With True Detective‘s 8-episode first season wrapped, we at Psycho Drive-In thought we’d take some time to look back at the series and try to tease out some meanings and explore some creative interpretations of what has been laid before us. Some are deadly serious. Some are inventive and bizarre. Some are straight-up reviews. Here’s your fourth Post Mortem. By Allison and Josh Mattern. Joshua Mattern: Okay. So, since we’re having a dialogue, there’s really no organic way to explain what we’re doing, so I’ll just say it: I’m Josh, and my wife Allison and I have decided to have a conversation about the portrayal of various women in True Detective. Allison Mattern: After reading articles about True Detective (because I was obsessed), it seemed to me that there was some criticism about the portrayal of the female characters on the show. I hold the opinion that their portrayal was very deliberate to show the way that men use and abuse women. This is a very “macho” show, and I think that there is an overall theme of machismo and what it takes to be a “man”- at least when it comes to Marty’s character, which I find very interesting. He has this duality where on one hand he is overprotective of women- when he beats up the kids in the jail after they’re caught with his daughter, giving money to the girl at the brothel- but on the other hand he just destroys women’s lives- in the case of Maggie and his first girlfriend on the side, the court reporter. Josh: I think that assumes a certain level of complexity about the show that, by the end, it demonstrated it wasn’t always capable of delivering on. I mean, you can say that it’s a show about men and these particular men and how they treat the women in their lives–but that also has nothing to do with random, prolonged boob shots. Allison: That is very true about the boob shots. They did last a LONG time. An uncomfortably long time. Especially because all of the sex on the show seemed so exploitive. The writers did paint Marty’s girlfriends as dirty whores- it can definitely be argued that Marty was painted as a dirty whore himself, though. The phone call from the last girlfriend, the one he originally met at the brothel and gave money to, where she mentioned anal sex- that just seemed gratuitous to me. It can be said that the only way the women on the show showed ANY power was through manipulative sex. I mean, look at Maggie. That was her one moment of strength, the one way she knew she could get out of her marriage, by “tricking” Rust into having sex with her and using that against Marty. Women as sex objects is definitely a played out stereotype that this show did not try to dispel. I think you’re right in that the writers were very myopic about these two main characters and didn’t seem to concern themselves much with the supporting cast of women. Josh: Here’s a thought, though–how much does it really matter that they didn’t concern themselves with the supporting women in the cast? What I mean is, the idea of women-as-objects in television and movies is in no way unique to True Detective. I’m wondering if what happened here is really two-fold: First, ALL the secondary characters, outside of Rust and Marty, were two dimensional. The way you show a male character is made of cardboard is by having him be a redneck half-wit, or by his angrily slamming his desk and saying “Give me your badge” (as in when Rust was suspended); and the way you show a female character as two dimensional, for better or for worse (okay, it’s worse), is to hypersexualize her. I said it was two-fold but I need to breathe a minute. Allison: I think I disagree with you, because I feel like the women were purposefully made into sex objects. It wasn’t an “oh gee, I’m a man and can’t help myself. That’s just the way I see women” mistake. Though I think that purposefulness could only come from a man’s brain, if that makes sense. I do think that the writers wanted to show women as abused and mistreated by men- the brothel, the students at the Tuttle ministry schools, how Marty treats women. In a sense, how Marty treats women is just an extension of this overall attitude. Josh: The Maggie thing is about all the evidence I need that this show got way, way, way too much credit as being super-out-there-ridiculously-smart. The idea that she could just go to Rust, turn on her–what?–feminine charm, and he would immediately betray not just Marty’s trust, but also his own sense of decency…the idea that that would actually happen is just laughable. Yes, we did just watch a Dateline episode where the woman cheated on her husband with her husband’s brother, but we’re not talking about the kind of people they build Dateline episodes around. These are smart, supposedly complex characters. And the concept of a woman like Maggie having that sort of “power” is the sort of thing that a man who has no understanding of women whatsoever would come up with; but further than that, it’s from the mind of a man who THINKS he has a better-than-average understanding of women who actually has absolutely no understanding of women. I’m just saying. I don’t care how pretty she is. My partner’s wife comes over and turns on the whatever-the-hell it is, I’m not giving in to it, and it has nothing to do with some sort of feminine power she has. Allison: I’m getting the sense that you’re a little bitter about the whole True Detective experience after watching the finale. You bring up a great point though about the whole “Maggie seduces Rust” plot twist. It just didn’t work, and I think that’s another example of using women when it’s convenient instead of being true to the characters. Rust was way too rigid and his ethical standards were way too high to have followed through on that. Joshua: Could it be argued that Rust was really just spiraling out of control, and that’s why he gave in to Maggie? That it was, in fact, consistent with where his character was heading? Allison: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think he lost control at all. He’s the only one that was in control all along, and in really sharp contrast to Marty: Marty saw those two little kids locked away in that dungeon and immediately shoots a man in the head. Marty finds out his daughter is messing around with older guys and beats the living hell out of them. But Rust was always calm, and collected, until that moment with Maggie. Even when Rust is taking drugs and joining a biker gang, it is completely calculated; he has a purpose. He has the end goal of finding Reggie Ledoux. When he quits the police force and starts drinking, he’s not going on a downward spiral, he’s focusing in on his ultimate goal- finding the Yellow King killer and exposing the conspiracy behind it. Even the bar he works at is strategic. The owner is the guy he uses as his sharpshooter to keep the sheriff in line. The sex with Maggie was just too abrupt and out of character to be believable. But the writers needed a big conflict that tore Rust and Marty apart, and what better conflict than one over a woman. Josh: Of course it was a woman. What else would have the power to tear those two apart? Why, none other than the mysterious, nefarious temptress! Allison: Exactly! Thank you for helping me to articulate that. I want to go back to what I said about the finale though because I know for a fact that you’re bitter! I happened to like the finale much more than you, but I’ll let you state why you hated it so I can argue with your points. Josh: I heard the creator of the show, Nic Pizzolatto, give an interview a couple weeks ago. He said that you don’t lie to your audience. Well, to be brief, because this is really all about the ladies, he did a whole lot of lying during the show’s run. I have a list…a very long list. But it can really be summed up in one point. Marty’s daughter simply is not allowed to paint the same star symbol that shows up in so many other, plot-crucial areas, without it meaning something. Allison: What do you mean? Joshua: Throughout the show, we hear of the Yellow King, and the black stars, and spirals, and all this other mythology. Among other things, we see a shot, in the last episode, of a photograph of grown-up Audrey. She’s standing beside a painting she’s done, and the painting clearly depicts the black stars we’ve seen earlier—in the journal of the first murder victim. It’s just way too big a coincidence to be chalked up to…well, coincidence. Allison: So you think that the show was building up to things that it didn’t deliver on? There is one HUGE part that actually pissed me off- it still deals with women, so I guess it’s okay to discuss. Why were the girls playing with their Barbies by making them look exactly like one of the satanic rituals? They even show Marty looking at the Barbies quizzically. Why was the daughter in trouble for drawing the sexual pictures? Geez, come to think of it, even the female children are oversexualized! I thought it had a point, but that not leading to anything just seems like bad writing to me. To get back to the topic of women, I do feel like there’s a little bit of redemption at the end when you see how pathetic Marty’s life is. He’s shown looking at Match.com but still all alone since his split with Maggie. His womanizing got him a lonely existence in the end, and that’s very clear when his family comes to visit him in the hospital and he starts to cry. Yes, he’s upset about the experience he just went through with Rust, but I think they did a good job of showing that he’s really crying because he’s missed out on a life with his wife and his daughters. Joshua: Yeah, but they did come back to him. So, really, what negative consequences did he suffer for his actions? Allison: They came back to him for that moment only, which makes his loss that more severe because he sees what he’s missing. Maggie is remarried to someone else (the camera lingers on her wedding ring at one point) and he has pretty much no relationship with either daughter. And they all seem to be better because of it. Once Marty was out of their lives, they seemed to thrive. Josh: Actually, I do think you’re right. But I also think it can be argued that the show thinks it was all worth it. All his “courageous” sacrifices led to stopping a dangerous serial killer. That’s what heroes do–they make sacrifices! Allison: Agreed. In the end, after all the horrible things Marty did throughout the show, his vigilantism, his womanizing, his drinking, he is still raised up as HERO because he nabbed the killer. Josh: Yeah, but they do have that news report near the end of last episode—where they basically say it was just one guy, no conspiracy, nothing to see here, move along. That has to deflate Marty and Rust. Allison: Still, though, you get the impression that even though some of the other people in the conspiracy got away with it, Marty and Rust still did their job. They got their guy. Marty even says pretty much that exact statement. And you get the sense that Rust finally feels a sense of closure as well, possibly? He ends on an arguably positive note when he talks about the light penetrating the darkness- I think that the “light” can be seen as Marty and Rust having an impact, no matter how small, and Rust does seem to take solace in this. Josh: I’m the man here, so I get to have the last word. Allison: Ha, yeah right. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related 2 Responses JFew March 28, 2014 Guys- thanks for a great discussion. One point about the women in TD. Did you notice how the nonsexualized women were portrayed? Gnarled, blinding headaches, munchausen, memory loss/dementia, possible retardation and incest. This aspect goes easily unnoticed but speaks volumes. Coupled with the sexing up of women and children, this aspect is the most suspect in terms of outright hatred. Similar to how Seth MacFarlane reduces powerful actresses to ‘We Saw Your Boobs’, girls/women can only be written or envisioned as ‘sexy parts’ and apparently older women are so disfigured as to pose no threat and actually receive punishment for being a woman and/or being a woman whose value is no longer her sex. Log in to Reply Becca Grayson March 28, 2014 Nice discussion! There is so much to elaborate on in terms of TD’s treatment of women. I want to focus on image: The opening credits include a stripper, a porn star (who did not know her image was being used), a woman’s backside kneeling into spiky heels and another backside, presumably the victim’s. The corpse on display for way too long, Rust’s drawing of her ass and calling her body a ‘paraphilic love map’, the female characters (who were of attractiveness age) getting naked. What is the point of the woman’s ass kneeling into spiky heels? They fought for that image to be in their opening sequence. Let’s just talk about the big vagina they keep staring at. (the stick wreath on the tree) I also want to get graphic for a moment (sorry) but all women’s orifices are represented, i.e. every way you can f**k a woman…vaginal, anal, oral and skull (“I will “skull**k you”) that Marty screams to Lisa. It’s not just because Lisa has great boobs and the camera cut her head off as it zooms in on them…it’s the totality of it ALL. I think you’re right, Josh that Marty is still considered our hero so it was all worth it. And Allison, that Maggie was reduced to her ability to manipulate RUST with her all-powerful avenging p**sy. 🙂 Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.