If you have not seen it, I cannot too strongly recommend season 1 of the HBO mini-series True Detective. It is the second finest screen production I have ever seen, surpassed only by Band of Brothers. As I told my wife afterward, very few screen entertainments succeed well enough to make me feel as though the time I spent on them was not wasted. Almost all of them are less worthwhile than, say, playing solitaire. Sometimes I come out of the good ones refreshed, or expanded, or reminded of the Good and the Beautiful – as with Monty Python, or In Bruges, or Roman Holiday, or Rio Bravo, or African Queen. Only once every decade or so do I finish a screen production feeling that I have been morally improved. This happens reliably with Shakespeare and the Greek Tragedies, sometimes with Ibsen, Chekhov, Stoppard. Otherwise, almost never.
With True Detective, it happened. I was astonished. I expected a gritty procedural. It was that. But it was so much more.
True Detective is a work of the highest art. It is a story of two weak, sinful, powerful, beleaguered, diligent, wounded and intelligent men who revolt in their hearts at their encounter with pure evil, and determine to sacrifice everything, if need be, in order to try to stop it. Why? Their love for children.
The protagonists stumble upon a ring of Satanic pedophiles who kidnap, rape, torture, and kill children. It reaches to the highest levels of society, and then back down, to the point that they do not know whom they can trust.
Art anticipates life. True Detective must have been in the works from at least 3 or 4 years ago. Now something like the horrors its detectives discovered appears perhaps to be operant in real life. One of the symbols the FBI has identified as typically used by pedophilic outfits to indicate their perversion is an irregular triangular spiral. That very symbol appears in prominent use among the pagan Satanists in True Detective, as a sign of their cult.
As an exercise in moral imagination, the show is essentially religious. And the producers obviously know this, and welcome it.
I cannot call it a nice experience. It is harrowing. Many extremely ugly things – not least, the moral failures of the protagonists – are forthrightly portrayed, and things too horrific to show are nevertheless clearly implied. It is honest. So it is painful. But so, in the end, is it gloriously beautiful.
For, here’s the thing: if we are honest about reality at the deepest level we are capable to plumb, how can we avoid agreeing that God is, and that, therefore, God has already won? Burrow down through all the bottommost levels of Hell, and … there is God. There’s no escaping him. There’s only ruining oneself by trying.
Anyway … it might not be your cup of tea. But you might want to give it a shot. It is, at the very least, deeply serious. We almost never get that from Hollywood.