‘True Detective’ 1.04 Recap: “We’re Not Going to Give You the Oscar, No Matter How Hard You Try”

After taking a week off for the Super Bowl, HBO’s ‘True Detective’ returned this week with the most action-packed episode to date, featuring an amazingly filmed tracking shot that we’ll discuss in a moment.

Martin and Rust have a prime suspect named Reggie Ledoux and this episode deals with their effort to track him down. Visiting victim Dora Lange’s ex-husband in prison, the detectives learn that he showed provocative photos of Dora to Ledoux that may have led him to single her out once he got out of jail. They also learn that Ledoux was an expert in cooking meth and often told Dora’s ex about a strange cult in the woods where women and children were sacrificed.

After giving testimony about another case in court, Martin runs into his now-estranged mistress, Lisa, who wants to talk things out with him. However, Martin considers their relationship over and gives her the cold shoulder. Big mistake. Later, when he arrives home, he discovers a packed suitcase waiting for him and a note from his wife that she wants him out. Lisa called Maggie and told her about the affair. Martin calls Lisa and goes crazy over the phone, threatening to do things to her that are not printable in this blog. It’s a dark, scary side of Hart that we’ve suspected but are seeing now for the first time.

Martin tries to call Maggie, but gets her father on the phone instead, who warns him to stay away from Maggie. Later, Martin goes to the hospital where Maggie works and confronts her there, but this only leads to the police being called. Someone lets Rust know of the scene at the hospital, so he heads there to get his partner before he does something stupid that might result in his arrest. He lures Martin away by telling him of a new lead they have on Ledoux.

Tracking down a stripper’s father who deals drugs supplied by Ledoux, Martin interrogates him at gunpoint and learns that Ledoux is only dealing to one group now: a dangerous biker gang called the Iron Crusaders with whom Rust has past connections when he worked undercover. Sitting down with Martin – who has now moved into Rust’s apartment due to his separation – Rust details his plan to infiltrate the gang, which starts with lying to his superiors at work about needing to visit his sick father, then breaking into the evidence locker to steal a bunch of cocaine.

With Martin waiting outside as backup (although not an effective one, as he’s promptly booted from the scene when he attempts to check on Rust), Cohle obtains access to an Iron Crusaders party where he meets up with an old contact who knows him as “Crash.” Rust tells him about a big deal he can put together with some Mexican drug dealers and gives him a sample of the cocaine he’s stolen from the evidence locker. The biker is interested, but first wants Rust to help him steal some drugs with a few other bikers. Rust is hesitant at first, but soon realizes that this is the only way he’s going to gain the biker’s trust.

It’s at this point that ‘True Detective’ does something really impressive. The entire final five or six minutes of the episode (save for one cut right before the end credits) are a continuous unedited Stedicam shot of Rust and the other bikers breaking into the stash house, where things take a turn for the worse that begins a shootout with both rival dealers and police (including hovering helicopters). Rust leaves the house and runs through a few others, eventually dragging his biker friend out to Martin’s waiting car. The choreography that must have been needed to pull this scene off is simply mind-blowing. This isn’t just an unbroken shot of actors walking through various locations. This is an action scene that includes gunshots, squibs, fight sequences, and perfect timing. It goes off without a hitch, making for one of the most impressive sequences ever shot for a television show. I’ve watched the scene twice, looking for sly little ways that it might have been edited, but have yet to spot any. It appears to be a 100% legitimate unbroken shot. If that’s true, it’s an amazing piece of work. Kudos to director Cary Joji Fukunaga.

However, even with that impressive final scene, this episode is perhaps the least appealing in terms of both character development and plot progression. We learn very little new about the psyche of either Rust or Martin (other than that blowup Martin has on the phone with Lisa), and the biker stuff just seems like a subplot to delay Hart and Cohle from finding Reggie Ledoux until later in the season. In short, despite all the fun, this was the first episode that for me felt like it contained a lot of filler. I’ve talked to others, though, who felt it was the best of the four episodes to date.

So, what did you think of both this week’s storyline and that incredible tracking shot?


    • I read that Fukunaga has done similar shots in some of his films…none of which I’ve seen, sadly. There are a couple good articles on the Net about this particular one, including the fact that it is, indeed, without any cuts or digital tricks.

      • I’ve seen Fukunaga’s adaptation of Jane Eyre. Although it’s a beautifully photographed movie, I don’t recall any bravura extended tracking shots in that one. I haven’t seen his Sin Nombre, though.

  1. That final sequence is one of the most astounding things I’ve ever seen shot for television. In addition to the elaborate choreography, the scope of the scene is massive, with action happening in every direction and helicopters buzzing overhead. It was incredible.

    Shannon, I think you sell the episode’s storyline a little short. This episode showed us how single-minded Rust is that he willingly dives right back into drugs to sell his cover. Was the whole cover operation really just an excuse to use drugs again? His rationale for doing it seemed pretty flimsy. Surely, there were other ways to get to Ledoux (and they didn’t even get him!). If Martin hadn’t been so preoccupied with his own personal shit, he should have stopped any of that from happening.

    • You’re probably right and I’ll probably enjoy this episode more once the entire season is complete. I just felt after actually SEEING Reggie at the end of episode 3 and then waiting two weeks for THIS episode, we deserved at least to see more of that character. This episode seemed like a lot of backtracking/sidestepping.

  2. Onslaught

    Apparently Fukanaga had about a day and a half to prep the shot which makes it even more impressive. He had one or two edit points to make it seem like one shot if something wrong happened but he did indeed confirm it was all one take. One of the most amazing things I’ve seen on television for sure.

  3. Bryan

    It may have had the least amount of forward progress to the plot of any episode so far, but this show continues to really impress me. It’ll be a crime if this show doesn’t win Emmys all the way around (although I don’t know how they could give one to both McConaughey and Harrelson as they’d probably both be in the lead actor category!)

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