TV Recap: True Detective, Season 1 Wrap-Up

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When True Detective premiered on HBO eight weeks ago, we proclaimed that this series was the best show of the still very young 2014 season. Slowly, but surely, we think America came to agree with us as the ratings exploded and it became the water cooler fodder for the workplace and Facebook news feeds. The series reminded me a lot of the first season of The Walking Dead — more people fell in love with it midway through its initial run than they did at the beginning. By season’s end, the show had gained a massive following, its finale crashed HBO Go and conspiracy theories about the show flooded the Interwebs.

In all honesty, it will take a Herculean effort from any show, both new and current, to even come close and being as good as this series was this year.

The Best Performance: Matthew McConaughey Is this even a question? McConaughey absolutely dominated the series. We’ve said it a billion times before but we’ll say it again; when we started this site in 2009 I would’ve laughed if you told me that in 2014 Matthew McConaughey would win the Oscar for Best Actor and star in one of the most critically acclaimed television series of that year. Sure, I’ve always been a fan of McCons, but his choices hadn’t been exactly stellar. Then, we entered the McConaissance and now we realize that the man who was just known for his impeccable abs and Southern charm is actually one of the finest actors in the game today. On True Detective he made Rust Cohle a charismatic enigma, a engrossing and maddeningly complex man haunted by so many demons and driven by an obsession for justice. Cohle could’ve easily been a cartoon character if portrayed by the wrong actor. This role had “over acting” written all over it. Some might’ve taken the role as too much of an “in the ether” hippy dippy spouting nonsensical lines of meaningless fortune cookie bullshit. Instead, McConaughey played Cohle as a quiet, always in his head and brutally intense man who’s in a constant state of torture. Then there’s the last scene of the series when the stoic and usually pessimistic Cohle has hope, he sheds a tear, he smiles. It’s such an emotional scene and it’s hard not to be moved by it. And in my opinion, the ultimate “pay off” of True Detective isn’t the capture of the Yellow King, but the clarity, resolve and hope that Cohle achieves.

But What About Woody? Let’s not get it twisted. While McConaughey owned this series, Woody Harrelson was just as great. Marty Harty was the perfect complement to Rust Cohle — he’s brash, he tries too hard to maintain the status quo, he’s personable and he’s a man whose passions (not his head) control his every move. For the majority of the series we despise Hart thanks in large part to Harrelson ratcheting up the “dick factor” to an almost unbearable level. Then, with two episodes left, the script is flipped and Hart becomes a likable and in the end, a noble character. He’s gone through his own form of torture, his own personal hell — and he realizes it was self-inflicted and we respect him for his realization. To me, Woody Harrelson is the only person who could’ve played Marty Hart. He walked the line between asshole and angel so perfectly — he was able to make his turn from heel to face beautifully and you went from having contempt for him to really caring about him. Harrelson wasn’t given the Emmy-winning lines McConaughey had but he absolutely killed every scene has was in.

The Best Episode: The Third Episode, ‘Who Goes There’ In no way, shape or form, did the trailer for this episode prepare me for just how amazing this installment of True Detective was. The entire end sequence where this small neighborhood in East Texas turns into a war zone, is white knuckle intense. The near documentary-style camera work in the episode heightens the intensity and chaos in the scene. Then there’s McConaughey’s character who should be tripping like crazy because he’s taken so many drugs, but yet there he is running the show, thinking on his feet and pulling off something crazy.

Did We Have Our Own Theories? Sigh…yes, we did. While they weren’t as “woah crazy crazy” as a lot of them out there, we did have a few. The first one we had was that Hart was in on the whole conspiracy due to his affiliation with “promise keepers” which was a religious group that I thought might be run or associated with Billy Lee Tuttle. The second was that Hart’s daughter, due her to aggressive sexual behavior at such a young age, was assaulted by the Yellow King. Thankfully I was wrong.

Our Final Thoughts: True Detective was one of the best television experiences I’ve had in quite a few years. Each and every episode was an intense and thought-provoking entertainment experience. There were barely an missteps or eye rolling moments — it was “all killer and no filler.” The dynamic between Harrelson and McConaughey, which was truly the heart and soul (or Hart and Cohle…zing!) of the show, was a delight to watch every week. It was awkward, contentious and violent yet eventually it became heartfelt and honest. These two actors were at the very top of their game in this series and where they go from here is going to be exciting to watch as I think there’s a lot of meaty, dramatic roles out there for both of them. In terms of the future of True Detective, I’m glad the finale did not give us any clue as to what lies in wait for us in Season 2. It really would’ve detracted from the impact of that final scene between Hart and Cohle.

I think the finality of True Detective (Season 1) is a lesson for American television viewers. In theory, we could watch Cohle and Hart solve crimes together but let’s be honest — the show would get old, we’d see the cracks in the foundation and eventually the magic of Season 1 would be a distant memory. It happened with The Sopranos, Homeland, Mad Men, The Walking Dead…it seems like every show but Breaking Bad has suffered the ill effects of a long run. Here, we are given eight episodes of near perfection. And while we invested so heavily in these characters, we must leave them behind. They are perfect in these episodes and these episodes alone. There’s no chance they’ll ever be screwed up by potentially poor future story lines or a new production team that doesn’t get the spirit of the show. And honestly where could this show take them? It just wouldn’t be the same.

Our final words on True Detective are this — perfection in television may never be achieved but True Detective comes pretty damn close.

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Review: True Detective, Premiere (Bill Bodkin)

Bill Bodkin is the owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

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