050 – True Detective, “The Secret Fate of All Life”

true detective the secret fate of all life

“Every episode of True Detective is better than the previous one.” This is something that I have been saying since the show premiered, but it is only now starting to get to the point where a “better” episode also means a “good” episode.

We’ve gone over this again and again; the show is interesting thematically and philosophically, but up to last week’s “Who Goes There” the execution was lackluster. If you remember, director Cary Joji Fukunaga finally asserted himself with (among other flourishes) a six-minute single take near the episode’s end. That sequence was the shot in the arm that the series needed to go from something worth talking about to something worth watching.

Detectives Cohle and Hart (Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, respectively) finally make some progress in their investigation of a ritualistic murder that initiated the entire series. All of a sudden, the show starts moving at such a brisk pace that, at times, even the characters can’t keep up. This kind of forward momentum is exactly what I’ve been searching for the last couple weeks, so it’s nice to see some movement on that front.

Just as the 1995 storyline gets interesting, writer Nick Pizzolatto introduces us to 2002 Hart and Cohle (which I just realized sounds like “heart and soul.” That’s the kind of serendipity that could inspire Masters’ theses), who are in better places than their 1995 or 2002 counterparts. Not for long though, as a suspect Cohle is interrogating brings up a fact about his old case that sets off the already-unstable detective.

The 2012 timeline continues to be the weakest. McConaughey waxing philosophical is no longer as entertaining as it once was – in fact, it was the weakest part of an otherwise very strong episode. Despite McConaughey’s delivery, the overwritten speeches are starting to come off more as a writer proclaiming his cleverness (a la Sherlock’s Steven Moffat) than a character relaying anything relevant or interesting. Outside of the Cohle interrogation, however, there are indicators that the 2012 story is about to grow some legs (though I feel like I say that every week).

Things have finally started happening, and that is the biggest takeaway from “The Secret Fate of All Life.” I am hesitant to say that the slow burn of the first three and half episodes has made this payoff more worthwhile; such tension had already built up over one or two episodes. Perhaps it has just taken this long for Pizzolatto and Fukunaga to figure out what works. I’m certainly glad they finally did, but I wish it hadn’t taken half of the season’s run to do so. The highest praise I can place upon the shoulders of this episode is that it has actually made me want to go back and rewatch some of the earlier stuff. For the first time I feel like I didn’t get everything there was to get after the first watch. All that’s left to do is follow the show through to its conclusion.

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