Uncover the obsession

Conflicting worldviews and character development set True Detective apart.




Maximilian Christensen, Writer

Something sinister is brewing deep in the bayou. Beyond the swamps and abandoned churches of Louisiana is a grisly murder scene, and only detectives Hart and Cohle can solve it.

“True Detective” digs beneath the antiquated South to unearth an influential cult that has been committing ritual murders. The main killer leaves behind morbid trademarks based on voodoo legends and cosmic horror. The detectives peel away the southern backdrop to uncover the insidious mystery. The flawed characters, decayed settings and disturbing contents distinguish the story as Southern Gothic, but what makes it excellent is its duo.

Uncovering the Characters

Although the show is a murder mystery, the emphasis remains on the characters. Like the protagonists of David Fincher’s “Seven,” Hart and Cohle are brooding detectives hot on the extremely creepy case. The tension between their different attitudes underscores the show’s themes of nihilism, depravity and obsession. Hart focuses more on his family and Cohle obsesses over the case. Each episode showcases their different approach, as Hart’s, the everyman, has to parse through Cohle’s ruminations on life’s futility.

The two-person dynamic coupled with the series’ time-skips thoroughly characterize each detective. We watch Hart’s family life disintegrate because of his greed, while Cohle struggles to reconcile duty and belief. One man lies to others about who he is and the other lies to himself. Through the eight episodes, we witness how they are broken by the horrors they have endured. This contrast makes their debates of philosophy oddly compelling.

The Texan

When news broke that Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson were in a show on HBO, people were ecstatic. McConaughey is going through a career renaissance of moody, introspective roles, so expectations were high for his involvement. His performance as Rust Cohle is determined, aloof and hyper-competent. Cohle is a Texan in Louisiana, an atheist among Christians and a cynic in a world he loathes. He is an outsider. What sets him apart the most is his worldview.

Cohle’s metaphysical tangents propose an interesting view of nihilism. He describes himself as a realist, which means he is a pessimist. Cohle believes people are inherently evil and human consciousness is an evolutionary mistake. Our self-awareness leads to suffering because there is no greater meaning. Death is the only way out. This is an unusual worldview and the show recognizes that. Cohle is miserably living out a contradiction by not freeing himself from this mortal coil.

Beyond the Psychosphere

Cohle is the most interesting — and divisive — character in “True Detective.” McConaughey’s penchant for playing brooding antiheroes makes Cohle seem pretentious in retrospect. His quiet rants about existence resemble McConaughey’s fantastically weird Lincoln commercials. His ramblings about the psychosphere and experiencing time as a flat circle are as weird in-context as out. Besides, Cohle is presented as the coolest character in the show. He is smarter than the entire police division and is a capable fighter.

Rust Cohle would be one-dimensional if he were not a homicide detective. He lives out a contradiction. He believes life is meaningless and death is our escape, but actively prevents murders and enforces justice. His disgust with the satanic murders propels his obsession through murky Louisiana backwoods. The reason I love this portrayal is because Cohle is presented as smart, but not right. Hart is a sleazy idiot, but even he makes valid criticisms of Cohle’s worldview. Viewers should confront the appeal of nihilism in a fallen world. Like Cohle, we should see that “the light’s winning.”

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