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

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas