My parents both watched True Detective before I did. Id heard the hype, read the reviews, but I had very little interest in a show where Matthew McConaughey played a leading role. Still, I figured Id ask the people whos opinion I trusted the most what they thought. My mother told me that Dad liked it, but she wasnt crazy. Theres no good female characters, she said. But countless people, my father included, told me to give it a try. So I did.
True Detective (at least the first seasonthe second season is a whole different bag of cats) is a show about complicated people, driven by often conflicting desires to both do the right thing and get ahead in life while making as little waves as possible. Of course, by complicated people, I mean, complicated men. There are very few female characterstheres Woody Harrelsons wife, Woody Harrelsons mistress, Woody Harrelsons daughters, and a bunch of naked female murder victims.
Theres maybe an argument to be made that Woody Harrelsons wife (played by a criminally underused Michelle Monaghan) is a complicated character, but its a stretch. Her main role is to have revenge sex with Matthew McConaughey, causing the rift between the partners that drives a lot of the present narrative. Other than that she does largely nothing, outside of saying the best line in the entire series (which some will fight me onits not time is a flat circle or any other of McConaugheys faux intellectual garbage).
Its about her daughter drawing pictures of people having sex, in spite of being prepubescent. Woody Harrelson demands to know how his daughter could even know about sex, and his wife says girls know first. Girls always know first.
How many shows do we really need about women getting murdered in highly sexualized ways, am I right?
If I had written True Detective, this would have been the thesis of the show. Sure, theres an argument to be made that True Detective was a largely superfluous show to being withI mean, how many shows do we reallyneed about women getting murdered in highly sexualized ways, am I right?
But at least if the point was to make the audience realize how different it is for women and girlshow exposed they are to the worst parts of the world, to the grossest fantasies of monsters, how early and how ready they have to be to take care of themselves in a society that views them less as people and more as objectsthen maybe I could say True Detective was good.
As it stands, True Detective is, probably, objectively good. Its well-written. Its well-acted. Its stunningly shot. But I cant say I like it, because it lacked well-written female characters. It objectified women and murdered them, and while it made their deaths seem horrifying, it did nothing to actively challenge the idea that its main villain hadthat women and their bodies are a means to an end.
I know people disagree with me on this point. True Detective isnt sexist, they say, its just focused on men. Masculinity is a main, driving theme, and violence against women plays a role in this theme. The female characters are reflections of the way the men inside the show view the world.
Or, less intelligently, they tell me that it takes place in the 80s! Things were different!And while I get the argument that True Detective was a commentary on masculinity, for me it didnt go far enough in its commentary to be all that groundbreaking. A show where male main characters tackle what it means to be men while discussing the violent deaths of women feels… done, to me.