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How Seven paved the way for True Detective

Photo: New Line Cinema / HBO
Photo: New Line Cinema / HBO

Video essays are one of the unexpected treats of an innovation like YouTube, a way of taking what might be dry information on the page and spicing it up with relevant clips and audio. What’s also telling are the subjects that tend to crop up time and again in these essays, one of which is HBO’s first season of True Detective. Now that we’re a few years out from its critically acclaimed, zeitgest-capturing initial run, which brought with it sensationalism and conspiracy theories, it seems we’re finally at a place where we can truly view it through an untainted academic lens.

Previously, we shared Film Radar’s peek into the show’s exceptional character development. Now, we’re turning to YouTube account Lessons From The Screenplay to see how Nic Pizzolatto’s countrified noir compares and contrasts with one of its spiritual ancestors, David Fincher’s Seven. This essay’s focus also has to do with character, but more so in how character arcs can also serve as a vessel for theme. Perhaps nowhere, the author argues, is this dynamic as well-executed as it is in these two screenplays.

As with most episodes of Lessons From The Screenplay, the content is as edifying for aspiring screenwriters as it is enlightening for fans of the art in question. The host begins by outlining the general characteristics of each piece‘s protagonist—Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle for True Detective and Morgan Freeman’s Detective Somerset for Seven—then goes on to show how their pitch-black views of humanity are mirrored by their respective antagonists, and how those final confrontations work to subvert those nihilistic perspective. Also, while this isn’t a surprise necessarily, it’s kind of amazing how much True Detective and Seven align in both tone, philosophy, and character dynamics. Add Fincher to Pizzollati’s list of influences alongside H.P. Lovecraft and Thomas Ligotti.

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