Like many, many people, I’ve fallen down the “True Detective” rabbit hole. The series, which runs a scant 8 episodes in its premier season, is only just over halfway through. It’s hypnotic to watch the labyrinthine story unfold. There’s so much to enjoy here, beginning with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson’s jaw-dropping talent. Watching them embody two sharp takes on tough, guarded men has been a joy. McConaughey’s Rust uses philosophical rambling and an almost zenlike calm as armor, defending a corroded husk of a man, while Harrelson’s Marty imposes a compartmentalized simplicity on his life, often punctuated with explosions of rage. They both stand on the edges of different emotional cliffs, and a big part of the tension is waiting to see who falls, and when, and what sends them all the way over (assuming they haven’t already cracked, and we’re just waiting to see the true impact revealed).
I’ve also really enjoyed how, to date, Nic Pizzolatto and Cary Joji Fukunawa have written and directed each episode, rather than handing the series off after the pilot. The best series television doesn’t usually suffer too much from different writers and directors taking episodes, but watching a cohesive vision executed does make a difference I hadn’t really noticed before. Normally, the effect is only noticeable in the inverse, when someone truly notable steps in for a pass, such as when Stephen King or William Gibson wrote “X-Files” one-offs. Having a show with no deviations from the style and voice of these two really adds a tightness to the entire affair.
But overall, I’m in the camp who’s most drawn to “The King in Yellow” implications. The slight hinting at something more sinister than even the extensive human evil the show’s explored is fascinating, in large part because it feels much more true to what makes Lovecraftian horror tick. The monsters there lurk, spreading madness to the unfortunate souls who brush past them. “True Detective” is most likely not about to go into a full-on horror freakout, Cthulhu and all, but the way it teases that possibility adds a whole additional level to the storytelling. It functions in a very similar way to the opening of Jaws, or the root idea of what might shamble up from R’lyeh. The horror isn’t in seeing the creature crawling out of the abyss, it’s in the realization that something is moving in the dark water, just past your vision.
In spite of this, I find myself hoping they don’t go over that edge. I’m interested in how long they can preserve that sense of something terrifying out there, just past our reach. We’re plagued with a curiosity that demands we keep looking for it, even though we fear what we might find. Often, when movies and shows cross that line, and reveal the unknown, the fear seeps out. We have a tendency as readers and viewers to adjust quickly to things once they’re presented as “real” in their context. I’m as curious to see how long they can stretch out that tension, as I am to see what happens when – or even if – they finally pay those ideas off. The plan is for next season to follow a different story, with a different cast, similar to “American Horror Story.” Whether the show reaches the overall level of great HBO programs will have to wait for those future installments. For now, though, “True Detective” has shown itself the master of many things, and the art of teasing the audience irresistibly is right at the top of that list.