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True Detective: The complexity of a three point narrative (Season 1, Episode 1)

October 21, 2014

True Detective’s three point narrative leaves the viewer wrought with questions.  Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rustin Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) successfully employ the age old dynamic of ‘Good Cop’ and ‘Bad Cop’, whilst the broader narrative allows the viewer to draw their own conclusion on the information presented. Set in the deep south on a seemingly low budget, the scene is populated within minutes.  The horrific, ‘ritualistic’ crime scene and the recount of events from the perspective of both Hart and Cohle, give the viewer the idea of what to anticipate for the series. s1e1-crime-scene Hart and Cohle inherently react differently to the scene.  In addition, the camerawork employed during the interviews immediately paint an image of each lead character.  Hart: in a suit, clean, shaven, lit room, constant eye contact, camera angle insinuates authority.  In contrast Cohle is somewhat dishevelled, unshaven, the lighting is poor, the room less attractive, he displays signs of weakness through addictions such as cigarettes and alcohol. truedetectivemcjpg_2822476b The characters ‘Present’ and ‘Past’ allow a point of evaluation, an understanding of what had occurred and evolved over the past 17 years. Questions also arise as to the nature of the current investigation. The separate narratives continue to build upon the characters and the background of the story. It also becomes clear that the chemistry between the two partners is strained, tainted with both indifference and appreciation. Hart, the family man, recounts his story with emotion, descriptive words, peoples names, places.  Hart only does half of the work, the camera doing the rest. True-Detective-Marty-Hart-walks-out-on-his-interview Cohle, the loner, a complicated past, raw, analytic, factual, irate, belief in the supernatural, insomniac, atheist. Oddly, Hart is recalling his memory of ‘Rust’ as he referred to him.  Cohle is recalling purely the details of the case, or cases over the past 17 years, the inconsistency in narrative gives the idea that Cohle is somewhat sinister.

Marty: “That’s why they called him the ‘Tax Man’, he had this big ledger and he would go door to door with it”. “I have seen all different types” “A smart guy who is steady is hard to find… He was smart” “I saw how he was living… A man past a certain age without a family is a bad thing”

Rust: “We encountered the Meta-psychotic, which I had to explain to Marty what Meta-psychotic was”

Upon reviewing the crime scene, Rust recounts his conclusions to Marty immediately, with precsion.  Marty enquires as to whether he had drawn the conclusion from one of his many ‘books’.

Marty: “When you attach an assumption to a piece of evidence you start to bend the narrative to support it”

The most intriguing dialogue is that between the two characters.  The line spoken by Hart about ‘bending the narrative’ to support conclusions is a key indicator as to how viewers choose to selectively interpret the narrative presented in True Detective. Whether we adapt to Hart’s view, Cohle’s view or our own separate interpretation. Many points throughout the episode we see a birds eye view that encompasses the whole town, this allows the viewer to believe that they can see everything, and in doing so draw an individual conclusion. The cliche southern small town also allows a sense of familiarity. 75 During the commute from the scene to the office, Hart attempts to have a ‘heart to heart’ with Cohle over witnessing the crime scene.  He enquires as to Cohle’s religious belief, Cohle provides a long strung philosophical answer, indicating that he is what is considered a ‘pessimist. At this stage, the camera brings in a shadow across Cohle, whilst the sun seems to be solely on Hart’s side of the vehicle.

Rust: “I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution; we became too self-aware” “Nature created an aspect of nature too separate from itself… We are creatures that should not exist by natural law”. “We are things that labour under the illusion of having a self, this accretion of sensory experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody is nobody” “I think the honourable thing to do is… walk hand-in-hand into extinction”

This response has a more direct impact on Hart than the crime scene itself.  It is clear that there are many more layers to the complexity of Cohle as a character, and even Hart for that matter.  Three aspects of narrative build intrigue about the story behind the current investigation and the past crime.

The comprehensive narrative also allows us to delve into the cultural, religious and political setting, which prompts further questions and keeps viewers drawn in. The use of angles, and close proximity to each characters narration gives insight and almost an understanding or relation to the characters.

The interview with Cohle ends with him saying ‘You had better start asking the right questions’. Human nature leaves viewers desperate for a conclusion ‘rather than resting back to a steady-state equilibrium at the end of the episode’ (Jason Mittel, Complex TV, 2013).


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