It’s possible that my concerns will be all for naught. I certainly hope so. Because I haven’t been this hooked on a show in a long time. Despite my nitpicking, I can’t wait for the next look at our unreliable narrators. The gulf between the tales Marty is spinning in 2012 and the reality we see playing out is particular intriguing. From what I can tell, Cohle has only dissembled about the biker adventure and the showdown with Ledoux. Those may seem like pretty big events to dismiss with “only,” and yet I find it telling that Cohle’s comments on his own life and on Marty’s seem candid and straight.
I’m almost afraid to ask what you thought of the episode, Spencer. I may have my reservations, but I still want to love True Detective. Don’t burst my bubble!
Kornhaber: Fear not that I’ll burst your bubble. Fear instead that soon, you’ll have to burst mine. See, I’m basically going the opposite direction from you two: The first few episodes underwhelmed me, while tonight’s had me hooked. I’m a True Detective skeptic who’s starting to dig the show at the exact moment when you diehards are starting to doubt it.
The opening three episodes’ slack pace felt, to me, like indulgence; the gorgeous cinematography and the leads’ incredible performances seemed wasted on a story we’ve seen countless times before. If the show was a character study, it was in service of the most overstudied character types in Western pop culture—straight-white-male cops put upon by society, women, jobs, and their own dark desires—without saying anything new about them. The interview conceit had yet to pay off in any meaningful way; mostly, it felt like a way for Matthew McConaughey to filibuster until someone gave him an Emmy. The fourth installment packed more intrigue, and its much-acclaimed final shootout was as fine a piece of filmmaking as I’ve ever seen on TV. But I was still left wondering whether all this effort, money, and talent was amounting to a stylish retread.
This episode, though, starts to complicate things nicely. Our unreliable narrators, as you’ve called them, Amy, had actually seemed fairly reliable till now. In the fourth installment, we saw their testimony start to diverge from reality, but tonight the two men leapt almost entirely into fiction, and it was fascinating to watch.
Marvel at the passion and expertise with which our two protagonists lie. Cohle mimics gunshot sounds and mentions bark flying off trees; Hart vows that he’s telling the tale the same way he’s told it in “every cop bar between Houston and Biloxi.” This is spine-tingling, Grade-A bullshit. So even as we see how events really unfolded, we can understand why these cops’ false narrative has held up for 17 years.
But watching the episode, we can also understand Gilbough and Papania’s suspicions about Rust. Cohle keying on Reanne Olivier, and Reggie Ledoux being connected with the biker gang Cohle had dealt with while undercover, initially seemed like convenient, TV-ish coincidences. In a neat trick, it’s been revealed that these developments were meant to test our suspension of disbelief. We would have been smart to question the narrative in front of us, as Gilbough and Papania have done. This puts everything we’ve seen so far in a new light, and aligns the viewer for a time with the interrogators, not the interrogated.