Tuesday 11 March 2014

hodgepodge thoughts: True Detective, Season 1

I was surprised that the last episode of True Detective gave Rust and Marty so much closure, and that it brought them so close together. It ran counter to the craggy, pessimistic worldview Rust espouses through the rest of the show, and to which Marty, the philandering family man-wannabe is unable to serve as a convincing foil. It suggests that, all along, Rust was less a hardboiled Schopenhauer than a wounded beast in protective camouflage. Personally, I could have done without those last few minutes in the parking lot. I could have done without Marty's estranged wife and children coming to see him too, but the sweetness of the scene is balanced out by the glimpse of the wedding ring on Maggie's hand, reminding us that she has remarried and that, while they may rally around him at a time like this, Marty has, in a very irrevocable way, lost his family.

Anyway, now that it's all over, a few things that I was less than satisfied by:

The weird, sexual drawings that Marty's daughter is caught with in school as a young girl. It's never really made clear where she was getting the imagery from. It is just a red herring?

Rust's visions. They're shown one episode in and then basically forgotten until the climax of the series. I'm actually glad they didn't become a recurring thing because that sort of element is really hard to handle effectively in small doses, leave alone as a constant presence. Still, seems a bit like something shoe-horned in to add to the Weird Fiction stage-dressing.

And that brings me to something that is an observation, not a complaint: the Weird Fiction stuff was stage-dressing. Carcosa, the Yellow King - none of it really points to anything like what Robert Chambers envisioned. It's just another little bit of supernatural ambiance thrown in, like the references to santeria and voodoo. I'm okay with that. The show would have worked without it, but not quite as well.

Was the show misogynist? It certainly wasn't terribly interested in its female characters except in so far as they acted as foils to the leading men. I'd hesitate to label that as misogyny, although it is a kind of storytelling that is enabled by the way misogynist attitudes prevail in society, and in the crime genre. I'd say that this series wasn't interested in swimming against the tide in this respect; but also that its concerns never lay at that level of social awareness.

Which brings me to my next point: how seriously are we to take all this? I'm inclined to say: not very. There are lots of bravura sequences, snappy dialogue, clever plot twists and just generally a wealth of great filming and great acting in this series. It is a triumph of style, twisting and churning crime show cliches, existential angst and a sprinkling of the occult into a slick, compulsively watchable show that neither insults the intelligence nor elevates it. It isn't stylish crap like, say, American Horror Story. But it doesn't feel like a show which has the slightest relevance to the world outside its own fictional universe, which is fine, but there it is. Compare it to The Wire, which is an engaged and somewhat coherent commentary on society, or The Bridge, which, though not without its own flaws, seems to have something to say about racism and misogyny and violence, at least in its American avatar and I think True Detective emerges as something closer to Sherlock or - much though I came to dislike this show - Dexter. A very stylised television narrative, one that works best viewed as an entertainment staged with great elaboration and detail, and not much more. And, in the case of True Detective, that's probably enough. What would have ruined it all would have been a too-neat resolution - and I think we get some of that in the last few minute - but at least it is balanced out by the fact that Tuttle seems to have emerged from it all with impunity and that Rust and Marty solved the case too late for so very, many victims. Some things have been put to an end by sheer brute force - other, deeper forces still remain.

I just hope none of this is a sequel hook. That was one thing American Horror Show got right. Change everything around the next time - just maintain the style. 

1 comment:

Dinesh Raghavendra said...

In many ways, Pulp Fiction operates the same way. When I first saw it I was seventeen. Young and impressionable, I thought it was the greatest film ever made. But as time went on, I came to realize that it gets many things right on a stylistic level but its nothing more than that.