This week’s opening is jarring, so much that I double-checked to make sure they didn’t actually air a new episode during the Super Bowl last week that I had just missed completely. But they didn’t, apparently, so after ending with a cliffhanger last week of the detectives closing in on Reggie LaDoux and a hinted-at gun battle, this one jumps back to show how they got to that point. It’s disorienting, all the more so because the opening scene alone leaps the case progress forward more than the prior 3 episodes combined. All of a sudden we know that there is some cult operating in the swamps and LaDoux is affiliated with them somehow, unless the spiral tattoo thing could somehow be a coincidence, but no one really believes in those in a detective story, right?
Meanwhile, in the framing segments, Woody is getting a little shirty with the interviewers, leading me (and possibly him) to suspect that perhaps they are more interested in dirt on him than pinning the copycat killings on Cohle. In the 90s, he’s getting Dear John letters from his wife and having a truly nasty blow-up at his mistress after she strikes back for his horrid treatment of her. This is not exactly a shocking development, but it’s good in how it forces him to lean harder on his always-strained relationship with his partner. And has him getting more and more unhinged in scenes like the one where he interrogates Tyrone the meth-dealer at gunpoint.
But despite prominently featuring the implosion of Hart’s marriage, this is Cohle’s episode, overall. Hart spends the back half of the episode ineffectually trailing after his partner, who we find out he has a go-box with an AK-47, freaking hand grenades, and a pint of Jameson of the variety my peers have colloquially dubbed a “McNulty”. He dives right into the last one, but Chekov would tell us it’s only a matter of time before the others get their turn. He’s also got history with the biker gang that LaDoux supplies with meth, and a plan for a rogue undercover operation that Hart is surprisingly quick to get on board with, considering he’s nominally the “straight-laced” one of the duo. And these bikers make the Sons Of Anarchy look positively cuddly. They’re unstable, violent racists with about half of a not-very-good plan (the bikers are much less believable as cops than Rust is as a tweaker criminal) to rip off some drug dealers, and they want “Crash” to help with in order to prove his bonafides.
And that “plan” turns True Detective into a more conventional, action-oriented cop show than it has been til now, in the episode’s show-stopping final setpiece. It’s sort of baffling that the third episode ended with the promise of one gunfight and then this one delivers an entirely different one, but I’m not complaining because as much as I’ve enjoyed True Detective as a tone poem for a few episodes, there’s nothing wrong with putting some actual story in your story from time to time, and holy hell, this sequence is an all-timer. The sustained tracking shot following McConaughey through the projects is as intense a sequence as we will likely see on TV this year, outside of the 9th episode of Game Of Thrones anyway. And it’s this tense, and cackling with fractured, druggy energy, despite our knowing that both detectives will make it to 2012 relatively unscathed. Which is no mean feat.
It may not be the gunfight I was looking for, but it was even better than I had hoped for. Cary Fukunaga shoots the living hell out of the sequence in one long take; there might be a hidden edit when it tracks up to the helicopter briefly, but I didn’t catch it. I have so far neglected to speak of this unique nature of True Detective, in that every episode is written by Nic Pizzolatto and directed by Fukunaga. This gives it a steadiness of authorial voice that is atypical for a TV show, and to its credit. Even if I find that voice to border on pretension and hard-boiled caricature at times. The visuals similarly have provided a consistency to the proceedings, and along with the performances really elevate material that may not be game-changing on the page. The grimy, oppressive feel and simmering tension of the gang milieus recalls Fukunaga’s 2009 debut film Sin Nombre (highly recommended, by the way), and as mentioned that raid was as breathless a sequence as you’ll find on big screen or small. The man should be able to write his own ticket after this (he should’ve after Nombre, really) and I’ll be look forward to whatever he decides to tackle next.
In the meantime, I’ll also be looking forward to the next episode of True Detective. While in some ways we are further from a conclusion than we were at the beginning of the hour, I’m down for a few more digressions like this if they are this well-produced, and if McConaughey is going to maintain the level of commitment he brings to his character’s spiral out of control. Given the steady hands on the writing and directing side, and the show’s limited episode run, this is not a series that I’m worried about stumbling on the landing. It might be weird to have such a despairing show bring out the optimist in me, but things have only been getting better and better thus far. If they can stay at this level for 4 more weeks, I’ll be awfully pleased.