HBO’s latest miniseries isn’t set in some medieval realm of fantasy and fire, but instead, the world of the dirty Louisiana bayous. Detectives “Rust” Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) tackled a ritualistic serial killer in 1996, and appeared to bring the culprit to justice; in 2o12, the two are interrogated by several detectives about a similar killing that has been discovered, another girl tied up and mutilated. What happens over the course of the series will challenge you, to solve the mystery and to unravel the way that the we struggle with our own demons and create facades to protect our true selves.
Thanks to a publicist for HBO, the first four episodes arrived in my mailbox. I tore into the series’ first two hours right away, wondering what script and noir could drag two successful stars from the silver screen onto the smaller pay-per-view circuit. [On the night the show premiered, McConaughey netted the Best Actor award at the Golden Globes for The Dallas Buyers Club.] The answer? A multi-leveled script, a strong mystery, serious subject matters and dialogue, and two characters who are equally buddies and sparring partners.
In 1996, Cohle questions everything without smiling, exploring a world of drugs he experienced as an undercover cop, and hanging a crucifix on his spartan apartment wall for meditating on “what it means to allow ourselves to be hung on a cross,” without embracing faith in anything at all; Hart exudes button-downed, grade A police detective, while living his affair on the side and bottling up rage over his own failures. Seventeen years later, the tables have flipped: Cohle has the look of a hard-worn, singular man with serious problems and Hart has the look of a man who has gotten his life and career together. But after a few hours, one has to ask: is any of this a mirage?
Sadly, I don’t have HBO, so I may have to wait months, even a year, to find out how the mystery (or mysteries) get resolved. In a world where gritty, Southern classics become longtime cult classics, True Detective’s annual rolling cast (think American Horror Story) will make this one an interesting follow. Galveston, writer Nic Pizzolatto’s 2010 debut novel, is now on my Kindle, and I’ll be paying attention to see if this is more The Killing or Low Winter Sun. Our good guys may or may not be good, but they’re existential, and they’re questionable. Will we love them or hate them before this is all over?
Only time, and some more troubled dialogue, will tell.