True Detective – Recap: The Iron Crusader
Recap video and review of True Detective – Episode 4 – Who Goes There:
Well, those last ten minutes was the best thing I’ve seen on TV so far in 2014, and may have bested just about anything I saw in 2013, from a pure filmmaking perspective. Shot as one, unbroken six-minute take, the climax to “Who Goes There” represents the pinnacle of the television medium, as director Cary Fukunaga and cinematographer Adam Arkapaw crafted a sequence as visually stunning as it was dramatically tense. This is to say nothing of what the actors and stunt performers accomplished with their incredible work: yes, the sequence was impeccably blocked, but it took a willing cast to bring it to visceral, pulse-pounding life. If “Who Goes There” had done nothing else but delivered that sequence, it would be the best episode of True Detective so far. But “Who Goes There” manages to pack in an exceptional amount of character development and intrigue as we come to the halfway point of the season. This week, True Detective stakes its claim as the best new series to grace TV in the 2013-2014 broadcast season.
So Marty (Woody Harrelson) and Rust (Matthew McConaughey) are on the hunt for Reggie Ledoux, the prime suspect in the Dora Lange case, and the search for the elusive, violent ex-con necessitates making contact with some less than savory individuals. In going to prison to visit Lange’s ex, Charlie (Brad Carter), Rust ends up revealing to the convict that he may have been indirectly responsible for Dora’s murder. As Charlie explains, he shared some explicit photos Dora had taken for him with Reggie, essentially putting Dora on the madman’s radar. Apparently, Reggie Ledoux is so crazy he even has Charlie unnerved — at least until he learns his former cellmate may have killed Dora. Carter hasn’t had much to do in the role of Charlie Lange, but he’s tremendously effective here, selling the grief and outrage that accompanies the knowledge that someone you knew, and even trusted (at some level), has murdered someone you loved. But beyond Charlie’s outburst, this sequence has the purpose of directing Marty and Rust to the next person they need to track down, as Charlie gives them the name of an associate of Reggie’s, Tyrone Weems (Todd Giebenhain). Marty tracks Weems down and coaxes him into giving up Reggie’s location by shoving a gun in his face. The elusive Reggie Ledoux is apparently cooking meth for a Texas biker gang known as The Iron Crusaders, a name Rust knows all too well.
It turns out Rust has a history with the Iron Crusaders from his time as a member of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area force. His familiarity with the group makes him the perfect candidate for an undercover operation, but Rust is concerned about executive meddling from his boss, as this is a very delicate operation that could go sideways if too many cooks are in the proverbial kitchen. So Rust goes “off book,” taking a leave of absence from the force in order to go undercover. He covers his ass by making up an excuse about visiting his dying father in Alaska, and it’s a story Marty and Rust both stick to in 2012. Detective Gilbough (Michael Potts) and Detective Papania (Tory Kittles) both suspect that Marty and Rust are concealing the truth during their respective interviews, but they have no real proof. Of course, just because Gilbough and Papania don’t know the truth doesn’t mean we, the audience, won’t have it recounted for us: Rust’s plan involves giving himself a makeover to look like a druggie, covering his arm in fake track marks, and stealing top of the line cocaine from the evidence locker to give him an in with the Iron Crusaders. It’s a development that is indicative of Rust’s more cavalier methods of police work, in contrast to Marty’s more traditional, reserved approach. “Who Goes There” thrives by further displaying the equal parts combative and supportive relationship the partners have with one another; and, in a fitting touch, the episode uses the implosion of Marty’s personal life to build on that relationship.
Marty’s mistress, Lisa (Alexandra Daddario), is offended that he refuses to apologize to her for his outburst in “The Locked Room”, and so she decides to hit Marty where it hurts. She goes directly to Maggie (Michelle Monaghan) and fesses up, revealing the entire affair. Disgusted with her husband’s actions, Maggie packs her things, takes their daughters, and leaves the house, and it’s a pretty potent scene for Woody Harrelson when Marty comes home to an empty house and a goodbye note, as he just falls to pieces in rage and heartache. Marty attempts to save the marriage by tracking Maggie down at the hospital where she works, but he only makes things worse, creating a scene by refusing to leave Maggie alone during her graveyard shift. It gets so bad that Rust ultimately comes to get him, preventing things from getting violent between Marty and the guards and staff tasked with keeping him away from his wife. Left with nowhere else to stay, Marty moves in with Rust, and for a moment, it almost seems like these two antagonistic partners might actually become friends. But the episode doesn’t go that far, as Rust makes it clear that he doesn’t actually care about Marty’s problems (although he does track down Maggie on Marty’s behalf, and tries to make a case for why she should give him another chance, but he has no luck; still, it says a lot about the development of Rust and Marty’s partnership that he would try at all). With Marty left with nothing but his career, he goes all-in on Rust’s plan, and it’s just as well, since Rust will need all the help he can get.
Rust’s plan involves going undercover as a representative of a Mexican drug cartel looking to offer cocaine for meth.
He executes this plan by infiltrating the Iron Crusaders’ hangout to talk business. And he gains their trust almost immediately, thanks to the quality of the cocaine he offers as a gift (and as proof of his drug cartel ties). And so the crew agrees to work with Rust (going by the name “Crash,” a poignant choice given his late daughter’s automotive cause of death), under the condition that he helps them raid a nearby stash house in the hood. The Iron Crusaders (along with Rust) invade the projects dressed as police officers, and what follows is a sequence of tight-fisted tension, as everything that possibly could go wrong does. Rust tries to keep everyone under control so that cooler heads will prevail, and he even does a quick sweep of the house to check for innocent bystanders. When he comes across a little boy, Rust acts quickly by getting the kid into the bathtub and telling him to stay put, presumably to avoid stray fire. As the Iron Crusaders raid the house, the gang members being held at gunpoint grow more belligerent. Rust tries to keep the peace by pleading with the bikers not to fire, but one of the Iron Crusaders chooses not to listen, and all hell breaks loose, kicking off one of the most brazen, daring, bravura filmmaking sequences in television history.
With bullets flying in every direction, Rust grabs his contact and drags him into a nearby house to call Marty and set up their extraction. The camera doesn’t cut away as Rust runs from one house to another, beating up gang members along the way, and keeping track of his terrified, bloodied Iron Crusader contact. The projects are thick with the smoke of gunfire, and danger is literally lurking around every corner, as Rust has to keep he and his contact concealed while gang members comb the block in search of Iron Crusaders. The distant sound of police cars are overcome only by the noise of the police helicopter overhead, and the gunshots ringing from every side street. Rust drags his contact to a nearby boulevard where Marty is waiting, and they speed off amidst the chaos. It’s an absolutely exhausting, pulse-pounding sequence that cannot be done justice in words. It’s a sequence for which no amount of hyperbole will suffice. Utterly stunning.
True Detective really has made a hell of a case for the Emmy with “Who Goes There”, an episode as rich in character as it is thick with intensity. Few dramas in recent memory have created moments of such sustained tension as the show-closing sequence tonight. If True Detective never does better than this, the show will have still been well worth the investment. But since we’re only midway through the season, I’m already frothing at the prospect of what could be in store.