Monday, February 24, 2014

The most interesting hour on television

HBO's Louisiana bayou noir series "True Detective" has kept me looking forward to Sunday nights during this late winter period which has proved mostly barren for TV watching. The show features detective partners Rust Cohle (played by Matthew McConaughey), a metaphysical philosophy spouting loner, and Marty Hart (played by Woody Harrelson), the ultimate macho bearer of the sexual double standard who is a philanderer in his own right but who can't abide the thought that his daughters or wife or women in general might do the same thing. Were any two television detective partners ever more ill-matched?

If you are unfamiliar with the show,  it's a bit difficult to describe the attraction - and the action.

The events of the story take place over a period of about twenty years. Cohle and Hart had investigated the disappearances and murders of women and children in the 1990s and had ultimately supposedly solved the case and taken out the bad guys, for which they had received great acclaim. But sometime after that, Cohle suspects that the case hasn't really been solved and that the horror hasn't been ended.

He comes to believe that women and children are still disappearing in the Louisiana bayous and that nobody is paying attention. He suspects there may be corrupt officials in high places who are helping to cover up the crimes. He begins to investigate on his own. When he mentions his theories to others, he's written off as a conspiracy theorist nutjob.

Cohle doggedly pursues his clandestine investigation without the help of his partner. They have grown increasingly distant from each other and, finally, in 2002, something happens to rip the partnership apart.

Subsequently, Cohle is suspended without pay from his position for a month and he then quits. Hart continues working for the state police, but his personal life has fallen apart. He and his wife are divorced and he is estranged from his daughters.

Then, ten years later, the past is dredged up again as two new detectives with the state police named Papania and Gilbough call both Cohle and Hart and, finally, Hart's former wife in for "conversations." It seems they are looking into that old investigation and trying to find some connection to later murders of women. Over the course of these conversations, it gradually becomes clear that they suspect Cohle of involvement and they are trying to find a tangible link, something that will allow them to arrest him.

The show flashes back and forth between the 1995-2002 period and the latter day investigation of 2012. The thing that remains constant through all this time is the misogyny and the victimization of women, but that seems to be the whole point. This is a story about a place and time in which women's lives - and deaths - don't matter, except maybe to one iconoclastic detective. Or is that all a ruse? Is he really the culprit and this is just his way of bringing attention to himself?

And what about all those metaphysical philosophical spoutings? At one point during his conversation with the 2012 detectives, Cohle gives them a lecture on something called "membrane theory." He tells them that "time is a flat circle."
It's like, in this universe, we process time linearly. Forward. But outside of our space-time, from what would be a fourth-diminensional perspective, time wouldn't exist. And from that vantage, could we attain it, we'd see our space-time look flattened, like a seamless sculpture. Matter in a super position - every place it ever occupied. Our sentience just cycling through our lives like carts on a track. See, everything outside our dimension - that's eternity. Eternity looking down on us. Now, to us, it's a sphere. But to them, it's a circle.  
Moreover, he explains that in that circle, we are doomed to keep repeating the same cycle over and over again. Death, rebirth into the same life, repeating the same actions, same mistakes, ad infinitum. You can just about see the two detectives' heads exploding at this point. Indeed, I can just about feel my own head exploding!

The performances of McConaughey and Harrelson - especially McConaughey - are mesmerizing and in the latest episode, last night, the former Mrs. Hart (played by Michelle Monaghan) finally gets to show some chops as an actress.

I actually like Monaghan's character quite a lot. She is a strong woman, struggling pretty much on her own to hold a family together, and it was she, when first introduced to her husband's new partner, Rust Cohle, who was able to see through the metaphysics and the social awkwardness to the real human being beneath. There was always a connection and an attraction there and the fact that she finally used that attraction to punish her philandering husband was not a worthy action on her part, but from a woman's point of view, it was certainly understandable.

The cage is closing in on Cohle and maybe on all of these characters. Only two more episodes left to resolve all the issues. I only hope that it does resolve them and doesn't leave us hanging out somewhere on that space-time continuum, doomed to repeat the same action forever.

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