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True Detective Weekly 1: The Western Book of the Dead

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I just sent in a long rambly email to the podcast that I'm thinking might have gone better here as a post.  So I guess I'll post it:


I only recently got HBO when they started their streaming option, and mass consumed season one of True Detective.  The thing I keep thinking about this show is how it defies the normal rules of TV mysteries.
  Hearing about the show when it ran, I more or less expected it to be in the legacy of Twin Peaks, in which we have a cast of characters we learn more and more about, with suspicion shifting between them until a finale when the culprit is revealed...  (The Killing, Veronica Mars, Top of the Lake are all more or less in this genre).  
I think this category is mostly an adaptation of the Agatha Christie type mystery, which traditionally ends in the big parlor room scene with the detective announcing how they figured it out.  Usually there's a moment where you could pause the story and try to figure out the puzzle and then go back to keep reading/watching and see if you got the answer it right.  Most older campy TV mysteries are in this vein, what with your Murders, She Wrote and your Diagnoses Murder and so on.
  But this doesn't seem to fit for True Detective... the episode-by-episode work of True Detective feels more procedural, like a Law & Order or a Homicide: Life on the Streets episode, where the meat of the work is in tax records or subpoenas or wiretaps, and there isn't a big a-ha moment, just the doing of the legwork.  Except that in True Detective, there IS a big a-ha moment in the end... the green ears and the painted house were clues available to the audience to notice from very early in the show, as well as an appearance of the killer...  
  So I have no idea what this show is I guess.  Maybe it's just the first show to try to take a single procedural type of mystery case and stretch it out over an entire TV season?  And maybe the flashback structure was just in support of a mystery that takes a long time to solve?
  Anyway, this attempt at categorization seems to get completely thrown out the window for season two, which so far at least may not be a mystery at all.  Like...the investigation appears to be about a corpse found by the road, but we already know who killed him, right?  So is this maybe a Columbo-style mystery, where we're following the killer, waiting to see how they caught?  Or is that a decoy and we'll find that the real mystery the audience is following for the year is Colin Farrell's ex-wife's rape?  Not knowing these basic questions but being engaged anyway is really great to me.

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This is the kind of first episode that would make me stop watching the series if it wasn't for my enjoyment of the first season, this excellent podcast, and my HBO Nordic subscription. I'm not suggesting that it is possible to make any actual judgement about the quality of the entire season based on the first episode, but things like the widespread, violent corruption in the city and the ludicrously dark backstory of the fucked-up cop just aren't things that usually appeal to me. At all. That said, I'm still hoping this series goes someplace interesting.
At least there is an intriguing corpse in the end...


As for what Vinci is, at the end McAdams says "What the hell is Vinci?" And Farrell responds "It's a town. Supposedly." Or something to that effect, suggesting it is indeed a fictional little city on the periphery of the L.A area. I love Chris's Chandler comparison; that's what it felt like to me too, and why it's one of the elements of the episode I quite liked.

That line could definitely have been uttered by Philip Marlowe (or most any character in Raymond Chandler's novels for that matter, because the stories seem to be set in the fictional part of LA where almost everyone is a master of cracking wise). It was one of my favorite moments in the episode.
My actual favorite moments of the episode were the Leonard Cohen song during the opening and Nick Cave's incredibly oppressive cover of All the Gold in California during the end credits.

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I've heard some talk about there being links to Japanese warrior culture in the show (including Rachel McAdam's thing for blades and a book in somebody's house - maybe Caspare's). I missed most of that, however I did notice something else: that opening shot of the stakes in the ground (presumably the big land development), with the ribbons fluttering in the wind, is a dead ringer for the iconic shot of Seven Samurai, with the swords stuck into the ground to honor the dead. I'll try to find specific pictures later to show what I mean. Even the technical jargon text attached to the poles looks a bit like Japanese characters from a distance.








Hmm, could've sworn there was a shot in Seven Samurai where the sashes on the swords are fluttering like the ribbons on those stakes but maybe I imagined it. There is a better shot for this in the film, where the characters are actually standing over a mound and plunging the swords in as I recall - but I don't have the DVD onhand unfortunately.


Oh, and another thing: the plot of Seven Samurai is about several very different warriors, at least one of whom is seriously messed-up, teaming together for a common cause - which is roughly what Pizzolatto has been setting up in these past two episodes. That plus the other Japanese links (Vanity Fair mentions that so far the show has featured Musashi's A Book of Five Rings, by an undefeated samurai, Hagakure: Book of the Samurai, and Araki: Tokyo Lucky Hole - about the Japanese sex underworld) has me intrigued.

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