sculptures.

This is not your everyday, darkly layered, genre-shaking, Twin Peaks/The Killing/Broadchurch murder mystery.

Cohle has zero patience for satanic theories and Bible-thumping conviction. “Religion is a language virus that rewrites pathways in the brain, dulls critical thinking,” the relentless atheist asserts. He soon finds his dogged theory that Lange’s murder-sacrifice is bigger than some freak-show exhibition leading to a likely faceoff with a mysterious, creepy bad man named Reginald Ledoux, who in the third episode is seen holding a machete and wearing only underwear and a gas mask.

Fun times.   

True Detective scene with man in underwear and gas mask outdoors surrounded by green grass.

True Detective

Such densely layered, trippy, almost poetic dialogue flips a middle finger at traditional police drama conventions. And that’s why the show has riveted critics. True Detective, a sharp sucker punch of an anthology conceived and written by the gifted Nic Pizzolatto, has crazed fans musing way beyond whodunit scenarios.

Such densely layered, trippy, almost poetic dialogue flips a middle finger at traditional police drama conventions.

“To those who seem to believe that Rust’s nihilistic philosophy is similar to Eastern beliefs — guess again,” typed a poster named George on Hitflix. “Most Hindu/Buddhist traditions believe, in effect, that the physical world is an illusion, a dream — and that in reality, only the spiritual world exists. Rust’s theory is almost the opposite of that. He is clearly a committed materialist who doesn’t believe in spiritual things at all.”

No, you won’t find many detective series igniting such scholarly philosophical debates. 

Says video producer Marshall Crook (who recaps True Detective for the Wall Street Journal): “There is even some debate on whether True Detective is a Tyler Durden/Fight Club-type thing and that Cohle and Marty are the same guy. The atmosphere of the show is one of unease; it’s one of distrust. You really don’t know who is telling the truth at any given time.” 

Scene from True Detective with Matthew and Woody.

True Detective

At a glance, True Detective travels some of the same terrain as such gory serial-killer hunts as NBC’s underrated Hannibal and Fox’s lumbering The FollowingBut the whodunit is almost an FYI. Crook laughs: “In this entire conversation, we’ve not mentioned who killed Dora Lange. For me what I’m finding to be more interesting is what happened to these two guys that would make their friendship and partnership fall apart?”

Tune in Sunday nights and find out for yourself.

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