Close friends Kate Rears Burgman and Caroline Cho have gotten together again, this time to discuss the first season of True Detective, which just ended this week. This time they’re in a loud bar, so nobody can hear them over the music and merriment, which is probably a good thing because they’re both drinking Manhattans (sort of a high-class drink for True Detective, but they didn’t have any Lone Star) and are just scratching the surface of all sorts of wild topics. If you didn’t read their Breaking Bad review last year, here’s the scoop on these ladies: Kate was an English major and is therefore an overanalyzer of everything, even if it’s not on a page. Carol was a film major and therefore has reasons for her overanalysis of everything, or at least everything on a screen. Here’s what they thought about True Detective’s inaugural season.
Kate: One of the things we wanted to talk about when we were sketching this out was, like, how this relates to your classic buddy detective – uh, what are those things called? I’m sorry. I’ve been drinking whiskey.
Carol: Oh, like “Detective procedurals.”
K: Yes. Detective procedurals.
C: Slash “buddy comedies.”
K: Slash buddy comedies. Well… or, like, buddy cop kinda stuff, because clearly it’s not comedy.
C: Well, it kind of is.
K: Well, it makes you feel good when you watch it!
C: When he’s like, “What are you, like, the Michael Jordan of being a son of a bitch?”
K: There was actually something really good in that deleted scene where he’s being a dick to his girlfriend. She says, “I can’t tell if you’re a mostly good person or if you’re just an asshole,” and he drawls, “I don’t want to have to make that call.” Ha ha. Oh, Matthew McConaughey.
C: He is amazing.
K: So we wanted to talk about that, and we also wanted to talk about it in terms of “cosmic horror,” or whatever that is.
C: Yeah, what is that thing that Lovecraft did? Cosmi-something. It’s basically about how we as humans are as insignificant as insects, or any other species. Essentially, we are not the most important thing out there.
K: Could an insect cause another insect to, like, stop serial killing insect children?
C: Well, yeah… I mean a lot of what we do is inherent population control, right?
K: Ah, so serial killing is really just like… because we realize that social Darwinism and survival of the fittest is no longer a thing, sometimes we have to decide who we think the fittest are and sacrifice everybody else. That’s good. Yeah. I’m gonna use this as fodder to go on my killing rampage…
'Sup? I will population control the hell out of you.
K: So yeah, we talked about this earlier this week in preparation for this, and there were a lot of Donnie Darko parallels…
C: They even have the same kinds of hallucinations.
K: Oh my god, right. And like… they feel some kind of higher moral calling, or quite frankly feel like the world would be better off without them. So after an individual like this has seen what happens when he’s living, he has to figure out a way, he decides how to get rid of himself. I mean Rust didn’t figure out a way to travel back in time, I think his approach to time was a little different and a little more mature than Donnie Darko’s. He was all about the whole “time is a flat circle thing,” like he didn’t have to go back in time to correct anything he’d done…
C: Right, because we’re all doomed to make the same fucked up decisions over and over again. That’s the philosophy behind the whole “time is a flat circle thing.”
K: What do you think Rust is gonna do when he comes home to their future Odd Couple-like living arrangement and he finds Woody Harrelson there with some floozy, making the same bad decision – did you see what I just did there, I called Matthew McConaughey by his character name but then I said “Woody Harrelson” –
C: Because nobody remembers “Marty Hart.”
K: Right. [in an unbelievably bad drawl] Rust-in Cohle and Mart-y Hart. But when they’re living together in their future Odd Couple thing that we’re never gonna get to see – I was super happy when I read that in the review you posted, because that reference was exactly what I thought of – but what’s gonna happen in that future world that we don’t get to see, when Rustin Cohle and Marty Hart are living in their two-bedroom man cave, or actually one of them is probably sleeping in the living room on a sofabed, actually they’re probably sleeping in lawn chairs because neither of them has any decorating sense – what’s gonna happen to their bromance when Woody Harrelson makes that same bad decision again later, y’know?
C: I dunno. I mean I think that’s kind of the beauty of this show, is that – you’re kind of – there isn’t that kind of resolution in their relationship, and there isn’t – we are left to wonder. Whereas in the case of Breaking Bad, everything is kind of, you know, tied down.
K: Yeah, but everybody had their own crazy theories about that, too, like “Oh, I thought the whole thing was just Walt’s dream. The whole last episode was him freezing to death in his car that he can’t get started, and everything else is what he hallucinates.” This is interesting – I’d like to draw some parallels here in the final episodes of these two shows, because I felt that both were pretty tidy in terms of how they managed to resolve things. Which I think is good, although if you ask a lot of people on the Internet, they say that’s bad, because they’re like, “Oh, it was too convenient…”
C: It’s an oversimplification… none of the theories that were flying around actually came to fruition… all of the symbolic things that you saw floating around during the show didn’t mean anything…
K: That’s almost the best thing, though, you know?
C: It is.
K: It almost smacks you in the face with the realization that believing in things like that is just as futile as living in general, it’s really hitting you over the head with the fact that existence is meaningless.
C: It’s like conspiratorial people, believing that everything is related to everything else.
K: And with Breaking Bad, there was so much more opportunity to get mired down into that sort of thing, because it was on for five years.
C: It gave you more time to actually come up with those theories.
K: Exactly. So the chief difference between that and this is, you know, that was five years of 12 to 13 episodes per season, and this was just eight episodes.
C: They also like to talk about how, basically, these kinds of like, larger literary references and symbolic kind of themes in both of these shows, for instance, a lot of people were drawn to the whole enigmatic aspect of the Yellow King, and I don’t know who the author was, but he kind of writes in that whole Kubla Khan kind of way, whereas there were a lot of references to things like Ozymandias in Breaking Bad… and like the empire…
K: Yeah, definitely. So it’s interesting, we were just having this conversation before this, not recorded, and we were talking about the MTV sketch comedy show from the ‘90s, The State, and the mixing of lowbrow humor with highbrow intellect, and the sort of painful reaction that we have to have when somebody makes a generalization and says, “Oh, TV isn’t highbrow,” or doesn’t make these types of references or whatever, and I think that’s something that we’ve seen shift in our adult lifetimes, as they make these types of consumable serial dramas.
C: They’re calling right now “The golden age of TV,” because never before have so many celebrated actors, authors, writers, directors, have crossed over into television. I mean if you think about David Fincher and House of Cards, you know, who else, like Martin Scorsese and Boardwalk Empire, etc.
K: Yeah. And you know Nic Pizza Latte [Pizzolatto, the creator of the show], as I like to call him, because those are both really delicious things, like… he wrote a novel three or four years ago. He was writing about the same type of stuff, true crime stuff or whatever, but clearly he was approaching this from a literary perspective.
File photo of Nic Pizzolatto.
C: I think he was an English professor for a long time.
K: Huh! I can tell… full disclosure, I was an English major in undergrad, and I felt as though – and I think a log of English majors will feel this way with me, but I think a lot of film majors like you, Carol, will feel this way too – it’s kind of our curse to overanalyze things for the rest of our lives, and we apply that sort of focused – er, or unfocused – analysis to anything that we consume, whether it’s books, TV, film, conversations, our relationships with other people, like…
K: Life, in general, our own selves. There’s that kind of constant analysis and neurosis that goes along with it that we know all too well, and, um, that totally would not surprise me, because that means if he had that experience as an English professor, leading students through that level of analysis, understanding what it means to analyze something that’s been written, film, whatever, and then extend it to writing something that’s pretty much ripe for analysis.. it’s not like you write it and then think “Oh, there’s nothing to analyze here, and if somebody finds something, that’s a load of bull hockey, it’s all face value, it was just supposed to be the words on the page” or whatever. He clearly knew when setting out that this was gonna be something that could be analyzed, and I think that’s also why they did those little specials after each episode, which if you didn’t watch it On Demand and you have access to it, definitely watch these – at the end of every episode they had like a six or seven-minute thing where they talked to him, they talked to Cary Fukunaga, they talked to a lot of people about the episode and what happened in it and how to think about it critically. And what’s really interesting to me is that it’s almost like – not a Cliffs Notes or whatever, I mean it’s not a substitute for reading the actual thing but it’s like a readers’ guide, or if you’ve ever read a critical edition of a book…
C: Like questions and answers…
K: Yeah, there’s a section that’s got questions, exactly, things that you should think about when you read or re-read this, or when you have a conversation about it – how are you gonna analyze it? Not just a general “how do you feel” but giving you guidelines. And they were more than willing to discuss those and kind of wrap it up at the end. Which I think for people who are more TV-focused and haven’t really done any critical analysis of literature or film, it’s a really nice introduction to that, like how am I going to think critically about this thing? And they make it fun. Yay, TV is finally highbrow.
C: Well I think there was also a kind of – I feel like he wrote the whole show with the intention of a subtext. With the intention that it was very much, you know, bringing attention to – you know how a lot of writers or filmmakers will actually bring attention to the medium itself? He did that a lot, by kind of making these grand remarks about not just philosophy and life and all those things, but the idea of storytelling, and how much that in some ways is ingrained in our culture, whether we’re referring to religion as being, like, the greatest story of all time, or just, like, the story of humanity, and how we’ve progressed and how we’ve developed civilizations and how we’ve destroyed civilizations in a lot of ways. And stories kind of drive us to do things.
K: And interpretations of stories. That comes together with the “identity” thing as well, our true identity vs. how we present ourselves, just thinking about interpretations of stories and interpretations of religious things… it’s what gets us into trouble all the time, applying our own interpretations to these stories, where two people can read the same text or experience the same thing and have a different account of what happened, like the “unreliable narrator” that they showed us a couple of times, like when the guys go rogue and get their guy, then act like they did everything procedurally. It’s so important to someone and it’s so black and white, and whatever someone’s interpretation of something is becomes the moral code by which they live their lives.
C: What was the criticism – these stories that we constantly tell ourselves, we convince ourselves are true. Therefore we should live by the truths that we think are somehow right in our minds, but in reality don’t matter. And I think Rust is like the polar opposite of that, and he kind of approaches everything in a way that’s really kind of cynical, really kind of critical of those types of mind sets, or cultures, or ideas.
K: He thinks about events that happen as just kind of like “things that happen.”
K: He doesn’t want to apply any sort of unnecessary interpretations. Which unfortunately for him includes emotions, and has an effect on his emotional wellness. Again going back to this deleted scene with his girlfriend about whether or not he would have kids with her, she’s trying to take a strong line about it being related to what he went through before, losing a child, but he is adamant that he’s moved past that and that decisions are not made out of consideration for feelings, for other things that happen in the past or whatever. It’s just that no-nonsense, negative, nihilistic approach. It’s interesting – thinking about enlightenment and people who approach these things from a very positive, spiritual or religious perspective, those people like to think about everything in life all being interconnected.
C: It gives you some sort of solace.
K: Nothing happens for no reason, everything happens for a reason, everything has an impact on everything else, etc. etc. etc. And I think in order to be truly nihilistic like Rustin Cohle, you have to not buy into any of that.
[and now, a Big Lebowski segue, because… why not?]
C: He believes in nussing, Lebowski!
K: Say what you want about the tenets of national socialism, Dude… at least it’s an ethos.
C: We believe in nussing, Lebowski, except for the money! Where’s the money?
Ve fucks you up!
K: It’s not fair! She gave up her toe! Actually if they were truly nihilists, they wouldn’t have given a fuck about the toe!
C: I believe the same kind of thing is happening with Rust, you know? I think to a certain degree…
K: He would truly give up his toe and not give a fuck. I think. I dunno.
C: I don’t know. Maybe not. I think to a certain degree, he DOES care. He DOES have an ethos. He DOES have a driving force. He keeps saying – what did he say to Marty? “We gotta finish what we started.”
K: Okay, yeah… and who knows if it took him like ten years to get to that point, it sounded like 2010 was that point at which he realized they might not have gotten all the guys…
C: But they’re never gonna get all the guys.
K: Well right, and that continues to bum him out. Like after they got the guy that was actually doing the killing, he wanted to keep going, he wanted to get everything in the corrupt government and religious institutions who was involved and bring them all down.
C: Well he sends out the packages to all those networks…
K: Which is good, because that’s how they found out about it. And it was the bartender, the sniper bartender – what an awesome scene, by the way – who sent them out.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p81QHCAbFJI – Bad ass.
C: Well, he [the bartender] also lost his daughter. So I think he found him kind of, maybe his daughter was a victim also in what was going on with that whole Tuttle plan. And also… in the article, a really interesting kind of fact that he brings up is the idea of the passing of these ideas from generation to generation. Not just ideas, but scars, good things, bad things, and how generationally these things happen, and how that’s all kind of like tied together in that whole “time is a flat circle” thing, over and over again. And probably Errol was a victim of what was happening. It probably started way before, generations before that, of what was going on. He was merely maybe a henchman.
K: Or do we think that Tuttle’s family was so big and so varied because there were babies born by the kidnapped girls?
C: Possibly. Or remember when they go visit the old housekeeper lady… she knew about that whole mythology, and she was like “Oh it’s a shame what they did to the Childress boy.” I think he was unfortunately a victim, and he also wanted to be freed from that kind of circle. The fact that he was never even on the books… he was never even born.
K: Exactly. He was some kind of bastard child. The circumstances surrounding his conception and birth had to be so horrific. I thought for a while that maybe the lady he was getting jiggy with – they were saying that was his half-sister – I thought that was his mom.
C: I thought that was his mom too.
K: And that his father was his grandfather.
C: Maybe. And he also had like multiple personality disorder.
K: Right. Different from schizophrenia, btw [unrelated armchair psychology rant about schizophrenia that I will not share here]. It’s hard for young men, if they feel mentally unstable – they can’t be in touch with their emotions, so instead they typically turn violent. I’m bringing this back, I swear to god – we talked a little bit about how the men in True Detective have this reticence to confront their own emotions, you know. They have the things they need to do to keep them strong, in the ways that men need to be perceived as strong in the public eye, it means not being true to your own emotions, not analyzing your own emotions…
C: And I think Hart was very much a product of that too. He’s a man’s man. He’s the guy who everybody gets along with, but then under the surface he’s totally fucked up.
K: Yeah. It’s like that with anybody who has the potential to snap. Like all the Yellow King theories, “Oh my god, what if it’s Rust? What if it’s MARTY?” Like – they were setting it up so that everybody could look at the way these men were and the events that they were engaged in in ’95, ’02, and 2012, and you could look at any of them and be like “Yeah, I see how maybe they could all be the killer,” because they all have fucked up shit going on beneath the surface that ultimately could come to that.
C: Yeah. I agree. I mean I just think that… I just think that, you know, it’s definitely a character study. It’s kind of an analysis about character development, like… in some ways plot is only the vehicle to engage us in this study.
K: I wanna talk about that – like, I watch TV, but I’m not a regular watcher of these sorts of serialized dramas, because I don’t care so much about plot. If books, movies, or TV are plot-driven, I typically will pooh-pooh them. Even Breaking Bad took me three or four episodes to get into, but by the time I was able to see some real character development and see that this was about the journey of these characters, I was hooked. And here I was hooked immediately.
C: These dramas, the ones that are the most compelling are the ones that are character-driven.
K: Compelling to the widest audience, too – because plot draws all kinds of people in, too, like… they want to know who the killer is.
I...I can't even. This was just such a touching interaction.