TRUE DETECTIVE returns with its fourth season. Is it still a BELOVED series, or is it already OVERHYPED?

Here are the emotions the series evokes in me so far.

Jakub Piwoński

19 January 2024

After several years of hiatus, one of the most beloved detective series of recent years is back. Or one of the most overrated. One of the two. Regardless of how we perceive True Detective, the return to the series certainly evokes emotions.

I have watched the first episode of the fourth season of the series. Its premiere took place on January 14, 2024 on Max platform. Here are the emotions the series evokes in me so far.

The fourth season, subtitled Night Country is currently heavily promoted by HBO Max, and it’s not surprising – it’s one of the platform’s flagship titles, with numerous awards to its name. The first season from 2014, which was a true revelation and a breakthrough in Matthew McConaughey’s career, set a high bar. With the entry of Detective onto the screens, McConaughey was already on the lips of all critics, thanks to his nominated and subsequently awarded role in Dallas Buyers Club. Rust Cohle’s portrayal in True Detective undoubtedly helped the actor win an Oscar and had a lasting impact on the audience’s consciousness.

The huge success of the series, which, let’s recall, was based on the story of a certain investigation that is rekindled due to a similar murder committed years later, largely relied on the combination of a captivating storyline divided into two time frames, different perspectives, and the outstanding performances of McConaughey and his co-star Woody Harrelson. In the introduction of this text, I provocatively used the term “overrated” in relation to Detective because the show’s positive aura did not last too long. The decision was made to continue the series in an anthology format. A year later, the second season premiered with Colin Farrell in the lead role, and it was a qualitative decline for the series. While the first installment was built on a chilling story and ambiguous characters, the second season overly simplified everything, including character development.

The third season of this anthology series, where a new story is told each time, usually involving a shocking murder, premiered a few years later when the audience had managed to forget the creators’ past mistakes and somewhat longed for this formula. To some extent, this was successful; showrunner Nic Pizzolatto managed to fix some errors, and Mahershala Ali, who was relatively unknown at the time, delivered a truly successful performance before our eyes. However, there was still a lack of the wow factor and standing out among other quite decent crime series premiering at the time. The exceptional bar set by the first season was still not even touched.

I write all of this to prepare you, dear readers, for what I want to say now. Unfortunately, after the first episode of the new installment of True Detective, which takes me to an entirely new location and forces me to wade through fresh criminal mud, I still do not feel what I felt in 2014 when Matthew McConaughey, cigarette in hand, recounted what happened to him during the investigation of a certain murder and how much that case changed him. I have the impression that Jodie Foster, starring in Night Country, is not coping with the burden of her predecessors mentioned, losing not only to Ali but even to Farrell (who started participating in much better productions after that role). There is something artificial in her, in her posing and pretending to be a tough woman who, when necessary, will curse into the camera. I don’t buy this version of a leading officer, at least for now. Kali Reis, partnering with her, manages quite decently, but I didn’t expect anything extraordinary from her, a former professional boxer, so it’s good that she doesn’t behave like a piece of animated wood – that’s something. It can be debated whether someone with such little experience should appear in a series of this caliber, but for now, it’s not a problem worth discussing for this installment.

The actual problem seems to be the narrative directions taken in Night Country. If I understood correctly, this time the series, although it clearly returns to the theme of cultish and cult-related evil, significantly strengthens the horror stylistics (I mean scenes ambiguously suggesting possession, etc.). I’m not entirely convinced if this is a good direction, I don’t know how it will be developed and strengthened, but for now, it just looks weak. True Detective was not about literal representation of evil; it was about the nuances within people that we discovered when unraveling the layers of the mystery.

Other downsides? The portrayal of female characters holding men by the balls continues in full swing. It’s just a pity that it happens in an exaggerated and artificial way. Although I believe in the good intentions of the creators and that they wanted to provide strong role models for women to identify with, the effect may be the opposite of what was intended. The series may become difficult for women to relate to (feeling that someone is forcibly putting pants on them), while men may feel like idiots being made fools of in every other scene. But this can still be sorted out, so I wouldn’t want to pass harsh judgments on this aspect for now. However, it’s hard not to notice that the creators wanted to strongly suggest the characters we are dealing with in the first episode. A good example of a psychological profile of a woman with a troubled past who has to take matters into her own hands is Mare of Easttown on the same platform. So far, the fourth True Detective is far from that, but I’m not saying there isn’t a chance here.

Not enough time has passed to consider the above criticisms significant. Perhaps the creators will defend the distinctly feminist direction of this installment, and Jodie Foster will present something more in her character than a bunch of grimaces. Either way, the most important thing is that the chance to interest me and others who have been following the series for years was wasted in the pilot episode. So I’m waiting for the second episode to compensate for this damage. Premiere coming soon.

Jakub Piwoński

Jakub Piwoński

Cultural expert, passionate about popular culture, in particular films, series, computer games and comics. He likes to fly away to unknown, fantastic regions, thanks to his fascination with science fiction. Professionally, however, he looks back more often, thanks to his work as a museum promotion specialist, investigating the mysteries of the beginnings of cinematography. His favorite film is "The Matrix", because it combines two areas close to his heart - religion and martial arts.

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