I’ve never really been much of a philosophizer. I took one intro-level course on free will for a week, switched into a meaningless class on existentialism, and never looked back. Sardonicism probably best characterizes my behavior, but I don’t invest in any moral schools of thought because I go by a quote I heard in some bad Ryan Reynolds movie: don’t take life too seriously, you’ll never get out alive.
There’s an aspect of HBO’s new show True Detective that transcends the gothic overtones, grim Louisiana landscape, Alexandra Daddario’s cannons, and even that magnificent tracking shot at the end of episode four. It’s Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle, a man so dark, introspective, and morally repugnant that you surprisingly can’t help but empathize with him. He exhibits a rare kind of sadness that’s corrupted by the horrors he’s endured yet he’s sensitive to everything that surrounds him. He also happens to hold a philosophy we can all learn from.
What we see in the pilot is Cohle and his partner, Hart, holding starkly contrasting outlooks on existence. Hart’s is wholesome and simple: “past a certain age, a man without a family can be a bad thing.” Cohle’s viewpoint is pretty damn complicated: self-awareness, or our ability to feel special, is a tragic Darwinian mistake and therefore everyone should willingly cease the continuation of our species.
After watching the first four episodes of True Detective, I’m sadly starting to understand Cohle more and more with each episode. I never dove into conspiracies or thought about what makes us human until I watched this show. It brings to mind a moment from Six Feet Under, another one of HBO’s rays of sunshine, where the two lead funeral directors prepare a viewing for a woman who was dead for a week before anyone found her. The main character, Nate, looks at the woman’s bluish decomposed body and says, “We really are just biology, aren’t we?”
It’s abundantly clear that Cohle is a nihilist. Nihilism is generally associated with despair or depression, which isn’t far from the truth. Series creator Nic Pizzolatto is a smart dude who loves weird fiction and actually took the most recent episode’s name from a chapter in one of his favorite books. “Who Goes There,” perfectly summarizes nihilism, “Why should there be something rather than nothing?”
Why are we more sentient than other animals? Why do we have to feel special to feel alive? What happened deep down in the roots of the tree of life that led to us being the only species to have a sense of uniqueness? Essentially, why are we something rather than nothing?
These are things philosophy majors wearing baja hoodies bring up at cocktail parties, along with their elaborate references to historical thinkers who probably never existed. These are also things twenty-something clichés tend to contemplate because we excessively bitch about our future. As the majority of us transform into mindless office drones for the next 30 to 40 years, it’ll become very easy to understand that we are not special. Each of us will be a cubicle amidst a thousand others, all competing for mediocrity and marginal career mobility.
We’d think Cohle was batshit crazy if we didn’t see how observant and articulate he is throughout the show. This is what’s so compelling about him as a character: you can’t determine whether he’s a genius or a lunatic because oftentimes the two go hand in hand. None of us are gonna walk around campus spouting off the same crazy psychobabble as Cohle, because he’s an unrealistic TV character. But deep down in the cockles of our hearts, we can’t deny that he begs plenty of stimulating biological questions that mustn’t go unaddressed.
Anyway, philosophy is always uncertain, but one thing surely isn’t: this show is the shit. The anthological miniseries has made its triumphant return simply because they can convey all of these troubling questions in a short, eerie format. The final stretch is coming. We’ll just have to wait and see.
A-Mac is a regular columnist for BroBible.