The Man, or, True Detective Season Two

Just a couple of happy campers.

Just a couple of happy campers.

True Detective’s second season was built on the Shakespearian adage “all the world’s a stage.” Its four protagonists were assigned a part to play long before we the audience ever met them, a role that they can never embody, an impossible ideal of masculinity that dares to be aspired to.

The Man.

True Detective Season Two holds up the myth of masculinity that so often drives the behavior of the modern man and in no uncertain terms shouts “this is not working.”

It’s hardly clearer than when Colin Farrell’s Ray Velcoro visits his father. Troubled over his difficult relationship with his own son, Ray sits beside his old man, who stews in regret and vice, before the televised black and white alter of Kirk Douglas hocking the masculine Hollywood nonsense that has two generations contorted into impossible poses as they desperately try to fit into a fictional mold they can never match.

Ray’s life becomes defined by a moment in which he pursues vengeance that isn’t his to have, but no person, no culture, no natural law would dare deny him. He commits a sin that knocks his entire existence off course because that is the character he is meant to play. He does what his father would have done, what a Kirk Douglas character would have done, what he is instilling in his son should be done. He does what The Man would do and his entire existence is derailed for it.

Everybody Loves Raymond

Everybody Loves Raymond

Yet despite seeping through generation after broken generation The Man somehow remains undeniable. Paul Woodrugh doggedly clings to the ideal at the expense of his own personal happiness and mental health. He possesses no shortage of evidence that The Man is not a character he can ever be happy portraying and yet he chases the myth like a greyhound after a lure, perpetually behind, sprinting just to keep up. It’s telling that Woodrugh seems most at ease in the moments he is least burdened by having to act his societal part: guns blazing, fighting for his life. Staying alive while outnumbered and outgunned proves a far more possible task for Woodrugh than becoming The Man he thinks he’s supposed to be.

Frank Semyon chases a similar lure, some nebulous, undefined state of achievement that’s only concrete characteristic seems to be that it is consistently beyond his current circumstances. Time and time again Frank has the opportunity to leave well enough alone and settle into a comfortable role, but settling is not what The Man does. The Man does not lie down, he presses on, The Man ascends via whatever cobbled-together means he can concoct.

Womanhood provides Ani Bezzerides no sanctuary from the toxicity of The Man. Her life is spent playing the character that could have saved her from a bleak childhood trauma. She lives every moment as if the next could see her brought back in time to relive the pivotal moment of her girlhood because what happened to her as a child would never have happened to The Man.

One way or another all four characters learn that the role they’re aspiring to does not work. The Man is not a person. The Man is not a human being. The Man is a fiction, a two-dimensional character unattainable beyond the eye of a camera. The Man doesn’t live a complete life. The Man is not fulfilled. The Man is not secure. The Man is make-believe.

The waning moments of True Detective’s season finale are quiet and hopeful. The Man has taken its toll, but there’s an understanding arrived upon. An understanding that The Man is an old way, a fading religion from a dying age, and in the season’s final moments there is the spark of potential for something new.

Though the imminent protagonists of True Detective’s presumed third season likely won’t get the memo.

 

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Step Aside Nerds, or, True Detective is the Future

Guess what? No spoilers ahead! How do you like them apples? Feel free to have seen absolutely none of True Detective and have absolutely nothing about True Detective spoiled for you. Except the protagonists’ names. Sorry.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the films and shows that first really clicked with me as a young(er) adult. The movies I watched in high school that opened my mind to just how much a movie could achieve. I suspect everyone has a list of entertainment that meets that criteria, and I suspect a lot of our lists have a lot of the same things on them. Entertainment that raises the bar for entertainment, or morphs it entirely. Things that capture the zeitgeist in such a way as to constantly appear on a towering, sometimes pretentious, pedestal above the uninitiated.

When I was in high school many of my peers put the works of Quentin Tarantino and Darren Aronofsky on that pedestal. When I was in college it seemed perpetually occupied by The Wire. For me that first work that blew the lid off of what I knew movies to be was No Country for Old Men.

There isn’t a right answer, to be certain, but there are definitely movies and shows that seem to hold that place for people more than others, and I suspect there is a new member of that pantheon.

LOGO ATTACK

LOGO ATTACK

If I were in high school today I suspect the hushed discussions during geometry class would be exclusively about True Detective.

The eight-part HBO mini-series, which now seems poised to be the first season in an anthology series that changes stories and characters year to year, ended last night after stirring up no small amount of discussion and speculation for the past two months. And rightfully so.

True Detective perpetually presented new ideas or reframed old ones. It’s very much a study of tradition cinematic masculinity, yet it tilts the concept just enough to the left to allow for an honest examination of that masculinity’s associated tropes and pitfalls. Similarly it’s very much a cop drama and yet its ambitious storytelling sensibilities differentiate it entirely from the likes of Law & Order and other traditional procedurals.

For all the familiar ground it treads in terms of detectives and investigation the nuance in True Detective is unlike anything else. Whether it’s a gaze into space, a tracking shot or mumbled existentialism the show never remained complaisant in its titular genre.

Just a couple of bros, broing out bro style.

Just a couple of bros, broing out bro style.

And why would it have?

True Detective was set up as a mini-series. Eight episodes. In and out. A story to tell from beginning to end within a predetermined span of time. It could pace itself accordingly, dulling out questions and answers at its own pace rather than having to worry about retaining momentum for an inestimable number of future episodes in an unknown number of future seasons.

Part of what makes True Detective so fantastic is that it’s self-contained.

Season one of True Detective is over in every sense of the word. The characters are done. The story is done. It was all extremely finite and all the more precious for it.

Here’s hoping the entertainment industry takes notice.

Are you excited for Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Did you see the first Captain America? What about the seven other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Did you read any of the graphic novels? Do you keep up with the comic?

What about The Walking Dead? Do you keep up with that comic? Are you caught up on Season Four? What about All-Out War? Have you played the video game yet? Are you read for the spin-off?

True Detective is eight hour-long episodes of television.

That’s it.

Two dreamboats coming up.

Two dreamboats coming up.

Sure it was influenced by various texts you could check out for your own curiosity, but when you have watched the first eight episodes of True Detective, you have watched True Detective. There are no tie-ins, there is no source material, there is just a single, stand-alone story about Rust Cohle and Marty Hart, two characters we’ve never seen before and will never see again.

True Detective is the antithesis of geek-culture’s mythology-heavy stronghold on entertainment. And I love it for that.

If True Detective is the piece of fiction that heightens my kids perception of what film and art are capable of I’ll be thrilled for them. And appalled that my kids are watching such wildly inappropriate television.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

Is there a television show or movie that changed the way you view entertainment?

Is it the 1999 romp Deep Blue Sea?

Why not?