True Detective: The Long Bright Dark   Rewatch 
September 15, 2014 2:58 PM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

Meet LA State Police Criminal Investigation Division Detectives Martin Eric 'Marty' Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rustin Spencer 'Rust' Cohle (Matthew McConaughey), both retired from the force, as they each sit down with State CID detectives in 2012 to go over an old homicide case of theirs from 1995 that has mysteriously resurfaced. As Nic Pizzolatto's story seeps slowly out of director Cary Joji Fukunaga's vision of their recollections, dank and withered and burned out hollow, the tale of occult, ritual, (iconic, planned) murder emerges from the jungle of coastal Louisiana like so much aluminum-tinged smoke and ash. People out here, it's like they don’t even know the outside world exists.

Put the case together yourself at Darkness Becomes You.

HBO Synopsis for The Long Bright Dark

The Handsome Family - Far From Any Road (Opening credits)

Bob Dylan - Rocks & Gravel

The McIntosh Shouters - Sign of the Judgement

The Black Angels - Young Dead Men (End credits)
posted by carsonb (10 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in the midst of watching The Wire too, so seeing both Lester Freamon and Brother Mouzone right off the bat is quite a trip.

Speaking of proximal shows to True Detective, the first time I watched this show I'd just finished watching Hannibal Season 1. The similarity between the Dorie Lang murder scene and the one from Hannibal made it hard for me to not transpose the goofy camp of the one show onto the deadpan seriousness of the other. Plus, the viewer is granted the perspective and motivations of the villain in Hannibal, and I think that got moved over a bit for me too. It's a lot scarier to consider the bad guy of True Detective as a complete unknown alongside the characters. Watching it again with a lot of separation between the two has lent back to True Detective a lot of the weight that its treatment calls for and I ignored before.

Three cheers for the eminently quotable Rustin Cohle:

I mean, you never know what the thing is gonna be, do you? A little detail somewhere way down that line that makes you say "Ah!" Breaks the case."

I don't sleep, I just dream.

I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware. Nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, a secretion of sensory experience and feeling programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody's nobody. I think the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming; stop reproducing; walk hand-in-hand into extinction. One last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.
posted by carsonb at 3:41 PM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Watching this is kinda like listening to the stories of the old boat guys. I sure make a lot of mistakes and really struggle to get by on a number of levels, but hearing about some amazing mess ups (ol Jake, he just forgot to close that valve and the boat sank) makes it much less intimidating plowing into a new unknown project as that boat was re-floated and the folks involved got by and went on to something else. Thankfully gruesome murders remain far far out of personal experience but the day to day malarkey of those two detectives and their reminiscences is oddly reassuring.
posted by sammyo at 5:09 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'll go ahead and mention here that the show is currently re-airing on HBO on Sunday nights. Per the FFTalk post, episode threads will go up Mondays for discussion.
posted by carsonb at 11:12 AM on September 16, 2014

Hey Carson, thanks for starting the thread. I had an insane start of the week, and I'm unwinding by watching this. Here are some thoughts that come up along the way...

I know you can't really read into a title that was done by another company, but I've always been amazed by this one. Apart from being beautiful and fitting the tone of the show perfectly. One thing that I think does tie in thematically is the overlay of its primaries (Rust and Marty) with the decaying industrial coast of Louisiana, especially this shot that fuses Mary and the interstate into a grim death mask. It's something that comes up in the show too - long, lingering shots of refineries and pipelines and all the other ways that humans are intent of taking energy out of the Earth, consequences be damned. The downside to the title is also the downside to the show, which is its treatment of women as convenient props... I think that partially that's an intentional choice of the show which is meant to be viewed critically, but still...

The opening shot, after our establishing scene with the fire in the cane field, is a lens of a camera. In fact, it's the camera filming Marty's testimony. We then get a cut to an shot of the viewfinder, pixelated and announcing REC, moving to our first dialog in the series with Marty giving his hard-ass cop speech and (what seems to be) an intentionally artificial digital film filter over-top. It's not until we get to the flashback with Rust in flashback that we lose the filter, only to have it reapplied for the cut to Rust's testimonial (also, the BIG HUG MUG sliding in from offscreen). Another cut, to the past again, and we lose the fake digital film filter. Going into a beautiful gray/green/brown cane field landscape cut through with a ribbon of road.

That leads us in to the procedural, serial killer story. One that's very well done, but has been the stock of detective pulp since, well, True Detective in the fifties. Dead, naked women. Brave, gritty men. Solving crimes and putting things to right. Misery being turned into a mystery with a satisfying and edifying conclusion.

Cut back to Mary, and he describes the 'types' of detectives, listing off "the bully, the charmer, the surrogate dad, the man possessed by ungovernable rage," and... well, if all of those aren't Marty, then how else would you describe him? Marty, of course, says that he's just a "regular type dude with a big-ass dick."

We establish that Rust is weird. And, appropriately, Marty responds like we'd expect to proclamations of space gutters and existential nihilism paired with self destructive alcohol abuse. He's put off. We establish that Rust is talented. He knows what a meta-psychotic is, and he ruminates on Gnostic conceptions of Christ's sacrifice. The driving scenes are maybe my favorite part of the series, with the two angry men sparking off each other.

Rust's pessimism, ala Ligotti, is exposition dumped for the audience. Rust claims he can "smell the psychosphere," and I can't help but wonder if his character is fucking with Marty intentionally.

Rust start his first off-hours investigation, swilling cough syrup and heading off to a truck stop to question prostitutes. Marty heads home, whiskey in hand, to a family that he's already shown as being distant from, watching his daughters sleep. Rust buys drugs, saying "I don't sleep" to a hard cut of Maggy (laid out for the viewer in a typical HBO move) who is waking up in an empty bed.

We get some more procedural, and Rust talks about the memory of a town as they walk out into a deserted strip-mall (that's where they have the morgue!?). There's a tease of the occult, bringing out the satanic panic that makes this a 90s period piece, at least in part. We cut back to our first camera-POV shot in a while, with Marty talking about the hazards of the job. Rust and Marty drive to the Lang house, and Rust sees perhaps his first hallucination of the series, as a little girl waves from the sidewalk, and he asks Marty if he believes in ghost.

More procedural stuff, and a hint at the "green eared spaghetti monster". We cut back to the fake-digital film grain effect, and Rust announces his desire for a "beer run," and then the camera pans pack to show that the entire time it's been a camera watching a camera. The audience gets their first view of the present-tense interrogation scene without the filter effect. Rust swims into focus. We also get, as Rust blows his beer money towards them, a shot of the disembodied voices that have been leading the interrogation so far. We go back into the past, Rust and Marty flanking the chief for the press conference, with cartoon police officers painted on the wall behind them.

In their interview with Charlie Lang he tells the sad, predictable story of Dora's addiction and his incarceration, "You know how it is, you want a wife, but only half the time." Marty nods sagely. Charlie gives us our first hints of the occult, talking about Dora wanting to be a nun, and meeting a king.

Cutting back to the present we get an idea of, at least the pretense, of why this interview is happening, "files got ruined... hurricane Rita." Rust isn't buying it, and the detectives don't seem to think he will. And then Marty, talking about Rust's alcoholism while taking a pill out of a pill-minder box.

Back into the past Rust seems legitimately sad that he's fucked up dinner at Marty's. Dinner happens regardless, and we get Rust exposition via Maggie. Marty tries to hustle him off with a trumped up phone call, and eats a strangely crunchy spaghetti based dish.

Going back to the present we establish that Marty and Rust aren't on speaking terms. There's an awesome shot of Marty lying through his teeth on our screen, and duplicated over again on the viewfinder in miniature in the corner of the shot.

Reverend Tuttle is introduced, prompting our boys to be wary the powers of Satan. Rust is skeptical. Asshole-cop-3 warns, "That's the sound of the big machine, Cohl. It's gearing up to pound your ass."

Rust and Marty head out to the poverty in the outskirt wilderness of the bayou to follow the fountenaut lead, overlaid with gospel music, and a cross in every shot inside the house. Rust is bored with the interview, and pokes his head into a dark and decaying shed. There, he finds a devil trap.

Rust smokes in the most disgusting manner possible, changing the subject from the crime at hand to the "one at lake Joan." Whatever crime is being solved in the past appears to be less solved than our characters had first assumed. Another woman with a crown of horns, naked and trussed up. We get some suspicion cast on Rust from our new detectives. Rust, looking at the audience, suggests to "start asking the right fucking questions." Cut to credits.

I doubt I'm going to do this for every episode, or even another episode, but this is just great storytelling. Everything above is a little nod to something that gets a payoff later. A surface story of murdered women, and a deeper story of the sort of systems that let them get murdered in the first pace. All of it played out in one of the best portrayals of rural poverty that I've seen on TV. This episode sold me on the show the first time through, and even despite a lot of problems as the story goes on, I think that the rest of it lives up to that initial promise.
posted by codacorolla at 9:16 PM on September 16, 2014 [12 favorites]

they walk out into a deserted strip-mall (that's where they have the morgue!?)

The town I spent about half my childhood in has its municipal services all run out of what used to be a grocery store. Small towns are like that.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:59 PM on September 17, 2014

I only ever watched the first episode of this show and I wanted to like it but I just found it too off-putting in its treatment of women.

The downside to the title is also the downside to the show, which is its treatment of women as convenient props... I think that partially that's an intentional choice of the show which is meant to be viewed critically, but still...

Yeah, honestly I am tired of things that are deliberately sexist in the name of satirizing/commenting on sexism. Why not just not be sexist?
posted by Librarypt at 12:12 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

The thing that resonates with me most is the theme song. It has a haunting, rangey Western feel, all about the extractive economy. The first shot is the burning cane fields, the hallmark of slavery, the original extraction. The systems of the land know no other pattern, and the machine chews upward.

A question has remained unanswered since the first time I watched. Why the antlers? It's an old symbol, in legends and cave paintings. Why here? Louisiana isn't exactly known for deer.
Makes me think it's something old and ancient. Something in the blood.

Marty, talking about himself with these types. Classic deflection.

The camera on Marty distorts him, while Rust appears contemptuous of Marty. I'm not sure if it's an act. I like how Marty regrets asking Rust about his personal beliefs.
According to tradition, the hardest manliest macho men always have daughters.

I find it sad that the CID cops assume Rust is IA, due to his aloof nature. The IA guy is not the weird loner, he's your buddy, always up for a drink or something. Or something.

Already in the first episode we are establishing the patterns of their lives, the ruts they occupy. And the state machine is gearing up.

"Stop saying shit like that." Pizzolato made it clear that Rust's philosophy is meant to be taken seriously, but I can't.

So much of this investigation is accidental and unforced. The Fontineau girl, the devil nets. They aren't even asking the right questions. Like putting a box full of puzzles together.

On a closer look at Marty's interrogation, he may have his back to the door, an easy out, but he is triangulated - hard. And the camera in the shot. If he faces one investigator, the other flanks him. Too Meta.

Rust grasps Marty's liason with the lawyer with a glance.

I guess we will all be asking the right questions.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:28 PM on September 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

I really want to like this show too, it has a lot of factors that really appeal - noir; existentialism; mysticism; police procedural; etc. But I can't overlook the way women are objectified, belittled and exploited. For a show that gets on its high horse about disenfranchised women and children it sure does disenfranchise its female characters. What a shame because it didn't have to be.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 11:58 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I dunno, I think that the characters belittle women but the show itself doesn't, apart from the standard HBO CEO of Tits kind of shots. This first episode doesn't prove that though.

I didn't see this on its first run, and only finished watching it last night. I'm looking forward to discussing both its flaws and its triumphs.

Mostly what I loved in this first episode were Marty's reaction faces to Rust's opinions about life. On the whole I tend to agree with Rust, but it's not great workplace chat.
posted by harriet vane at 7:24 AM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Fontenot, y'all.
posted by eustatic at 12:26 AM on May 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

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