No one does mystery, crime, and neo-noir better than a novelist. With True Detective, Nicholas Pizzolatto helps to cement the idea that a literary mind should be a necessary cog in the Hollywood machine. The field contributes to a cinematic approach concerned with relatability and depth more so than cheap thrills. Pizzolatto graduated from LSU with a BA in English and philosophy, before falling victim to the real world and becoming a technical writer (like so many of us do). However, this did not last long, his affinity for storytelling drew him back to the craft.
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He went back to school and wrote short stories while pursuing his master’s degree in creative writing before falling into a career-obsessed with plot and character. He taught creative writing and literature at various universities while working on his debut novel, Galveston: A Novel. This book was adapted into a feature film last year of the same name for which Pizzolatto wrote the screenplay under a pseudonym.
Early on, his writing turned a lot of heads; his short stories Ghost-Birds and Between Here and the Yellow Sea were sold to The Atlantic Monthly and his collection of nine short stories also entitled Between Here and the Yellow Sea intrigued the literary community (that’s putting it mildly). His prose have been described as lucid, sad, violent and above all beautiful; an intelligent and entertaining plot never upstages intimacy. He went on to write for shows like Deadwood and Magic City before creating (and basically being the sole writer on) the masterpiece that is True Detective season one.
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The chemistry between Mathew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson definitely didn’t hurt the success of True Detective‘s first season, nor did Matthew McConaughey’s endless sea of hits around that time (#RemembertheMcConaissance). But it was Pizzolatto’s vision that turned it into something viewers will never forget. A riveting buddy-cop crime drama told through interviews and flashbacks taking place in Pizzolatto’s home state of Louisiana. The story unravels along two separate timelines and provokes some truly disturbing and harrowing ideas.
The best scenes in the show take place in a car, as the two main characters discuss well– EVERYTHING. Matthew McConaughey dismantles it as Rust Cohle (a bit of an unreliable narrator), a damaged, eccentric, overtly intelligent, beer-drinking nihilist. Woody Harrelson grounds their dynamic by playing the complex “every-man” Martin Hart just as brilliantly. The drama surrounding the protagonists and the crimes committed by the show’s mysterious antagonists are some of the darkest stuff television has ever seen; no one thought the story was going to end on a positive note. Safe bet was everyone dies– Red Wedding-style massacre was most likely in the cards.
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That didn’t really happen… the show left most viewers feeling hopeful. A show that made people feel cold and hopeless week by week managed to end on an optimistic note. After nearly dying, Rust Chole is wheeled out of the hospital by his partner, it’s nighttime. He discusses his near-death experience with Martin, lamenting on the feeling of “fading” and how in the darkness he also felt some warmth. He imagines the warmth as a manifestation of his late daughter and being a part of everything that he ever loved. So he gave in to the darkness. Cue McConaughey crying (he’s really good at crying these days). The scene ends with the two men discussing the relationship between the stars and the night sky; just a damn beautiful metaphor for light versus dark.
Dark has more territory, but “once there was only dark, if you ask me, light’s winning”, as said by Rust Cohle.
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True Detective’s second season was eh, let’s not talk about it. This past Sunday, the show premiered its third season which stars Mahershala Ali (a recent Oscar winner everyone) and Stephen Dorff playing a pair of new detectives. They aim to solve a case revolving around the disappearance of an Arkansas boy and his sister in the 1980s. The focus is on Mahershala Ali’s character, detective Wayne Hays, a former long-range reconnaissance soldier in Vietnam who meets his wife, an English teacher while investigating the case.
While True Detective’s first season unfolded uses two timelines, this season uses three: 1980, 1990, and 2015. Hays’ wife has since passed in the most recent timeline as Hays deals with the onset of Alzheimer’s and an interview about the seemingly still open case. In the first episode, the viewer finds out that Hays’ wife wrote a best-selling book about the case, which only adds to the mystery of what has happened.
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The title of the first episode is “The Great War And Modern Memory” a reference to Paul Fussell’s book of the same name. Nic Pizzolatto describes the first episode as being about war’s impact on society and a character’s deteriorating mental state, thematically similar to the referenced novel. He also describes the three timelines as being three “dreams” dreamt by one dreamer (Hays) as he tries to piece everything together. So, yeah this season looks dope. It’s creepy AF, truly toe-curling. The characters are rich and intriguing, even the smaller ones—lines within conversation contain just enough subtext. One can only hope this season turns out to be as moving a character study as the first season. May we never forget the McConaissance.
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True Detective airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.
P.S. Episode two is already online. Did not know that.
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