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‘True Detective’ Review: “Seeing Things”

True Detective Seeing Things
HBO

HBO’s ‘True Detective‘ returns with its second episode, in which Hart and Cohle follow-up on a couple of leads that inch them just a little closer to discovering the truth about what happened to Dora Lang. Tonight we also learn a little more about Hart and what happens behind closed doors — he’s not quite the straight and narrow man he presents himself to be. 

It becomes quite clear in “Seeing Things” that Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey are indeed very much playing to type, but they’re so damn good at it. Harrelson does the surface good, stand-up guy routine, but he’s slimy and he’ll slip right in that backdoor as soon as you turn your back. And that’s what Hart does: he postures himself as a righteous, straight-and-narrow type. A family man with some decent religious beliefs, who has a good job and is on the right track to having that vanilla, ask (reasonably and do the work required) and ye shall receive lifestyle. But here’s a guy who, for all his ministering about being an upstanding and productive member of society, goes behind his wife’s back for a little “tension relief” with a mistress. He justifies it by saying that for all the horrors and BS he deals with on the job, he has to have an outlet to shake it off so he doesn’t carry that baggage home to his wife and children. And yet, we watch as he bickers with his wife when all she wants is for him to spend a pre-designated family day at home with his kids.

Even more interesting is watching Hart’s interaction with a madam at a trailer park bunny ranch when he and Cohle go to investigate a lead in the Dora Lang case. He’s disgusted by the ranch, and in particular by the underage prostitute the madam employs, but she pins him real quickly: his disgust is merely annoyance and insecurity with the idea that a woman would have control over her own body, taking ownership over their bodies in ways he cannot. It reflects back to the conversation with his mistress, in which he feigns concern for her going out with friends with a killer on the loose, when really he’s just being possessive and wants to keep her all to himself. Similarly, if his wife were to be caught cheating, it’s safe to assume Hart is the kind of guy who would have a nuclear meltdown. He views women as his possessions that he’s earned or is entitled to, the same way he probably views his home or his clothing or his car.

And when subtly confronted about his unfaithful night by Cohle, we see the recognition of his flaws and his self-resentment rise up as he lashes out at Cohle in self-defense. See, on ‘True Detective,’ we’re asked to look beyond the simple world of good guys (cops) and bad guys (serial killers) and into the microcosm of the lives of these two men as they work this case. And what we see are shades of grey that vacillate and tick around from episode to episode. Last week introduced us to a normal, upstanding detective and his tormented new partner, and if anyone was placing bets, it was probably that Cohle was going to start bursting at the seams with skeletons in his closet before going down in a blaze of glory, while Hart was going to be painting white picket fences. But that was never going to be the case.

I love learning more about Cohle and his weird, zippy past as an undercover narcotics officer, wheeling and dealing after the loss of his daughter and the toll that took on his marriage and his life. It feels redundant to talk about the cinematography every week, but the visuals when Cohle has his druggy flashbacks are hypnotic and really help put us in his frame of mind, in this place between lucidity and unreality. There’s so much sadness and history packed into the brief summary of his pre-Louisiana life, and we can read a lot between the sentences, in his pauses and in the way he gazes off into nothingness, losing his train of thought, getting lost in another time and parts of a life he can’t bring himself to discuss. He has no problem telling the new detectives how he unloaded his gun into a junkie for injecting meth into an infant, but it feels like, for all his good ol’ candor, there’s still some mystery to Rust Cohle.

And where Cohle seems to embrace his own flaws with a slight egoism (that I can’t say isn’t deserved this week when he’s standing next to Hart), Hart resists his true nature. Perhaps this is what makes Cohle the better, more insightful detective and able to see and intuit things Hart cannot. Which of course leads Cohle to the burnt-down church where Miss Dora was spending a lot of her time, and where they find a creepy painting of a woman with antlers. While ‘True Detective’ doesn’t have those typical procedural cliffhangers that make people want to hold off for a binge-watch, I do find myself wondering how these episodes would watch in one sitting. They’re so cinematic and there’s a certain fluidity to the narrative that I think would lend itself incredibly well to that sort of viewing experience.

Additional thought: what the hell was up with Hart’s daughters and that creepy, ritualistic doll set-up?

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