THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR EPISODES 1-4
True Detective is definitely one of the most bizzare yet brilliant shows I’ve ever had the enjoyment of watching (similar to NBC’s Hannibal, check it out). On this past Sunday, the first season came to an end. So, being the devoted blogger I am, I thought it was appropriate that I write some sort of post about it. However, I had no idea what to write about. As I was skimming through episode summaries, scavenging for some sort of information that could provide me with some vague post topic, I noticed something: True Detective is exactly like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
During the first couple of exquisite episodes, Martin Hart (played by the infamous Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (portrayed by the charming Matthew McConaughey) track a serial killer through a dark and corrupt Louisiana over the course of 17 excruciating years. One of the main conflicts in the show, besides the obvious cops vs killer genre, is the battle between Hart’s insincerity and fraud of his proposed “married with kids” cover, and the overwhelming pessimistic views of Cohle. Cohle’s view on the world is literally, “everything is a lie”, from religion to marriage to civilization itself. But he wasn’t wrong, the world is a dark and deceptive place, as evident by Hart’s fallout from his grand visage and the shattering of his own marriage.
In the third episode of the series, Hart and Rust track their primary suspect, Reggie Ledoux, to an area of Louisiana that looks like something straight out of Apocalypse Now, a land that is completely desolate yet wild. At this point, you can definitely glimpse a similarity between Condrad’s Heart of Darkness and True Detective, except it takes place in rural Louisiana and not the African Congo. If this allusion was carried deeper, Hart would be the naive Marlow and Cohle would be the insane Kurtz.
In episode four, Cohle reverts back to his old and dangerous method style of undercover work and plants himself in the middle of a dangerous, drug-dealing biker gang. In one scene, Cohle finds himself in a chaotic rave which made my stomach churn more than any other scene from Conrad’s novel, truly revealing the overwhelming darkness of the setting. At one point of the episode, Cohle joins the bikers as they travel down river on a boat, literally the most explicit Heart of Darkness reference a man could ask for.
The following scene, a horrible and chaotic fake raid on a drug house, takes True Detective from a interesting crime drama to an incredibly beautiful and disastrous action flick. The line between beauty and chaos is very thin and uneven, but True Detective does a marvelous job of making it work. This is another moment in which I realized this show was exactly like Conrad’s novel. Fake imperialists travel to savage civilization. Fake cops travel down river to raid a drug house. The Congo is filled to the brim with chaos and insanity. The neighborhood ends up being filled with mass murderers and decrepit druggies. What we have here, is a classic case of Heart of Darkness, the deeper you go, the bleaker and darker your surroundings seem. It appears America can appear even more savage and brutal than the station glimpsed at the end of the Congo.
I’m not saying that Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and True Detective are one in the same, I’m just saying that some similarities are definitely there. It really shows how dark and corrupt True Detective is, a Louisiana so savage and filled with depraved brutes that we might as well be looking at the African Congo during the time of imperialism. Feel free to discuss.