Everyone loves a good mystery whether on TV or true to life, where they get to play detective themselves. Intrigue has been popular since before Alfred Hitchcock, and before television. Families would sit around the radio and listen to mysteries and cop shows in the same way people watch these on television or their computers today. The show “True Detective” not only appeals to people’s fascination with whodunits, it also combines the trope of the protagonist with his trusty sidekick, only in this case the sidekick is not always trusty. This is fitting, as neither is the protagonist.
HBO is good at serving up antiheroes, main characters who are sympathetic and who the audience roots for even as they know the characters are getting what they deserve when things go wrong. Rust Cohle and Marty, as New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum points out, are not such great guys, but are the only characters on the show with any dimension. Ms. Nussbaum is entirely right. Marty is a flat-out, abusive misogynist man-child, and Cohle seems terrified of any interaction that will make him feel, so he avoids women (other than victims) like the plague. Women in the show are totally one-dimensional. Where Ms. Nussbaum may be missing the mark is that they are meant to be. This show is not about women. It is not aimed at being feminist or instructive, but if one watches closely, instruction can, and should, occur.
The point of view on this season’s “True Detective” is no mystery: it is the POV of the two main male characters, who are flawed and sexist, who do see themselves as saviors of women, and who are completely inept in their personal relationships with the opposite sex. So when Marty’s wife leaves him, the audience not only understands, but agrees this is a natural outcome. No one but Marty himself would think otherwise.
Nussbaum complains that Michelle Monaghan’s character (as Marty’s wife) is not as developed as other, hard-done-by female characters on shows such as “The Good Wife.” What Nussbaum fails to mention much less take into consideration is that this is not “The Good Wife,” nor did it ever purport to be. That comparison is pedantic, because not only is “The Good Wife” an entirely different show, but the main point of view there is a woman’s.
Nussbaum alleges she sees through the cheap tricks of “True Detective,” while not taking into account it is these same tricks that make the show what it is—not a commentary on women’s roles, but simply a show about two losers who try to catch bad guys. Those losers have paid for both their career choice and their flawed ethics in spades. So an ass gets shown, or women are objectified on film. That represents entirely the world these guys are in. If they saw women differently, they might not be in their present occupation at all.
Where the real mystery lies is, will Rust Cohle catch the bad guy before this season of “True Detective” ends? Because even though there are new cops on the scene in the present day, if he is not the one to catch the freaky serial killer they have been after for the better part of two decades, the killer will likely not be caught. Does this make Rust Cohle “our fetish object—the cop who keeps digging [while others ignore] the truth, the action hero who rescues children [amidst] violent chaos, the outsider with painful secrets…and nice arms”? Absolutely.
Opinion by Julie Mahfood
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