Poster for True Detective season 1 (2014) is set in Louisiana. Image Source: HG Girl on Fire. The show's poster spawned a spoof meme, see: here, here, here.
America loves a morality tale, the deeper and darker, the better. Just as the '70s had Serpico, Mean Streets and Chinatown, the '80s had Blade Runner, Blue Velvet and Angel Heart, the '90s had L.A. Confidential and The Usual Suspects, and the '00s had No Country for Old Men and The Dark Knight as the definitive neo-noirs of those decades, the 2010s have Winter's Bone and the HBO television series True Detective. True Detective debuted in the USA and Canada on 12 January 2014 and debuted in the UK on Sky Atlantic on 22 February 2014. The second season begins in North America on 21 June 2015. Season 2 is set around the Los Angeles transportation system and involves a murder at the heart of a giant conspiracy.
The writing and vision for this series is incredible. True Detective makes the parallel UK drama, Broadchurch, pale in comparison. Broadchurch is strong in its own right and has somewhat similar initial premise: two quarreling detectives seek a murderer. But Broadchurch does not take the same risks.
True Detective season 2 (2015) is set around the Los Angeles transportation system, the venal conduit into the dark heart of the City of Angels. Season 2 stars Rachel McAdams, Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell. Image Source: Mashable.
True Detective does exactly what a noir should do. The tension mounts, and as the characters' flaws deepen, the plot gets more feverish. The Toronto Sun remarks that True Detective, "makes every other police procedural drama seem faint and quaint by comparison. How are we supposed to watch 'regular' TV if HBO keeps dropping these sorts of live grenades in our laps?"
True Detective is not just a genre-hopping cop drama trying to shock its viewers, as with another Millennial series, The Fall. Like Twin Peaks, season 1 of this Lynchian show started off as police noir and ended up as a horror story. There are references in True Detective to H. P. Lovecraft's works and Blair Witch, which similarly involve rational investigations dragging the investigators' subconscious into a confrontation with an immense, malevolent, supernatural being or force.
There is a monster here, behind the police explorations of gritty streets and haunted bayous. The monster inhabits the dreams of this mundane world, but unfortunately for the characters, the monster has legs. It has a history. The Gen X writer of True Detective, Nic Pizzolatto, gives his horror deep roots. He presents this TV series as one story in a long line of stories about a much, much larger legend. True Detective is a metafictional continuation of the multi-authored Carcosa mythos, which started with an Ambrose Bierce short story, "An Inhabitant of Carcosa" also known as "Can Such Things Be?" (1891; read it here) and The King in Yellow (1895) by Robert W. Chambers. You can read The King in Yellow online here. For more on The King In Yellow and the Carcosa story: go here, here, here, here and here. You can see this series' connection with Chambers's stories drawn here and here. The metafiction continuity inspired so much chatter that some critics claimed that Pizzolatto had plagiarized, rather than continued, other authors' works.
In other words, True Detective is supposed to be part of, and continue, a fictional mythology about something terrible that once happened in an ancient lost city. In Bierce's work, that city, Carcosa, is described by someone who once lived there:
Along the shore the cloud waves break, The twin suns sink behind the lake, The shadows lengthen In Carcosa.Strange is the night where black stars rise, And strange moons circle through the skies, But stranger still is Lost Carcosa.Songs that the Hyades shall sing, Where flap the tatters of the King, Must die unheard in Dim Carcosa.Song of my soul, my voice is dead, Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed Shall dry and die in Lost Carcosa.
—"Cassilda's Song" in The King in Yellow Act 1, Scene 2