True Detective

True Detective

Emily Nussbaum wrote:

Two weeks ago, I published a critical article about HBO’s “True Detective” in which I argued that, as stylish and as well acted as the series was, it had a hollow center. Beneath its auteurist trappings, the show boiled down to bickering cops hunting a sinister “rape club”—a plot that has been done to death, so to speak, on many better shows. “True Detective” also had a funky gender problem: it was about the evil of men who treat women as lurid props, but the show treated women as lurid props. And, though the dialogue was deeply, sometimes deadly serious, those layers of Lovecraft and nihilism just felt like red herrings.


There was a hospital scene between Marty and his wife and kids that was so abstract, it might as well have featured a silent-movie card reading “Forgiven!” And, over the show’s last twenty minutes, as in the finale of “Lost,” the series became a meditation on how our heroes healed from their psychic wounds and became buddies again. Marty was “fine, just fine,” recovered from years of Match Personals and TV dinners. Rust had a touching dream about his dead daughter, in which he glimpsed light beneath the darkness. They were able to move on, to forgive themselves for their own mistakes (Marty) or find optimism in their nihilism (Rust).

I am certain there are people who found all this experimental and profound. To me, it was a near-total wash. And what was most striking was that every one of show’s gross-out victims—the dead “prosts,” the raped little girls with the blindfolds, the genderqueer hooker who had been raped as a boy and filmed for porn movies, Marty’s own screwed-up daughter—were just there to ease our heroes into these epiphanies. After all that talk about how the two men hadn’t “averted their eyes” to evil, the show did just that. And it ends with stories told in the stars? We’re in Successories territory here, and even great actors can’t pull that off. ("TheDisappointing Finale of 'True Detective," The New Yorker)


The most enticing "mystery" is always our experience in the womb and our earliest conscious experiences alongside our mothers. Violence against children "entices" for it reminding us of the ambiguous attitude we still hold towards abandonment and violence we suffered at her hands -- of the solution for us to feel cleansed and pure. Maybe we deserved it? our brains concluded, sparing us casting a harsh judgment against her and thereby dooming us forever of her love. Maybe when other kids get it once again our earliest vulnerable selves are being punished, leaving us an opportunity to count ourselves virtuously by her side? The huge approval for Marty's shooting Le Deux showed the rush to action on our collective part, so to vanquish away any ambiguous feelings we were having at the moment. We all cooperated in being righteously appreciative of this platitude-reinforcing act of passion, despite the fact that the show's whole draw was its associating child abuse with provocative, truth-bearing mystery, something perhaps constitutional of who we all are, however much we've forgotten it. Pre-literate mysteries of the Bayou, house of the archetypal, that has kept extant even as we've drilled ourselves to focus only on the modern world; on tamed, acceptable truths. 

The draw is likely our own earliest memories inside and alongside our mothers, in a provisioning but also annihilating environment, perhaps usually not assessable but sometimes profoundly stirred to suggest itself as actually mostly determinate of our lives. The show draws that way but then uses every prop to deflect itself emphatically away -- kind of like Marty uses a succession of young women to deflect away from his age-appropriate but therefore more reckon-worthy and intimidating wife, into being someone satisfactorily mostly autonomous from her, beholden to his anchoring male partner. The show appeals for it providing Rust with excuse to keep her at bay as well -- a great treasure of a legitimate grievance, to scare her back into the darkness as if she was Shelob. Mom draws but also scares the hell out of us -- Victory truly is the great placental tree, that once again balked us away. Supplant it as the final image over the show's cowardice, as you please.


The sheer volume of people here that seem to take this review as some kind of personal slight against their judgment is truly astonishing, as is the vehemence of their commentary. Apparently they feel such overwhelming and unqualified affection for True Detective that they're compelled to defend its honor against this "man hating" reviewer. A bit of perspective is in order.


@nothing117  It's a repeat of dismissal at the hands of their mothers. A fetish, that was felt to undue incurred damage, restore male bodily integrity from female pollution, that looked to be about to incur more potency for our collective fondling over it, has been coldly snatched away by our mother and tossed in the bin. "It was trash; stop your crying over it!"
So we march in our grand fetishes' honor, as you note. But mothers are pretty powerful though -- she was the all-providing placenta in the grand womb; she was the universe as our consciousness developed in the outside world -- and I'm not sure even if united we're quite prepared to do the venturing required to fully take her down. So pot shots; lots of them. And we'll go away pretending victory while Her influence carries on out of the primeval Bayou.


If there were any doubts about how well misogyny is still integrated into our culture and in this particular piece of cable fluff, all you'd have to do is read the comments on this review and those on Alyssa Rosenberg's in the Washington Post and Willa Paskin's in Slate.
It's one thing to disagree with a reviewer and quite another to use the opportunity of Web anonymity to spew your resentment of women voicing their opinions.



The mobilization of resentment, as Christopher Lasch noted some years ago, drives social change in the United States.  Feminists absolutely excel at it and, over time, have thoroughly intimidated a great many men - who were and are sympathetic and understanding - through a form of scorched earth psychological warfare that took no prisoners.  As one feminist writer disclosed, demoralization of the opposition was a necessary investment if progress for women was to be had, meaning, apparently, that one had to come at the expense of the other.  Thus a 40-year river of hate mail.  Such men live in fear of saying the wrong thing, however nuanced, of taking a position, however thoughtful, that might invoke feminist wrath because it transgresses their orthodoxy, however slightly. The extent to which so many men have internalized this policewoman is clear evidence that the campaign has succeeded to no small degree.  That the feminist analysis and description of the situation between the genders in this country is not complete is inadmissible to the discussion, immediately dismissed as a blasphemy against the tyranny of received opinion, opinion that is policed and enforced in publications such as The New Yorker.  The writing itself is always top notch but somehow, with time, self-limiting, hermetic, and, finally, uninteresting.  And the United States remains a society whose extremely limited and destructive ideal of success has only been reinforced, never really threatened or even modified.


@lhhyde @crabpaws The extent to which so many men have internalized this policewoman is clear evidence that the campaign has succeeded to no small degree. 

Old dog Christopher Lasch is being picked up as a shield for suspicious purposes lately – modern age-hater Thomas Frank recently referenced him as one of his heroes as well. 

Maybe not evident now but this policewoman superego is just as much in the resenters. The origins of the resentment are with our mothers and transplanted later onto politics. And we're interested in revenge but also being worthy of her. So we split, fusing like Putin with Mother Russias while punishing Others we've projected both the negative aspects of our mothers and our own blame-worthy weakness and desire for independence onto. 


@PatrickMcEvoyHalston @lhhyde@crabpaws
I think that Lasch objected to the way that resentment exacerbates tribalism, a condition that has plagued our politics for several decades.  So I'll do another name-drop, MLK Jr., who was no saint, but who, at least in public, refused to dehumanize his enemies, even the most lethal among them while clearly calling down his wrath on an unjust social, legal and political reality.  Today we are kept at each others throats via a language of resentment and reproach that only divides, and that seems to me to be the dominant language we hear.  It has brought some measure of progress, but I think it ultimately will hit a dead end.  We may already be there.


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