True Detective – Controversies, Speculations, Remaining Trve
The Toilet Ov Hell is a blog about metal, right?
Fans of the Toilet Ov Hell, heavy metal, extreme music, supporting artists directly on Bandcamp, the Illuminati, The Left Hand Path, anarchy, and our eventual annihilation as a species, listen up. That means you. Yes, you. Joe and Masterlord Steeldragon, our mysterious and benevolent rulers, have allowed me to cover a topic which has been in my thoughts almost as much as extreme music in 2014. The topic? HBO’s True Detective.
The first season of True Detective premiered on January 12th, 2014. It took many people by surprise, including myself. While some wrote it off as a paint by numbers police procedural with the cops after a serial killer yarn, others rushed to their computers and mobile devices to proclaim it was the best show on television. It seems to have resonated especially with fans of heavy metal and extreme music. Why? True Detective maintained a bleak worldview throughout it’s eight episode run. It touched on themes of nihilism and the pointlessness of existence, Satanism, betrayal, mortality, and perceived realities; it offered a science fiction like premise that time repeats itself over and over again. It’s first season was heady entertainment for TV drama, with a focus on dialogue. It also included several lengthy philosophical monologues. Season highlights ranged from gripping action sequences to tense interrogation scenes placed squarely inside of locked rooms. It existed in several points of history. The show’s protagonists, its “heroes”, acted in a morally grey space often touching the black themselves. True Detective was shot on location in Louisiana which gave it a Southern Gothic feel, like some Cormac McCarthy novel brought to life. The show would be nominated for twelve Emmys and would win five. It is this writer’s humble opinion Matthew McConaughey should have taken the award for Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series for his depiction of Detective Rustin Cohle. The show has not been without controversy, either. Many critics of the show have cried sexism for True Detective’s depiction of women, including a writer for The New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum (pretty solid read, careful, SPOILERS).
More controversy appeared when True Detective’s creator Nic Pizzolatto was accused of plagiarism. The show draws from a variety of influences, enough that it can be difficult to sort through the sprawl. The primary sources of inspiration for True Detective, and those most discussed to date, have been Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against The Human Race and Robert Chambers’ The King In Yellow. I have also read numerous comparisons to the television program Twin Peaks, and discovered an Easter egg from comic legend Alan Moore, creator of Watchmen and V For Vendetta. In the season finale I saw glimpses of films like Se7en and Red Dragon, but have not seen those comparisons made in any writing of the show. Within a few episodes of True Detective, much had been made of the show’s mythology based on literary references and the cryptic dialogue of Rust Cohle, one of the lead characters in the series. Within weeks of the season premier, many fans and critics connected True Detective to an old collection of short stories called The King In Yellow. Rust and Marty’s hunt for a mysterious suspect known as The Yellow King was based on this collection of short stories by Robert Chambers which was released in 1895. More importantly, these stories are connected by a play within several of the stories also called The King In Yellow, (careful here too, SPOILERS) which was “a fictional play within a collection of short stories — a metafictional dramatic work that brings despair, depravity, and insanity to anyone who reads it or sees it performed”. This play within a collection of stories also reminds me of Tales of the Black Freighter, the comic within the graphic novel Watchmen. The King In Yellow was also Pizzolatto’s source for the place Carcosa, which is very significant throughout True Detective. I learned however that Robert Chambers pulled Carcosa from another writer of his time; it is believed he did so solely because he liked the name.
Thomas Ligotti has been called the “heir apparent” to H.P. Lovecraft, who is a favorite at the Toilet Ov Hell among many other places. (You can check out an excellent series on heavy metal and Lovecraft at the Toilet Ov Hell here, here, and here). Thomas Ligotti is a horror and “weird fiction” writer in the vein of Lovecraft, but True Detective’s Ligotti source was actually a work of non-fiction called The Conspiracy Against The Human Race, which was released in 2010. True Detective’s Rust Cohle borrows ideas and dialogue which are very similar to lines from Ligotti’s work. In fact, from research done for this story, I would offer that many of True Detective’s overarching themes come from The Conspiracy Against The Human Race. You can see dialogue matched up from the television program to lines taken from the book, but again, be careful, SPOILERS. So Rust’s philosophy is actually Ligotti’s philosophy, and not from a work of fiction but from Ligotti’s real life experience? Was this plagiarism? In my layman’s opinion, no. Nic Pizzolatto successfully paid homage to a litany of influences while building his own vision. I agree with something I read in my research that said that because the medium is different, moving from literature to television, it makes it a different animal. It’s also possible in creating Rust that Pizzolatto intended for him to have these philosophies, even though he did not admit to it until after accusations of plagiarism had surfaced. It’s observable to me that Pizzolatto is a serious fan of literature, comics, and other television programs simply by viewing his work on True Detective. It may be impossible to get a definitive answer on this subject, as opinions on the subject vary wildly on both sides.
I must mention another series homage from a comic created by Alan Moore comic Top Ten #8, which was released in 2000. I am assuming you have not seen True Detective’s first season. If you have not, it should be safe to show you this frame of the comic out of context. If you have, this will mean a great deal.
You could say that the time between True Detective’s first season finale and now has been a tense period in the long, bright dark. First, and most important, HBO made an official announcement about leads for True Detective’s second season. The internet exploded with the fury of an Ethan Lee McCarthy project Tuesday morning when it was announced that Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn would play leads. Rumors had been circling online about these two for a little while. Colin Farrell will play Ray Velcoro, “a compromised detective whose allegiances are torn between his masters in a corrupt police department and the mobster who owns him”. Vince Vaughn will play Frank Seymon, “a career criminal in danger of losing his empire when his move into legitimate enterprise is upended by the murder of a business partner”. Justin Lin, of Fast & The Furious and Community, is slated to direct the first two episodes. More details about the plot have emerged as well, including corrupt police, the mob, and a project to build a high speed train throughout California. There are two more leads, yet to be announced. Taylor Kitsch has long been rumored to be the third male lead in the series. Within the last few weeks rumors about auditions and casting for the second season’s female lead have kept several websites on the internet afloat. Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss was talked about when the male leads were mentioned before official announcements, but allegedly she left any attachment to the project in favor of a high profile job on Broadway. Other big or big-ish names in circulation have included Jessica Biel, Rachel McAdams, Rosario Dawson, Game Of Thrones’ Oona Chaplin, and Malin Akerman.
I am very skeptical from the information I have garnered about True Detective’s second season. How can the show’s creators top the first season? Part of its magic was having the same writer, show creator Nic Pizzolatto, and director, Cary Fukunaga, at the helm of each of its eight episodes. True Detective was always set up to be an anthology series, a la American Horror Story, meaning a new location, new cast, and new story for season two. I like Colin Farrell just fine. I don’t hate Vince Vaughn. I don’t love the idea of either one of them in the second season of True Detective. A quick internet search reminded me I have only seen Taylor Kitsch in one film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I won’t get started on that film. You shouldn’t, either. Kitsch’s role was not memorable but I assume he has done other stuff I would enjoy. I’m also skeptical of a plot that consists of corrupt cops, mobsters, and high speed trains. The first season succeeded with what seemed to be a fairly standard plot, at first, but changed into something else entirely before the season ended. I’m suspicious of Justin Lin. While I enjoyed the first and possibly the fifth Fast & The Furious films, and I like a good chunk of Community, is this really the guy they got to direct the first two episodes of the new season? What was Martin Scorsese doing? I was excited to hear about Elisabeth Moss’ possible involvement with True Detective. She has been excellent in Mad Men. When she was mentioned in connection with Farrell, Vaughn, and Kitsch, I felt she was the strongest choice of that group and could bring a suitable amount of darkness to her role. Of the rest of the women rumored to be a possible lead, Rosario Dawson is the best choice, hands down. Malin Akerman was pretty good in the film Watchmen, but did you see Catch .44? I did, for about five minutes, on late night cable. Let’s hope casting agents get a hold of this article. Apparently the second season of True Detective won’t be so dark. The first season thrived on its dark atmosphere! Lastly, I wonder if show creator Nic Pizzolatto can find such great sources of inspiration as he did for the first season. I’m on his side on the plagiarism debacle, but I’ll know something is up if Vince Vaughn starts uttering lines from Thomas Ligotti works.
True Detective’s first season experienced a great deal of success from it’s ability to get people talking. I have not seen four seconds of footage of True Detective’s second season. I have high hopes, but will remain wary until proven wrong. As Masterlord Steeldragon pointed out in a recent conversation, he did not expect Woody Harrelson to put in the tour de force performance he did in season one. Farrell and Vaughn might blow us out of the water. Corrupt cops, mobsters, and a high speed train might be just what the show needs to be proclaimed truly “the best show on television”.
Are you a fan of True Detective? Will the second season be able to reach the heights of the first? Was True Detective sexist, or are you sexist? Do you remember Malin Akerman’s small role in HBO’s Entourage? How many True Detective and Rust Cohle references did I write into this article? Is the Toilet Ov Hell a blog about metal?
Now, look, guys, you’re gonna want to swing some dick on this thing, but let’s try to keep the comment section spoiler free for the first season of TD.
Thanks to Time Magazine for the scoop on season two.