True Detective: Who Goes There

“What did you cut it with?”
“You’ll see. You’ll dig it.”

Although I was impressed by the pilot, after my review I put True Detective on the back burner, assuming I’d catch up at a later date. But, earlier this week, I began to see references to this episode and its remarkable six-minute tracking shot. I got so curious I had to start the show up again. And the rest, as we say, is reviewing history.

After the almost stately pace of the first three episodes, with the novelistic focus on the characters and the dialogue, “Who Goes There” is a director’s tour-de-force. The (almost) six-minute “oner” near the end of this episode may be one for the history books, but it’s not the only attraction of this episode, which mostly set aside the 2012 frame narrative to portray the fractured narrative of two cops going off-book.

As I surmised in my review of “The Locked Room,” what we see of 1995 is what happened, not just someone’s subjective experience of what happened. But neither Cohle nor Hart are playing straight with their present-day interrogators, unless “I think his dad was sick” is universal cop-code for “Cohle took a bunch of drugs, participated in a biker heist in the projects, and everything got weird.”

The setup to the heist is excellent, with the events told slightly out of sequence and communicated visually, with only occasional moments of dialogue as seasoning: “There must be a better system for this” was one of the fun parts, while Hart threatening to “skull-fuck” his girlfriend was one of the bad parts.

What really matters, though, is what we see: the planning, the guns, even Cohle and Hart both looking through the hole in the wall that I originally misidentified as a peephole into the neighbor’s apartment. Turns out, it’s a peephole into the hallway, which means it’s probably a metaphor for looking into the void. Then again, in 1995 they didn’t have smartphones, so people had to make their own fun.

While the visual elements may be the part of the episode that stands out the most, especially in the middle act of the episode, Rust Cohle’s monologue about the intimidation tactics used by a cartel is probably this episode’s most memorable bit of dialogue. Watching that sort of gore would be unbearable (face ripping!), but hearing it was almost worse, especially delivered in a southern deadpan. Some fates are worse than a bullet to the head.

After the preparatory setup, the fractured narrative disintegrates into even more delirious edits: the shift from Hart watching Cohle on the dingy to Cohle inside the cargo box planning the heist was intentionally confusing, mimicking Hart’s state of mind and Cohle’s drug-induced edge. Then it all coalesces into the six-minute tracking shot. That is not the longest tracking shot in TV history (The X-Files’s “Triangle” had eleven-minute shots, which is the longest oner I'm aware of), but it might be the most complicated, weaving in and out of houses, around corners, even over a fence.

Director Cary Fukunaga explained the logic behind any “oner” in an interview with MTV: “The best ones, you don't even realize that they're oners. They're the most first-person experience you can get in a film.” In other words, the cinematography draws from the characters and their experience of the world: Rust Cohle was as out-of-sequence as the editing until the madness of the heist made everything into an undistilled, “uncut” (to use a drug pun) experience.

Excellent direction aside, this episode is noteworthy for its willingness to go “off book” in another way: this is essentially a long detour on the road to solving the case, albeit one that takes us closer to finding Reggie Ledoux. This episode is, more than any other, about two men who have lost all sense of what really matters. Cohle didn’t understand what Maggie meant when she said that men always prioritize the wrong things, and clearly the case is the only thing that can draw Hart away from yelling at his wife.

That this is a digressive episode makes me even more curious about what will happen next, with only four more episodes—the second half of the season—left to go. Cohle and Hart seem very close to finding Ledoux, the “monster” at the end of this story: can they drag that plot out for four more hours, or is there another monster hiding deeper in the darkness? How might it pertain to the 2012 interrogation? Did Cohle and Hart agree to lie about the events of this episode back in 1995, or more recently? When will we find out what happened "in the woods"? After a weekend mini-marathon, I’m suddenly anxious about what might happen rather than just excited about what is happening.

Man, this show deserves an Emmy.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)


Paul Kelly said...

I think it was Lisa he was threatening to skull fuck, not his wife. Not that it makes the prospect any more palatable. Skulls hate having that done to them. The owners of the skulls even more so. Well, mostly.

Looks like my prediction that Maggie and Cohle will eventually hook up has just bit the dust. It seems Cohle is only able to behave civilly when he's half cut.

My favourite part of the episode was Hart trying to share his woes with Cohle, Cohle repeatedly shutting him up, and Hart's exasperation at his partner's coldness. Yet, despite Cohle not being much of a shoulder to cry on, Hart seems to trust his intuition (or whatever it is). Or maybe he just wants to believe that Maggie will eventually come back to him. Whatever, Cohle reassuring him that she'd be back was the first time I've seen the two of them really connect. Hart really wanted to hear it and Cohle really wanted to say it -- just to get him to shut up and concentrate on the case.

Best episode of the season so far.

Jess Lynde said...

Well, Fukunaga met his "best ones" criteria for me, because I didn't notice at all that it was one continuous take until I read about it afterward. I was completely caught up in the moment. It's amazing that they were able to wring so much tension out of Cohle's situation, when we all know he survives and doesn't get busted by the police because both he and Hart are sitting in those interrogation rooms in 2012.

Of course, as caught up as I became in the end sequence, overall this episode felt very different to me than the first three. It went from a more intellectual, reflective experience to a very visceral one. As good as the final sequence was, I think actually prefer the show in the former mode. I guess we'll see what we get going forward.

Josie Kafka said...

Thanks, Paul! You're right, and I fixed it.

Jess, if you haven't seen the next episode yet, you're in for a treat.

ChrisB said...

I was convinced that Maggie and Cohle were going to end up in bed as well, but now I highly doubt that. In fact, I think their conversation might have been the stake in the heart of her marriage.

We keep getting clues that Cohle lies, a lot. This time, it was to Hart to get him to stop thinking about Maggie. What it does, of course, is call into question every word he has said in the interrogation room.