For the most part, True Detective has avoided scenes like the one that concludes “Who Goes There.” It’s a thriller, but it’s not the kind of thriller typified by the qualities of that scene: Violence is either implied or it occurs offscreen; tension is of an interpersonal nature. And those persons aren’t carrying assault weapons.
But boy howdy—we might not see another sequence of such sustained tension on our TVs in 2014. This is the crowning achievement of Cary Fukunaga’s True Detective direction thus far: A six-minute, unbroken tracking shot following Rust’s participation in the Iron Crusaders’ raid gone bad. From the backseat of the biker gang’s truck to the rear of Marty’s squad car, it’s a nail-biter—a signature moment for the series that isn’t Tumblr-parody-ready.
It’s all that more impactful for how it contrasts the rest of True Detective’s first four episodes. Prior to the raid, this wasn’t a show that depicts chaos so directly. The sequence is blocked for maximum confusion, and its more terrifying in its incomprehensibleness than anything in the most recent seasons of The Walking Dead or American Horror Story. By training the camera so tightly on Rust, Fukunaga and cinematographer Adam Arkapaw (who also shot Top Of The Lake) sell the claustrophobia. Rust has penned himself into this scenario, and the only way out involves running the gauntlet.
And at the end of that gauntlet, there’s Marty. After going after his partner’s throat last week, Detective Hart must now depend on Rust—for the big break in the Lange case and for a place to stay after Maggie kicks him out. True Detective remains a fascinating study in working relationships among men: Rust and Marty aren’t friends, but they watch out for each other like they are. Professional disagreements and petty jealousies get in the way, but Marty has a unique grasp on what Rust is going through (and vice versa). They’re better at sticking together than they—or the scene where Marty relates to Charlie Lange’s Reggie Ledoux problems—would ever let on. “Gotta be tough, living with somebody spoutin’ insane shit in your ear all day long,” Marty says, sympathizing by way of taking a passive-aggressive dig at the man he will soon rescue from warring drug dealers.
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Following an episode that did all it could to push the partners apart, “Who Goes There” goes on to illuminate where they can find common ground. (It’s one of the many fun spins you can put on the title: “Are you the same guy that was giving me shit for mowing your lawn last week?”) But as that scene in Charlie’s cell demonstrates, Marty and Rust are also finding common ground with the guys they’re chasing. Lines are blurring with increasing frequency on True Detective: The scariest guns in the drug dealers’ arsenal look an awful lot like the one that Rust keeps locked up in his apartment. I say this not to support the theory that Rust is responsible for the copycat murder in 2012; it’s to underline the notion that anyone on this show has a lightness and a darkness within them. Rust, unfortunately, has a preoccupation with his darkness.
In a way, it’s as if Rust wants to be the confirmation of all the pessimistic views he expresses about humanity. After all, he jumps at the chance to resume the bad behavior of his undercover days as if it’s something he’s been waiting to do all along. It’s a part he gets to play, and he relishes the opportunity, looking forward to that injection of ink and cayenne pepper like a junkie itching for a genuine fix. For his part, Matthew McConaughey gets to inject some of the rakish humor of 2012 Rust into the 1995 version of the character, scoffing at the lax security precautions at the precinct. His buddy within the Crusaders, Ginger, talks about “outlaw life,” and I think there’s a part of Rust that actually wants to live like these guys. If he truly believes that society is crumbling all around him, why wouldn’t he line up to run with the gunslingers and the cowboys?
With all this underpinning the notion that “Crash” is just put-on, “Who Goes There” crucially removes the “badass” vibe from scenes like Marty’s night out with the ravers or Rust’s meeting with the Crusaders. In the wake of Breaking Bad and Sons Of Anarchy, “badass” is a problematic TV adjective. It’s typically used to describe the outrageous, immoral, and occasionally entertaining behavior of reprehensible people like Walter White and Jax Teller—without any thought to the thematic or philosophical underpinnings of that behavior. It’s like watching Fight Club without recognizing it’s a satire, or yukking it up through a blaxploitation movie without considering the social ills the protagonist is trying to explode. “Who Goes There” tells it like it is: The warehouse rave and stash-house raid are hypnotically photographed and compellingly shot, but there’s nothing happening during either that makes me want to trade places with Rust or Marty. Alyssa Rosenberg wrote a few weeks back that Marty is one of the first male TV antiheroes who’s allowed to be a total disaster; in a similar reversal of recent conventions, Rust gets to be the guy who takes the “badass” out of being a badass.
There’s little about Rust and Marty in “Who Goes There” that anyone should want to emulate. The episode is an unvarnished look at the depravity that seeps into every corner of this world, where people act just like Rust thinks they do. As the helicopter shot pulls away from the mounting conflict in the housing project, there are no sides to pick, no one team to root for. There’s a tragedy unfolding down below—and from the helicopter’s vantage point, all involved are merely people. Tiny, tiny people. Rust’s biggest mistake involves confusing that bird’s eye view for his own. In truth, he’s really down here scraping it up with the rest of us ants.
- True Detective’s music supervision continues to be top-notch: In the cut I screened, “Illegal Business” by Boogie Down Productions plays during the strip club scene, an expertly chosen track for an episode about the intersection of the drug trade and law enforcement.
- That’s Raising Hope’s Todd Giebenhain as LeDoux associate Tyrone Weems, playing the skeevy degenerate seemingly hidden behind Frank Marolla’s doofy charm.
- Sarcastic Rust is my favorite Rust: “I mean this is like, what? 17 years ago? You have to understand if my memory hasn’t sharpened in the interim.” [Shakes Lone Star can for emphasis.]
- Speaking of the cop’s preferred brands: I think the Lone Star and Jameson appearances throughout True Detective would qualify the show as a TV addendum to this Inventory. And it’d be McConaughey’s second entry in the piece, following his “K Fried C”-endorsing turn in Killer Joe.