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

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

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

John Rentoul
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...