True Detective Review: Episode 3 & 4 – Film Dispenser

Television February 11, 2014 Scott Phillips
Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every Fall.

True Detective” Continues to Amaze

It’s been three weeks and two episodes since I’ve discussed True Detective, the intense new crime show from HBO. With each episode a densely-packed 57 or 58 minutes, it is not my intention to summarize or “re-cap” the action, but rather to analyze some of the plot details, discuss where things might be going and admire some of the story-telling techniques that drive this ground-breaking show.

1. The Hypocrisy of Detective Hart: While the first two episodes of the season were driven by the nihilistic darkness of Detective Cohle, Episodes 3 and 4 gave the audience a deeper look at Cohle’s partner. Detective Hart extols the virtues of being a family man and the stability they bring. He worries about his young partner who is adrift and alone in the world. Yet Hart’s actions don’t match his words.

Standing under the revival tent in Episode 3, Cohle tells Hart he’s living in denial. Cohle was referring to Hart’s religious beliefs, but he was right nonetheless. Hart is a hypocrite of the highest order, and that’s what makes his character so interesting. He professes his love to his wife and then meets his mistress. He won’t leave his family for his younger lover, but he is driven into a violent rage when the single woman spends an evening with someone else. Kudos go to Woody Harrelson for taking the less showy role and creating such an interesting character. Each week he slowly peels back the layers of Detective Hart, and his character is “unveiled” from episode to episode.

2. Welcome to the Jungle: We’ve been told that Cohle spent four years as an undercover agent in the world of Texas drug-running biker gangs. His dark outlook on the world feels like a form of PTSD. It’s as if the life was drained out of him after four years as a witness to all the depravity the world has to offer. With a clever plot twist in Episode 4, Cohle needs to re-enter the Texas criminal underworld to find their murder suspect, Reggie Ledoux. We get the chance to follow Cohle into the belly of the beast. He snorts coke, stares down gun barrels and runs a literal gauntlet to find the path to Ledoux. He even agrees to help rob a stash house in the projects to prove his loyalty to the gang. For the audience, seeing is believing. We understand Cohle more after spending some time in his former world.

3. Is Ledoux Our Killer?: Cohle pursues Ledoux with the single-minded drive of a bloodhound, but when all is said and done, is Ledoux our murderer? If he is, then why is there an eerily-similar murder seventeen years later in 2012? After the dogged pursuit of Ledoux, I think Cohle will get the suspect in “the box”, and despite the almost overwhelming circumstantial evidence, Cohle will arrive at one conclusion: This ain’t the guy. In Episode 3, the modern-day Cohle discusses the art of interrogation with the detectives taping his story. He says he knows if he’s got the right guy after spending ten-minutes with him, and that ten minutes is going to tell Cohle that Ledoux isn’t their man. But, Ledoux’s connections to the victims and the players in the case are going to be enough for Hart and his superiors to charge Ledoux anyway.

Although Cohle is an oddball to begin with, I think some of his “weirdo schtick” during his interview with Detectives Gilbough and Papania is simply his way of enjoying being right. He plays it coy with all his existential comments and then drops in the occasional taunt (“Then start asking the right questions.”) I think he told everyone seventeen years ago that Ledoux was the wrong guy, and he has been waiting seventeen years to be proven right. He’ll tell his story, and he’ll help them catch the killer, but he’s toying with them along the way because he’s the smartest man in the room, and no one listened to him when it mattered.

4. What Happened in 2002?: In the pilot, Hart tells the videotapers that he worked with Cohle for seven years, but their partnership ended in 2002, and he hasn’t spoken to him since. The significance of the statement isn’t lost on the interrogators. They went from partners and friends to having no contact with one another for 10 years? What happened? I have two theories: one personal and one professional. The most obvious answer is that Cohle begins seeing Hart’s wife around that time, Hart finds out and the partnership between the detectives is over. A more intriguing possibility? Evidence exonerating Ledoux comes to light, Hart and the higher-ups choose to bury it and Cohle can’t live with the decision. Maybe True Detective will never revisit this plot point, but I think something big happened in 2002 that will come to roost ten years later.

5. Can We Trust the Accuracy of the Flashbacks?: From the first moment Rust Cohle appeared on screen in the pilot episode with his scraggly hair and dead eyes, I wondered if the narration he and Martin Hart are providing is actually the truth. Are the flashbacks to the Dora Lange case actual objective visual accounts of what happened or are they simply dramatizations of what that character says happened? Is this narrative device for framing the story just an interesting way to keep the audience guessing in two different timeframes? Or is there a possibility that the flashbacks contain false information from Cohle and Hart (or both)?

Episode 4 seemed to provide some guidance and may have put this issue to bed altogether. Cohle tells his interviewers about taking some time off to go tend to his sick father. The interviewers suspect it’s a lie, and the audience is shown it’s not true when Cohle heads out to Texas on an unauthorized mission to nab Ledoux. But, does that mean that all the details of the case that we’ve been shown are the gospel? Or do we have an “unreliable narrator” hiding some details from us? (Notice this section contains a lot more questions than answers.)

6. How About That Tracking Shot?: Episode 4 ended on a riveting note that was also an amazing technical accomplishment. Cohle and his biker buddies decide to rob a stash house in the projects. Cohle is simply trying to ingratiate himself to his former contact to get a sit-down with Ledoux, but quickly finds himself fighting for his life. Cohle and his biker hostage thread their way through the housing project as gunfire erupts around them and local law enforcement arrives on the scene. Hart arrives in time to help the two men flee the scene. It’s an edge-of-your-seat sequence that is all the more amazing because it takes place in a single, unbroken six-minute take. It’s the kind of cinematography you normally see only on the big screen. Just another in a long line of quality technical accomplishments this series has to offer.


Well, those are my musings and thoughts for Episodes 3 and 4. I’ll be back after Episode 6 to continue my discussion of the most interesting show on television.

Scott Phillips

The Movie Isle

Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.

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