Season one of True Detective may be finished, but questions over its depiction of women remain

Last night's season finale of True Detective wrapped up another huge hit for HBO, but there's more than just one piece of the puzzle missing...

Share

Now the first season of True Detective is over, I’m launching an investigation of my own. Just like the case that Marty Hart and Rust Cohle take on, it involves missing persons, and looks into something that has been going on for decades. Many have tried to solve it, but only with limited success. It’s a case that still remains to be cracked.

Who are these missing people? Not children, but strong female characters. Where are they in the show? It’s not just Hart and Rust  - all the cops are male, as well as the criminals they chase (and occasionally shoot in the head). The only important roles women fill in True Detective are the betrayed wife, the prostitute, and the mistress.  

The main suspect in this case  has already been identified, although it wasn’t hard to find him - he had the gall to put his name in the opening credits. He’s Nico Pizzolatto, True Detective’s creator and writer.

The HBO crime show - the season finale of which aired on Sky Atlantic on Sunday night – has been hailed as the best thing on television. Last week The Daily Telegraph suggested that it is leading to an “undumbing” of American TV.

But is Pizzolatto really that smart? There’s not much you can say against True Detective when it comes to the way it is shot, or the gripping performances Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson give. But for all its cleverness, True Detective completely fails when it comes to women.

It may be held up as a complex crime mystery, but as Emily Nussbaum,The New Yorker’s TV critic, writes: “You might take a close look at the show’s opening credits, which suggest a simpler tale: one about heroic male outlines and closeups of female asses.”

Unfortunately, this problem persists beyond the opening credits. Among the show’s great strengths, its depiction of women consistently hits a bum-note. Which is fitting, as the show seems to have a bit of a fixation on bums. The first important (and living) female character we are introduced to is Marty’s wife. Although it’s not much of an introduction: we are greeted by a lingering shot of her well-toned glutes first, and her one-dimensional character later.

 

Midway through the season, Cohle manages to get a girlfriend, although we barely hear her talk. And throughout the season’s first few episodes, the two detectives solicit a number of prostitutes. It may be for information, not sex, but the women’s singular role as suppliers is only ever challenged once in passing by a brothel madam. She tells Hart and Cohle that their job is actually empowering ("“Suddenly you don't own it the way you thought you did,” she says). But neither the two men nor Pizzolatto seem to listen or care, and the show goes on.

During one sex scene between Hart and his mistress, the camera lingers on two ceramic angel and devil dolls. The suggestion is that Hart is giving in to temptation, but it also serves as a useful image of the show’s treatment of women. They are either sexy angels, dangerous devils or both, as Maggie proves when she decides to avenge Hart for his infidelity.

Girls and Game of Thrones both continue to prove that HBO is capable of producing great female characters. So it’s a shame that Pizzolatto didn’t feel the need to continue the trend. He was forced to defend himself recently when one viewer tweeted: “If True Detective looked at feminine characters with the same lens as masculine, it would be PERFECT & MIND-BLOWING”.  In a (now deleted) tweet, he responded: “One of the detriments of only having two POV characters, both men (a structural necessity). Next season…”

But why should we have to wait until next season? Hannah Horvarth and Daenerys Targaryen aren't being created out of nowhere. They’re all part of a wider demand from the public for believable, three-dimensional women on TV, and have been greeted with huge acclaim.

In his tweet, Pizzolatto may have left us some clues, but until the next season of True Detective airs, the mystery of the missing women in the show remains an open case.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The bustling Accident & Emergency ward at Milton Keynes Hospital  

The NHS needs the courage to adapt and survive

Nigel Edwards
 

Letter from the Sub-Editor: Canada is seen as a peaceful nation, but violent crime isn’t as rare as you might think

Jeffrey Simpson
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?