Who’s Who in True Detective

by Steve Charnock

Unless you’ve spent the last few weeks shrimp fishing in a bayou, you’ll have no doubt heard about HBO’s remarkable new Louisiana-set crime drama, True Detective. The Southern Gothic thriller, currently showing on Sky Atlantic, sweeps across almost two decades of investigation into a series of ritualistic murders and child disappearances, each laden with occult symbolism and obscured by silenced witnesses. Clues are uncovered, but they muddy the water as often as they help clear it. What are the strange bundled sticks all about? What do the spirals represent? And who is ‘The Yellow King’?

It’s slow-building, brooding, dark and disturbing. It’s also the best thing on television for a long, long time. It’s by no means easy watching, but when TV is as addictive and compelling as this, it doesn’t need to be. Structurally, True Detective could be described as a triptych; it’s narrative is split into three distinct time frames – 1995, 2002 and 2012. It’s a delicious, well-stewed gumbo of David Lynch, HP Lovecraft and the Coen Brothers and, if you’re yet to do so, we’d recommend you help yourself to a few generous servings. But before you do, let’s introduce you to the main ingredients:

Detective Rustin ‘Rust’ Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) – Cynic. Pessimist. Police detective. It’s not often on television you’ll hear the main character mutter a line like ‘human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution.’ But then it’s not often you’ll have a hero/anti hero like Rust Cohle. For every impressive criminal insight, there’s a nihilistic philosophical soundbite. He’s Nietzsche with a badge. And a drinking problem. And no friends. Still, maybe it’s this outlook – and his obsessive nature – that’s needed to solve the increasingly labyrinthine case in front of him.

Detective Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) – Rust’s CID partner, Marty is – on the face of it – the complete antithesis of the downbeat loner he’s been paired with. A conservative family man with a respect for religion, structure and authority, he’s a good ‘company man’, with friends on and off the force. But we soon find out that there’s a dark side to Marty: infidelity, a propensity for deceit, a hair trigger temper…

Maggie Hart (Michelle Monaghan) – Marty’s put-upon wife, Maggie is a nurse at the local hospital and every bit Marty’s equal. In fact, she frequently has the upper hand in their arguments and often outfoxes her police detective husband. Mother to two daughters, we find out later in the series that Maggie can more than look after herself.

Det. Gilbough (Michael Potts) & Det. Papania (Tory Kittles) – Looking back over the case after recent events motivate them to do so, 2012 detectives Gilbough and Papania have cause to interview Cohle and Hart over their involvement since 1995. How much do they know? Are they trying to play the original detectives? Or are they being played themselves?

Lisa Tragnetti (Alexandra Daddario) – A stunning, if rather high maintenance, court reporter that Marty has an affair with in the mid-90’s, setting off a chain of events in Marty’s personal life that he’d really rather have avoided.

Reggie Ledoux (Charles Halford) – Straw-haired and heavily tattooed psychopathic meth cook and dealer that’s linked to the case and looks very fetching just in his underpants and a gas mask.

Rev. Billy Lee Tuttle (Jay O. Sanders) – Reverend behind a special ‘anti-Christian crimes’ police task force, Billy Lee is cousins with US senator Eddie Tuttle. A shady pair at the top of the tree, might they be connected to things somehow? Rust certainly seems to think so.

Joel Theriot (Shea Whigham) – Evangelical revivalist minister Theriot preaches on the road from tents and trailers and becomes caught up in the investigation. There are religious overtones to the crimes, but is the impressively-coiffured Theriot or one of his congregation responsible?

The Green-Eared Spaghetti Monster – Now things are getting weird. We’ll let you find out who or what The Green-Eared Spaghetti Monster is for yourself…

‘The Yellow King of Carcosa’ – We can’t tell you who ‘The Yellow King’ is, though. In fact, no one can.

We also can’t tell you who the True Detective is, either. Is it Rust? Is it Marty? Is it Gilbough or Papania? Or, after eight weeks of head-scratching clue-unfolding, maybe it’s us. Perhaps we’re the True Detectives. There’s only one way to find out.

Series 1 of True Detective is currently showing on Sky Atlantic.

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