Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"True Detective"--Great Characters, Snazzy Dialogue But the Plotting???

From the messy desk of Paul Levine...

I come to sing the praises of "True Detective."  Mostly.

As it turns out, it wasn't a murder mystery.  It was a cop/buddy story with a tale of redemption and emergence of faith at the end.  Okay, fine.

I'm not going to delve into the Jesus allegory, with the near crucifixion of Rust (Matthew McConaughey) and his rebirth as a man of faith. I don't know if Carcosa was Calvary or Galveston or Gobblygook.

I'm not going to whine about the loose ends.  Just who the hell was the "Yellow King?"  What did dead Reggie LeDoux have to do with the Lawnmower Man killer/maniac/pedophile?  And that powerful family?  Did they do the covering up that Rust suspected?

I will whine about this.  For six hours and 55 minutes, we were given a "closed mystery."  The identity of the villain was hidden from viewer and protagonists.  Then the clumsy revelation that it's Lawnmower Man, so now it's just a cat-and-mouse police procedural.  How will Hart and Cohle catch Lawnmower Man, and who will die?

That requires a certain amount of plotting expertise.  Tying together the evidence.  A leads to  B which leads to C, and then perhaps a twist, NO, C was wrong, go to D.  The problem with Nic Pizzolatto, a splendid writer, he's not an A-B-C kind of guy.  He leaves loose ends everywhere. 

Let me turn the table over to veteran television writer and producer Ed Zuckerman, who wrote -- I don't know -- like a million episodes of "Law & Order" and its spinoffs.  In other words, Ed is a real A-B-C kind of guy.  Plotting has to be logical to him.  (I know this because he was chief writer on JAG when I was a rookie scribbler there, and he wouldn't let me get away with any writerly shortcuts).
Anyway, this is from an exchange of emails with Ed after Sunday's finale, Ed doing all the talking:
I agree with you.  It was a great buddy cop story.  But, as for the mystery...

Our heroes kidnap Sheriff Geraci and, under threat of grievous bodily harm, he tells them that Sheriff Childress closed/covered up the investigation of the missing girl.  Which I believe is what Geraci told them before they pulled out the gun and started threatening him, right?  So what did the threats gain?  Anyway...

This leads them nowhere special.  They go back to looking at old records. Where, unprompted or helped by anything Geraci said, Woody starts wondering about green ears.  I forget who or what had green ears.  A drawing of the killer by a child?  Anyway, this makes Woody remember a green house.  What house was that?  I have no memory of it, but that might just be me.  And he notices that in a photo from 1995 that house had been freshly painted green.  So maybe whoever painted it spilled paint on his ears and that's why the picture of the killer drawn by the child (if that's what it was) had green ears.  It's hard to believe I've got this right.  A house painter walks around with green paint on his ears?
I would agree with Ed that this was a prime example of lazy plotting.  An illogical "A" leads to a nonsensical "B."  It just wouldn't happen this way.

Anyway, they track down the lady who lived in the house and find out that her husband was a taxpayer.  They access his tax return from 1995 and see he listed the payment to the house painter under itemized deductions, which makes no sense, since why would painting your house be a deduction?  That's not deductible.  Anyway, the name of the company was Childress -- the same name as the sheriff who covered up the girl's abduction!
The whole visit to the lady in the nursing home with the startling perfect memory of who painted her house in 1995 and how much they charged and that it was Childress....struck me as lame.  And, as Ed is about to say...so what?  THEY ALREADY KNOW ABOUT CHILDRESS FROM GERACI.

So now they begin looking at the records of the Childress company, which they could have done as soon as they learned that Sheriff Childress was suspect. Seems like they've gone in a big loop to end up where they already were. Anyway, from those corporate records they get an address (I think) that is the creepy house with the creepy guy and the creepy woman.  They go there and stalk around with creepy music for a long time until they are both almost killed by the creepy guy.  I thought, from the injuries they got, that they were dead (or about to be) and that that was going to be the twist -- our heroes die!  But no, anyway...
Yep, I was looking for some twist also.  (Now, there was a twist in character, although that's not usually the way the term is used.  Let's just say that Cohle underwent a huge character arc, and that's what the story was about.  Back to Ed...

While they're lying there horribly wounded the cops show up in force.  How? Why?  Who called the cops?  A big plot point was that Woody tried to call the cops but failed, right?  So why were they there?

I had no problems with anything else.
Me, too.  Except this mini-mini nit-pick.  The HBO poster used the tagline, "Touch Darkness and Darkness Touches You Back."   Oooh.  Profound.  And clearly ripped off from Nietzshe's "When you gaze into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you."

But I liked the show.  Really.

Paul Levine


  1. Since I wrote those comments, someone pointed out to me how the cops got there at the end. When last seen in the creepy house,
    Woody was shouting at the weird lady (who had said they had no phone) something like: "You're lying. You must have a phone. Everybody has a phone." So what must have happened is that, off-camera, she showed Woody to the phone, and he called the cops before going outside to look for Cohle and get that hatchet in the chest (which, fortunately, was only a flesh wound).

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  3. The cops always knew where Marty was because they had a tracker on his car.

  4. I haven't seen the show. After watching the trailer and understanding only a couple of mumbled words, I lost interest. Maybe when I'm finished watching Breaking Bad...

  5. Patty, despite all my nit-picks, I recommend the show for the writing and the acting. Eunice, was that established (a GPS tracker on Marty's car?). I don't remember it. And why wouldn't they have put it on Cohle's truck...since he was the suspect? Oh well, sometimes we examine a bit too closely instead of just enjoying.

  6. James O. Born3/12/2014 2:30 PM

    Since, I too am a fan of the famous Ed Zuckerman, and, incredibly, he also has advised me on selling things to Hollywood, I agree with all that is said. I thought about it during the show. I considered it as a cop. I looked at the show as a man of faith, I watched it, cringing at the stereotypes of southern rural people. I watched expecting all the things you did, Paul. But that's not what I got. In the end, I liked it. Maybe the writer was so brilliant he wanted to do something different.

    Is there a second season or is it a mini-series? I thought it was coming back. I don't see how. Unless Rust becomes the square, well adjusted one.

  7. New story new actors next season, Jim .