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Friday, October 21, 2016

By Sara Smith, The Kansas City Star

(If you haven’t watched all of “True Detective” through last week’s episode, be warned of spoilers ahead.)

Thanks to “True Detective,” people are quoting Matthew McConaughey again. Because, as he will demonstrate with a mangled beer can, “time is a flat circle. Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over and over and over again.”

“True Detective,” the runaway HBO hit about two Louisiana cops chasing an elusive evil for two decades, wraps up its first season on Sunday. Rustin Cohle (McConaughey) and his old partner Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) are all set to nail down at least one part of whatever awfulness is coming.

The show, set to end its story after eight hourlong segments, has been analyzed at “Breaking Bad” levels of delightful, annoying geekdom, making it the latest frustrating, intricate TV drama turned social experiment.

Sunday nights have a lot of shows like that, because Monday mornings go down easier with a round of “Did you watch? Are you caught up?” My work friends, bless their hearts, maintain a spoiler-free zone — within reason. Don’t be saving the “Game of Thrones” finale for four days, that’s just rude.

“True Detective” deserves most of the effusive praise it’s getting, managing to be dark, sexy, terrifying and sad, sometimes all at once. Rust’s flat, detached manner of talking about his baby daughter’s death cuts deep.

“The hubris it must take to yank a soul out of nonexistence, into this meat,” he muses. “And to force a life into this thresher. Yeah, so my daughter, she — uh, she spared me the sin of being a father.”

Shows like “True Detective” swarm your Facebook feed, and given the chance to actually catch up, eventually you join the other drones reconvening at the hive (Twitter, et al.) to toil with singular intent (parsing Townes Van Zandt lyrics).

If only Reddit had been around for “Twin Peaks.” Fans had to find each other at parties by dropping obscure references to chewing gum and midgets. Rows of VCR titles were prominently displayed in dorm rooms. It was a simpler time.

In one David Lynch-esque moment of “True Detective,” birds flock into a replica of a victim’s spiral-shaped tattoo in a nearby field. Symbolism can be its own reward, especially in a story being told by guys who hallucinate and drink until dawn.

  • sigrid28

    A small complaint: Reviews of “True Detective” read like a bad graduate term paper that just strings together clever citations and allusions but neglects to provide any classical analysis of the plot. Speaking in defense of allusion-addicted reviewers, cinema and television homages are strewn about in “True Detective” like confetti, while the plot unfolds gradually bit by bit and is elusive. It is not told in a linear fashion but delivered with emphasis on its circular origin, the way the scarred fellow at the end of the penultimate episode cuts grass in concentric circles on the lawn beside a Bayou cemetery, where his ancestors are all laid out neatly in white caskets amid white monuments. Ask yourself, why doesn’t he cut in straight lines–up and down, and up and down–the way a farmer harvests corn or a groundskeeper grooms a golf course? What is the significance of his bright green crop circle, which does not interest the two FBI investigators, who decide to drive on even though he offers to tell them his story. Too bad. I would have loved to hear it. Maybe it will come up in the last episode this Sunday. Or maybe it will be just another red herring.

    But back to the nonlinear plot, which comes together as Hart and Cohle submit to separate interviews with the FBI, seventeen years after they had together solved a string of serial murders. The narrative feeds out bit by bit as we see part of one interview and then part of another. Sometimes one interview contradicts the other. Sometimes both interviews support the same interpretation of events. Sometimes the plot line gets all balled up, as it does when Cohle saves a witness he’s protecting undercover during a cocaine-fueled battle between rival drug gangs. Maybe it’s a relief when the narrative puts the plot on hold while suspense takes over. We get to enjoy the simpler pleasures of just wanting the main characters to survive, now that we care about them. Sometimes the director let’s us feel superior to the FBI investigators. We are allowed to see how Hart and Cohle are both telling them the same lie, while we are allowed to watch the true events play out before us. Doe that make me a “true detective” rather than an investigator from the FBI?

    I like how these tricks of narration emphasize the way lies, the truth, and our belief in the trustworthiness of the storyteller influence what we come to understand about any piece of information that has a beginning, a middle, and an end: that is, how we come to understand a story. By trying to understand what is going on in “True Detective,” rather than simply cataloguing clever clues, we become better actors in the stories of our own lives and, through sympathy for and identification with the characters, gain a better understanding of what it means to be human.