019 – True Detective, “Seeing Things”

true detective seeing things

Outliving a child is a terrible notion; it isn’t the natural way of things, and it surely produces the worst kind of survivors’ guilt. Two characters deal with this type of tragedy in the second episode of HBO’s True Detective, “Seeing Things.” We can learn a lot from their disparate reactions.

Detective Rustin Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) lost his daughter in an accident when she was very young. In 2012, Cohle seems to have come to terms with what happened, able to rationalize why such a terrible event may have been a good thing (for his daughter’s sake), but the Cohle of 1995 clearly hasn’t reached that level of enlightenment just yet. Perhaps this is why he offers no sympathy to the mother of the victim whose death he and Detective Hart (Woody Harrelson) are investigating. The young woman’s mother has a visceral breakdown, finding solace in babbling above anything else. Cohle sees a path he could have taken in this woman’s reaction to the news, and chooses instead to double down on his distractions.

While we learn more about Cohle’s past, we get a better sense of Hart’s 1995-based extra-curricular activities. His family life is not as solid as we were led to believe in episode one. Hart has a good amount of the darkness in him himself, something that Cohle recognizes and attacks. 2012 Hart tells us about Cohle’s ability to pick on a weakness, and if this episode is any indication, that tendency is going to be a barrier between the two men becoming the best friends that we all dream about them becoming. Oh, just me?

Much of the Cohle revelations come in the form of 2012 monologues delivered to Detectives Gilbough and Papania (Michael Potts and Tory Kittles, respectively). McConaughey eats these scenes up; somehow these long shots of a now-grungy Cohle staring into the middle distance and talking are the most captivating of the episode. As enjoyable as the story-telling conceit is, it will get pretty stale pretty soon. There are clear indicators that some serious stuff is going down in the present day, so I hope we get to see some addressing of that fact sometime soon.

Unfortunately for Mr. Harrelson the meat that he is given is not nearly as tasty a cut. Think less prime rib and more rump roast. Harrelson shows us a new side of Hart in the episode, but – despite being more active – Hart is not nearly as interesting as his partner.

I’m not too concerned about this. Harrelson is every bit the dynamic actor that McConaughey is, and the series has already proven to be a slow burn. It will be difficult to truly judge the series until the eight episodes have aired, but there are certainly themes emerging. Loss, for one. “The Job,” as it’s known, takes its toll on the officers who work it; hopefully Hart takes a look at the living warning sign Cohle provides.

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