At this point, the Internet is thick with theories purporting to explain what True Detective, HBO’s deep, dark crime drama, is “about.” Misogyny. Louisiana. Oil refineries. Even Vietnam.
This is healthy. Good literature isn’t “about” any one thing, and more than any show in recent memory, True Detective seems to aspire to be good literature (as well as good television). Most TV writers want to invent great characters and tell a great story. True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto also wants to layer his show with meaning—or meanings. So he packs it full of the weird fiction of Thomas Ligotti, the cosmic horror of Robert Chambers, the nihilism of Friedrich Nietzsche, inter-dimensional string theory, and perhaps even Unsolved Mysteries. And we keep unpacking. The more Pizzolatto puts in there, from misogyny to Vietnam, the more there is for us to find.
As for me, I’m already on the record saying what I think True Detective is primarily about: storytelling. This is how I put it in my review of Episode 5: “The more I think about it, the more I think this might be the ultimate “meaning” of the series: that at some indivisible level, life is story.”
But now that the finale is approaching, I’d like to refine my hypothesis a bit. “Storytelling” is too vague. What I really think True Detective is about, on some indivisible level, is the power of storytelling. Or, more specifically, the power of one kind of storytelling—investigation—for good. And the power of another kind of storytelling—religion—for ill.It’s worth remembering that Pizzolatto—or, rather, Pizzolatto’s characters—describe both investigation and religion as forms of storytelling in the show’s earliest episodes.
Here’s Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) in Episode 2, delineating his duties as a detective. “You know the job,” he tells his interrogators. “You’re looking for narrative. Interrogate witnesses. Parcel evidence. Establish a timeline. Build a story, day after day.”
And here’s Rustin Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) in Episode 3, dissing Christianity at an Evangelical tent revival meeting. “You got to get together and tell yourself stories that violate every law of the universe just to get through the goddamn day?” he asks Hart. “What’s that say about your reality?” Cohle goes on to characterize religion as “a yen for fairy tales”—a scam perpetrated on people who are full of “fear and self-loathing” by “an authoritarian vessel” who “absorbs their dread with his narrative.”
"Certain linguistic anthropologists think religion is a language virus that rewrites pathways in the brain,” Cohle concludes. “Dulls critical thinking.”In these scenes, Pizzolatto established a clear dichotomy. On the one hand, there’s investigation—i.e., storytelling as a search for the truth. On the other hand, there’s religion—i.e., storytelling as an escape from the truth. Ultimately, I think this dichotomy will come to define what True Detective is all about.
Here’s why.( Collapse )
This article has the bait-iest headline I've seen in a while, but the interview with Pizzolato is really interesting!