Sunday, June 23
Revisiting the legacy of True Detective ahead of True Detective

Revisiting the legacy of True Detective ahead of True Detective Night Country | Web Series

Ten years ago, washed up detective Rust Cohle sat in an interrogation room and proclaimed “Time is a flat circle”, spawning a meme format that literally talked about being recycled and reborn.

A still from True Detective, season 1.
A still from True Detective, season 1.

We’re now in 2024 and there’s a new season of True Detective premiering this weekend. This is the first season of the anthology crime show to have its own subtitle – Night Country. It is also the only season of the show to be made without the active involvement of its creator, Nic Pizzolatto. Also read: Blade gets a gritty rewrite with True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto joining the crew

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The hit first season of True Detective

When True Detective first appeared on our screens, Netflix had just tested the original programming waters with the release of House of Cards in the previous year, and none of the streaming platforms even operated in India. Three days after the premiere of True Detective, the Academy announced Matthew McConnaughey’s nomination for Best Actor for Dallas Buyers Club. The intervening weeks to the finale, and to his Oscar win, would see the portmanteau McConnaisance enter the popular lexicon. It was a different time.

The creator of the show Nic Pizzolatto was a novelist and an academic before turning to television. During the press cycle for the debut season, Pizzolatto said, “I have literally no interest in serial killers.” And he wasn’t just saying that – for a show that is about a serial killer, it is really far more interested in the two men chasing him, and the ways in which they were broken. Unfortunately for Pizzolatto, fans of the show took it at face value, and were hooked by Cohle’s pseudo-intellectual babble and the perceived connections between the Yellow King (the season’s villain) and Lovecraft’s Cthulhu. This ultimately led to a lukewarm reception for the season finale when the down-to-earth resolution didn’t live up to their supernatural expectations.

Underwhelming follow-ups

Nevertheless, True Detective lived on as an anthology show, with each season featuring a new set of cops and detectives investigating a new case. Season two boasted an eclectic cast with Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch, and Vince Vaughn, but received mixed reviews thanks to its much-too-convoluted plot about corruption in California. Pizzolatto took his time with the third season, which premiered in 2019, starring Mahershala Ali in the lead role and Stephen Dorff as his partner. Season three had generally positive reviews, and was seen as a return to form. Unfortunately, it did not hit the highs of the first season, either in ratings or in critical and fan appreciation.

Rachel McAdams and Colin Farrell in a still from True Detective season 2.
Rachel McAdams and Colin Farrell in a still from True Detective season 2.

This begs the question – was it really Nic Pizzolatto’s sole authorship that was the key to True Detective’s initial success? The making of the first season of True Detective was a unique collaboration, with Pizzolatto writing all the episodes and Cary Fukunaga directing all of them. It’s clear now that Fukunaga brought not only a unified visual style but also a much-needed counterbalance to Pizzolatto’s overbaked writing. Fukunaga’s approach to capturing the swamps of Louisiana, and the way he delineated the two timelines of the story, were instrumental in making the first season a must-see phenomenon. Of course, the contribution of McConnaughey and Harrelson cannot be overlooked. Both actors sank their teeth into the meaty roles and delivered in spades. The success of the first season was really due to the alchemy of all these factors, not just one man’s talent.

tephen Dorff and Mahershala Ali in still from True Detective season 3.
tephen Dorff and Mahershala Ali in still from True Detective season 3.

Shaking things up with Season 4

It’s clear HBO and Pizzolatto have thought long and hard about how to keep the franchise alive. For the first time, Pizzolatto has ceded writing duties to someone else, taking only a contractually mandated executive producer credit. The new season is written and showrun by Mexican filmmaker Issa Lopez, with guidance from Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins, who has joined as an executive producer.

Lopez said about this season, “Where True Detective is male and it’s sweaty, Night Country is cold and it’s dark and it’s female.” This season features two female detectives in the lead, with Jodie Foster, and boxer-turned-actor Kali Reis. The case is set in Alaska, and centers on the Native American population there, riding the recent wave of stories based on Native Americans ranging from Reservation Dogs to Killers of the Flower Moon and now Marvel’s Echo.

For all its welcome departures from the True Detective template, the new season also has a marked focus on the supernatural just like the first season. This might just be the rebirth Rust Cohle was talking about all along.

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