This is part six of Geoff Sebesta's collection of essays examining'True Detective'. Part five can be read here.
The point of this essay is not that They Are Doing This, it is that WE SHOULD BE DOING THIS. I draw comic books. It’s easier than making movies. I don’t need to find a couch with a picture of a duck on it, buy it, drag it to the set, light it just right — I can just draw a picture of a couch, and then on that couch I can draw a smaller picture of a duck. IT COULD NOT BE EASIER. All I have to do is to be able to think of it.
Now that I’m aware that backgrounds are repeated very few times (in an eight hour show you rarely have even three shots of any given angle, and rarely that many) and that we have nearly infinite forgiveness for what’s in a background (I’m on a patio outside a coffee shop right now, and if you photographed me from the left you would have a completely different background than from the right, yet they are all the same scene and the human mind has no problem accepting it) I am going to explore more with my backgrounds. It’s not just about creating depth; I think I’ve learned that trick. The background has no choice but to comment on the foreground, and since the backgrounds do not often repeat I may as well use them to their fullest potential and let them react directly to the action in the foreground. True Detective does that constantly, and BOY does it work.
Enough. Let’s get this over with.
I would like to wrap this essay up and get back to my true purpose in life, which is stealing ideas from this show and using them in my own comics. I can think of no better way to do so than to examine the most oft-repeated imagery in the show: the opening credits.
The opening credits comprise a visual lexicon of images underpinning the entire work, some more obscurely than others. Think about it — this is a film made by intensely visual people, and these are the images that they want you to consider every single time you watch their show. It’s more than just a fancy way of showing you Woody Harrelson’s name. You already know Woody Harrelson’s name.
The way this interweaves with the music is quite nice, and at least two points tells important information. Watch it once or twice or at least listen to the song:
I’m going to be honest; I’m pretty sure that’s Matthew McConaughey but I’m not completely positive. Anyway, this introduces the “half-finished man” image which turns up a lot in the opening credits.
Note strange cartographic element delineating the left edge of the face — it looks like a drawing of a river.
observe: bird. So this is another half-finished man, but Rust has a bird in him somewhere.
So that’s sort of interesting — a church superimposed on a cross-shaped gear. Religion as machinery — this fits in with the refinery imagery; this is a show where things are separated into component elements, isolated and intensified.
And here we see the creosote, I suppose. Creosote being both a kind of tree and a kind of chemical byproduct. The tree growing out of the house into the chemical storage tank is a sort of visual poetry that Fukunaga does very, very well. Most people try like the dickens to avoid having a tree grow out of a character’s head or a tree come out of the middle of a house. Fukunaga rushes to embrace it, and it works.
I suppose this is important, because that guy is prominently featured in e02 and he seems to be twining his spines up slowly. The neon cross in the sky is nice.
Maggie, looking worried.
I’m pretty sure that’s the CGI jellyfish from the recent James Bond movie, Skyfall, when they’re fighting in front of the billboard. Or maybe all jellyfish look the same.
This shot and the next four shots set up some sort of sequence or mini-story; watch close.
This is the “flowers” shot, and it absolutely does not appear in the show (unless you count Audrey’s drawings, and that looks more like eggs than flowers to me. It’s difficult to say what’s up with her arms and costume, but she’s clearly a woman, sexualized but not particularly attractive, and I’d bet that she represents Errol’s sister.
Another mysterious shot that does not really appear in the series. Let’s follow it in:
They all have the same mudflaps. But in all other ways they are as different as semi trucks can be. What does it mean? You tell me. Maybe it’s saying that the men at the truck stop are all the same.
Following that sequence through, I think it shows that Maggie is worried about nature, that someone will make flowers on her daughter, which will cause them to end up working at a truckstop, where their shoes will hurt and men will objectify them and treat them as animals or as parking spaces.
and maybe Marty should be worried too, but he’s a half-finished man with a stripper dressed in the American flag dancing in his mind. She shows up in the series; she’s part of the all-important scene where Marty tracks down Tyrone Weems and it just so happens he meets his creator.
Marty gets juxtaposed with American flags a lot, by the way. And in his last scene with Papania, in which he “passes the crown” of True Detective to the younger man, they both get lots of American flags.
If this image wasn’t gorgeous I would say it’s out of place, but the music is such an important part of what’s going on anyway that it works. This moment is all guitar, which I sort of like. It’s a way of saying, the way this guy strums a guitar is so interesting that we can spend four measures on it. Why not make it part of the imagery? Especially when strong straight lines are such an essential element.
Refinery on his right, the cross on Calvary marooned in midair above him, a church to his left. Rust is in an attitude of prayer. Rust is a very religious type of atheist. This is a different type of atheist from me and most of the atheists I know; we just don’t give a shit, and find the whole topic of conversation boring. Not Rust. He’s the type of atheist who keeps a cross over his bed. Seems a bit evangelical to me, but what the hell, it’s TV.
That traffic circle occurs in the series; that’s Rust’s truck (and also IRL the director’s) driving up his chin, this is the moment just before Rust sees the tracers I think.
I’m not sure who that is; it could be Marty or anybody. I guess they’re saying that some mysterious man is hiding a desire to be a wild thing. They’re actually rubbing a skull on their face, not just the antlers. Then it bursts into flame.
It is extremely significant that the female voice enters at this moment.
This is one of the moments that made me sit up and say, alright, this show is commenting on sexism directly.
It’s a woman’s butt, on which is projected a playground. Alright, alright HBO, I get it. But this isn’t just an HBO series, but a critique of HBO series. So it’s a particularly lonely and abandoned playground, and the woman’s voice that sounds so maternal and soothing is saying something quite grim.
They’re calling her and she is not answering. The number is 2207, which of course is LOSS spelled upside down.
Note where it says “lone.” Rust is the burning remainder of a man abandoned by women, being refined and purified, bone-dead.
Next there are four very fast images, snapping by in time with the snare. You are meant to respond to these without really seeing them.
That’s probably Dora’s tree behind them, or close enough. The credits are saying Audrey’s the next Dora Lange, which is definitely carried out by the series. There isn’t a conspiracy that’s got Audrey as the next target, not a conscious conspiracy at least. It’s more that the patriarchy has her in their crosshairs, and that Christianity and tradition are refining her into an animal that they can hunt.
I think this is interesting because at the end of the credits, after the Trouble With Audrey, we begin to revisit the imagery from the beginning of the credits, but reversed and oddly changed. This, of course, is exactly what happens in the series. After Audrey’s trouble in 2002 the investigation revisits so many characters that they met before, but with important changes every time (and this is where the explanation for the Steve Geraci story comes from, by the way).
Bodies, tangled in the crosshairs, overlaid with the same ring intersection from before. There aren’t a lot of details, but after watching the show you have to wonder if this is less sexy than a picture of the boy and girl from the LeDoux hideout. Whatever’s going on here is not necessarily good.
This one isn’t hard to figure out. Marty’s house blew up. Marty looks worried.
The flame begins to touch the wintery man inside Rust and lo, the frost begins to melt.
Rust is burning, but at peace. The antlers recall the flames.
zooming in, crosshairs on the burning cane field from the first scene in the first episode. Through flames and antlers Rust will turn the crosshairs away from women and onto the evidence of crimes. And he will become:
As I mentioned in part two, this is part of the series, and it’s the part where they stop to piss and check their directions. Men voiding themselves on film; this is a fair description of True Detective. There may be more to it, but that is undeniably what is going on. If you watch the video you’ll see that Rust makes a slow but significant movement with his hand; pulling something out of his jacket, I guess.
The song is so good for this that I just can’t say. Leave alone the excellent southwestern flavor of the music, the words are just perfect. The lyrics begin with a literal objectification of a woman, and after the female voice joins the narrator dies and becomes objectified himself. Yep, that about sums it up.
Here is the original storyboard for the opening credits. Compare and contrast, if you so choose.
Geoff Sebesta is an artist and cartoonist living in Austin, TX whose work can be seen here. He is also the co-publisher of Rocksalt Magazine. He is writing a series of essays analyzing True Detective which can be read here. Follow him on Twitter.
Republished with permission.