Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rustin Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) were Louisiana State Police officers together from 1995 to 2002. Their first case, an occult serial killer that starts with a prostitute, was supposedly closed that year. Then they worked together for seven years, before things went "bad" between them, and now it's ten years after that, and they've both been pulled in to consult on what seems to be the same case, happening again.
That's the setup for the whole season, which is the whole story, because this is one of those where this is all we get and then next year it's about some other detective having some other detective problems. Based on this episode, those problems will be intense, because these people are super intense and their problems are gigantic, mostly related to acting weird:
1995 Rust is a dry drunk whose daughter died and wife left him shortly thereafter, who pulls this nasty case and is forced to have dinner with his partner's family (Marty has two daughters and a wife, Michelle Monaghan who I love), and like a million other fucked-up things on this one day, which is also his dead daughter's birthday, so he falls off the wagon while questioning some hookers at a bar. It's a lot more charming than it sounds, now that I'm looking at it on paper. He has some kind of a way about him.
2012 Rust, seventeen years later, looks like hell in a fright wig and starts drinking at noon on every day off. He's a damn sight friendlier than his younger self, but also a whole lot ruder. The world has not been kind to him. And that's essentially the dossier on Rust: He flips back and forth between intuitive shaman psycho and smart-assy small-town "philosopher" -- the usual McConaughey, but here with an even more irritating gloss on the language due to the mannered -- not to say silly, but at the least precious; possibly snotty -- way the story itself is written:
Men are "rawboned," "possessed by ungovernable rage"; at one point a person actually says aloud, "Rust would pick a fight with the sky, he didn't like its shade of blue." If that doesn't make you want to choke Cormac McCarthy with Don DeLillo's dick, probably you will not hate this show. I didn't hate it, but it's... A lot. It's a fucking lot. Even having Woody Harrelson there to bitch about it doesn't take the entire sting out of hearing Rust -- a grown man, played by a beloved Texan actor -- saying shit like, "I can smell the psychosphere." I mean, you're begging the question. It's aggressive. (I kind of love it.)
2012 Marty talks a lot about the important of a family and home keeping you grounded, as opposed to his partner's anchorless, weirdo existence, but that could be clarity in hindsight, given the clues that he's cheating on the wife back in '95. He's a marble-mouthed good ol' boy, provincial and by turns mystified and irritated by Rust's ongoing prattle. His reactions -- both positive and negative -- to that nonsense do a good job of keeping you on course, tonally: It is never so top-heavy or gimmicky that he can't come in with his own brand of mugging and take it down a few notches. He is kind of wonderful, but that could just be the Woody Harrelson-ness throwing it off.
It seems like a complicated thing, maybe something so new we don't have a reference for it, or else just trying very hard. I can see it going either way. The accents and sheer amount of acting going on, eventually those things take a backseat to the details, which -- between individual acts of investigation that seem like just barely tuning up for this case, this week -- are mostly centered on showing us where these men came from and where they are going to end up. (And little prurient details of how wicked crazy the bad stuff is going to get.)
The men questioning them in 2012 seem just as interested in their relationship -- its twists and turns, its ending, its meaning -- as they are in the old case, so one wonders just how weird this is going to get. But with Marty in both time zones seeming equally fond of, resigned to, and enraged by his mentally ill partner, it's hard to know exactly what all that even means.
Is it personal? Wife-related? Do they get too close and then pull back, or always stay exactly like they are at the beginning and (framing) end of the story? If so, why is everybody so fucking intense about everything? And if not, where is Marty's presence of mind coming from? And how did Rust go from being almost entirely destroyed when we meet him, to 17 years later almost entirely destroyed in a completely different way? Is Rust actually a serial killer? Because how boring it would be to get serial killed by him, droning on about Classical Pessimism and planned obsolescence and free will and suicide and whatever.
Next Week: With replacements already breathing down their necks, the pair follows leads from cathouses to burned churches, and I guess Marty cheats on his awesome wife some more, and I guess Rust probably says some embarrassing shit nobody wants to hear, and maybe we'll find out more about what happened since they split up. I'm intrigued. Kind of annoyed, for now, but mostly intrigued. I wouldn't say I was -- I don't know -- possessed by an ungovernable rage about it, but then I can't really imagine myself saying that about ... anything.
After an interesting opening shot presents us with some quick, twilight images -- A person carrying something? Maybe another person? And then setting fire to Louisiana, or at least a long break against the horizon -- we meet Martin Eric Hart (Woody Harrelson, with a sort of mannered marble-mouthed Southern Thing; charmingly provincial, not unintelligent.) He's still employed by the LA State Police CID, and not wearing a wedding ring anymore.
Q: "What did you think about him when you got paired up?"
Hart: "...You don't pick your parents, and you don't pick your partner."
"He" -- the edgy, "rawboned" Rust Cohle -- wasn't exactly the most popular kid in the precinct, as we'll see. (He is pretty awful, to be fair.) He moved here from Texas, and it took Marty Hart three months to get him to come over for dinner. This happened to be around the same time, I think maybe the same day, as several other things were going on.
Hart: "Our big 419. That's what y'all want to hear about, right? Dora Lange? The kids in the woods?"
Q: "Yeah, but also about him. Talk about him, that's the point of this show. Weird?"
Hart: "Very. Rust would quote 'Pick a fight with the sky, he didn't like its shade of blue'."
Q: "Oh, please don't say things like that. It bums us out. You aren't Raymond Carver."
Over shots of Rust approaching the Hart house in 1995 with a bouquet for the wife, drunk for the first time in a while because Marty Hart has two daughters and Rust has none. Then we switch to 2012 Rust, who looks pretty wasted. Not like he's drunk yet but like his physical body has been wasted by the last seventeen years until he is almost a ghost. He looks like he smells hideous.
Cohle: "Dora Lange, sure. Occult ritual murder..."
Q: "Please don't smoke in here. Due to it being 2012."
Cohle, smoking: "Uh, pretty sure you are desperate to hear what I say, and I can do anything I want. It makes me feel powerful to flout the rules. Nobody has ever wanted to hear me talk, ever, because I am the worst. So this is a new situation."
They slide him a coffee mug that says BIG HUGE HUG to ash in, and he continues. There is no big hug huge enough.
Cohle: "It was an assist call on a 419 in the cane fields outside Erath. The two cases I'd worked since joining CID were both open-and-shut, this was the first complicated one. I remember the date, 3 Jan 1995, because it was my dead daughter's birthday."