True Detective’s lofty ambitions fall short

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Matthew McConaughey plays Rust Cohle, one of the protagonists in True Detective. He studies archived files.

HBO’s new television crime drama series True Detective is different from other notable “buddy cop” dramas in that it seeks to deconstruct old-world white masculinity, and point out misogyny within the genre.

The show itself is a frame narrative – a story within a story –  revolving around the two white, male Southern detectives, Rust Cohle and Martin Hart. Throughout the series they investigate the murder of a young girl found dead in a field, with antlers tied to her head and strange markings painted on her skin. The episodes jump between a younger Hart and Cohle investigating this 17-year old case, to the older pair of them being individually interviewed by two younger black detectives, Maynard Gilbough and Thomas Papania. The choice in casting from story to story seems to be a deliberate show of modernization — the detectives in Hart and Cohle’s time are predominantly older, white, Southern males, while the agency becomes more diverse 17 years later.

While the intent is interesting and progressive, it sometimes falls flat. Gilbough and Papania seem to exist only to question the other two men, and really aren’t given much in the way of character development or even personality.

The show has a similar problem with its commentary on deeply ingrained masculinity and misogyny. The women in the show are prostitutes, mistresses, or housewives, and all of these roles are looked down upon by the male leads. This is especially evident in Hart’s case, who sees his wife and mistress as vessels for his possessiveness and frustration.

The disdain that many of the women on the show hold for the two detectives acts as an obvious steer for the audience- leading the viewer to dislike Cohle and Martin as well. Despite this, the story portrays the misogyny it’s supposed to be criticizing. The women characters are not portrayed as three-dimensional, and their voices are rarely heard. Hart’s wife, Maggie Hart, is barely characterized beyond her dislike for her unfaithful, disrespectful husband, despite the fact that she has potential to be a strong character for the audience members to relate to.

Despite the fact that the show occasionally falls short of what it is aiming to do, it provides an incredibly interesting, dark critique of traditional crime dramas.