Friday, September 11, 2015

A "True" Masterpiece

     In the beginning of junior year, one of my friends kept pestering and pestering me about watching True Detective, which he referred to as the 'best show on television'.  I have never really enjoyed crime/procedural drama shows as I find the episodes to be relatively isolated events, lacking in character development and a real through-line to connect the component chapters. Therefore, I was a bit reluctant to start a show that I assumed would lack depth, plot, and intrigue. I couldn't have been more wrong. I started the show and after the first 20 minutes of the pilot, I was hooked. The show stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as two detectives assigned to a cultish murder scene. The narrative flips between the actual investigation of the murder in 1995 and a set of interviews of the two detectives in 2012. McConaughey steals every scene as Rustin Cohle, a brilliant, yet eccentric detective that is as much a philosopher as he is a cop. Harrelson's Marty Hart provides the perfect 'straight man' to Rust's nihilistic ranting, and it is a testament to their dynamic and to the show's writing that the most compelling scenes in the show are often the conversations in the car between Rust and Marty. The show's ability to tackle interesting topics such as religion and relationships and the dynamic between Rust and Marty made me excited to read the script that I found for the pilot.
    Part of what separates scripts and screenplays from other forms of writings is the way in which they create imagery and describe tone and motive. Since they are, in essence, instructions for directors and actors, they are required to lay out how a scene looks and with what tone a character is speaking. The True Detective script is no exception, and I found, in particular, that it excelled in characterizing Rust and Marty. In terms of appearance, for example, Rustin is described in detail, especially in the 2012 storyline. "He hasn’t lost any hair, but it’s streaked with steel gray, wild, unkempt and in need of a trim" (Pizzolatto 4). After watching the show, McConaughey's portrayal lines up eerily close to Pizzolatto's initial vision of the character. Even more significant is Pizzolatto's ability to develop Rust and Marty's character traits in the script in a way that is clear but concise and not distracting. Upon first looking upon a dead body, Pizzolatto notes Marty and Rust's reactions, writing "Hart looks vaguely horrified. Cohle’s face simply tenses and his eyes sharpen" (Pizzolatto 4). Just from these two short sentences, we begin to get an idea for the kind of men Marty and Cohle are. Marty reacts reasonably considering how disturbing the crime scene in front of them is, playing into the 'straight man' idea discussed before. Rust, however, reacts minimally, hinting at a possible insensitivity to pain and suffering. The aforementioned 'car conversations' are just as compelling in the script as they were in the show. For example, when Marty makes the mistake of asking Rust what he believes in, a brilliant conversation emerges.

Rust: "We’re uncanny puppets on a lonely planet, in cold space, living and replicating and sending unborn generations into suffering and death because that’s our programming."

Marty: "Jesus Christ."

(Pizzolatto 17)

     Rust's atheistic cynicism is greeted with shock and disgust by Marty, illustrating how different these men really are. Although McConaughey and Harrelson were absolutely brilliant in the show, it is a testament to Pizzolatto's script that the dialogue retains its intrigue while only on paper. This contrast between Marty and Rust is what makes Season 1 of True Detective one of the best runs of television that I have ever seen. It isn't a 'cop show'. It is the story of two men that are diametrically opposed in how they look at the world. These men just happen to be detectives. In reality, the murder case acts as a backdrop for the exploration of Rust and Marty's relationship, and the script definitely does this integral quality justice.

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