True Detective is HBO’s new crime drama which premiered Sunday night. Our recap breaks down the events of season 1, episode 1 “The Long Bright Dark.”
True Detective season 1 is the story of two Louisiana detectives played by Woody Harrelson (Hart, who describes himself as a “regular dude with a big ass dick”) and Matthew McConaughey (Cohle – more on him later) who investigate the wicked murder of a woman in a sugar cane field in 1995. Prior to this case, the two have been working together for three months. The story throughout the season is framed by their retelling of the investigation to two cops in 2012. They bring them back in for questioning because some of their files were ruined during Hurricane Rita (September 2005).
The episode kicks off with video tape of the commencement of the interviews with the detectives in 2012. The new investigators want to hear Hart talk about Cohle, who they’ve heard is a strange guy. Indeed: When we first see Cohle for his interview (they’re conducted separately), he’s insisting on smoking in the office. He later asks for a break so he can go get some beer.
Hart points out to the new investigators that one of Cohle’s odder points was his giant notebook that earned him the nickname “the taxman.” Hart describes his partner as a smart, quiet man who lives alone in an empty apartment with a mattress on the floor. Adding to the obscurity, Cohle is not religious but has a cross hung up over his bed. He says he uses it as a form of meditation. Later in the episode we learn that Hart specifically requested Cohle stay with him on the case.
We flashback to 1995 when they arrive at the crime scene where Dora Lange’s body resides. The woman has had antlers taped to her head, her body is naked, there’s a symbol on her back, and she’s bent forward towards a tree. A strange object which we later find out is referred to as a “devil’s nest” is also there. A cop at the scene thinks the symbols are satanic. Cohle’s inspection of the woman is very detailed. He thinks she was a prostitute, amongst other specifics. Hart doesn’t like all of the assumptions Cohle is making and thinks he’s being prejudice. In a weird departure from the topic at hand, Hart invites Cohle to dinner with his family.
Cohle shows up to the dinner – which he put off for as long as possible – drunk with a bouquet of flowers in his hand. It’s an awkward family dinner where Cohle is asked by one of Hart’s kids if he’s ever shot a gun (yes).
Cohle heads out to a bar to ask some prostitutes who may know who the woman was, even though she hasn’t been identified yet. He asks them if anyone’s been missing lately, and they don’t offer any helpful leads other than a suggestion to speak to someone else. He also asks one of the ladies for some downers because – here’s another thing that’s strange about him – he doesn’t sleep.
Arriving home for the night, Hart ends up sleeping on the couch and barely has any time to talk to his wife Maggie when she wakes him the following morning. She’s missed him for a couple days, she tells him, but there’s no time for reminiscing because he’s got to get straight back to work. It’s an early sign of a relationship that’s falling apart.
At the coroner’s office we learn more about the body. She had LSD and crystal meth in her system and was drugged, bound, and tortured.
With still no solid leads in sight, the media starts describing the attack as one done by a cult, which lights a fire under the entire police force to keep digging for answers.
Shortly thereafter Hart and Cole interview a priest of a church attended by a missing person’s family several years ago. The priest brings up a case where two dead cats were found hanging. They also show the priest one of the objects they found at the crime scene which he describes as a devil’s nest.
Out at a house they choose to investigate because of some small connections to the case, Cohle heads into the backyard to look around and finds another one of the “devil’s nests.” The way the scene was shot, it seems like his gut led him to the backyard.
We jump to modern day, and Cohle is shown by police a new crime scene with a woman tied up. It looks similar to the one he investigated in 1995. They want to know how this could’ve happened again when Cohle and Hart caught their guy back in ’95.
“You better start asking the right fucking questions,” Cohle tells the cops. The episode ends there.
Forget the crime… one of the most compelling aspects of this show is Cohle. In this episode we learned that his daughter died years prior, and the 1995 murder was discovered on her birthday. Hart describes him as “smart, aloof, and doesn’t care about making friends.” Towards the end of the episode Hart reveals that their friendship ended in 2002 and they haven’t stayed in touch, but we don’t know why.
To make matters more complicated, the 2012 detectives seemed interested in Cohle’s backstory when speaking to Hart when it was irrelevant to the crime, and Harrelson’s character was suspicious of those questions.
Hypable screened the first three episodes of the season and we were very pleased with where the story heads. Though slow moving, the characters are gripping and the tension between Cohle and Hart is very compelling. Many questions are laid out in the first couple of episodes, and episode 3 concludes on a cliffhanger that suggests there will be an important payoff in episode 4.