HBO’s latest tour de force, True Detective, is making waves in America, but hits a major road block when it comes to representation of female characters. Kate Bonynge reports.
Warning: contains spoilers.
Nic Pizzolatto‘s anthological crime drama, starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, has only just premiered in the UK on Sky Atlantic but is nearing its denouement across the pond. For those of you who have escaped the fanfare that has surrounded its release, the show takes place across multiple timelines as our flawed heroes Rustin Cohle (McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Harrelson) document their search for an elusive Louisiana serial killer. The series spans 17 years and opens in present day as the two unreliable narrators find themselves relating the story of their biggest case to two cops with video cameras and a hidden agenda.
Press and audience alike have been charmed by the shows cinematic style, stellar acting and stunning Louisiana scenery and I, too, have found the show to be a breath of fresh air amidst the slew of identikit crime dramas that litter the airwaves. The Guardian staunchly declares there are “only good things” about this dark murder mystery, The Daily Telegraphlauds it as “the most ambitious TV drama for a long time” and The Sunday Times’ Culture section calls it “intriguing, smartly scripted and reminiscent to a degree of Twin Peaks”. I initially agreed with them. Then I began noticing a theme running through the series, one that has niggled at the back of my mind and prevented me from soaking in the brilliance of Pizzolatto’s spectacular whodunit: where are all the women? The fully explored women, I mean; meaty characters with personalities that the viewer can identify with, not the parade of naked bodies, forgotten victims, a nagging wife and two neglected daughters that we’ve been given.
From the show’s opening credits – brooding shots of McConaughey and Harrelson interspersed with scantily clad women – through to the plethora of strippers, mistresses and victims that make up the show’s female characters, one thing is certain; True Detective is not going to pass the Bechdel test. Not even close. There’s been a lot of debate already about the show’s depiction of its female characters and their presentation as one dimensional sex objects, most notably Emily Nussbaum’s piece in The New Yorker where she speaks of her disdain and boredom at the show’s presentation of women as “wives and sluts and daughters”. Slate’s Willa Paskin, who agrees with Nussbaum to a degree, has responded with claims that the show’s flagrant sexism is self-aware and conducive to the core plot. She believes it is not the show that is treating women badly, the male characters are…
Martin Hart and Rustin Cole (left to right) stand in front of some rushes on a windy day, looking perplexed. Martin looks into the distance on his right, his hand under his tie (which has blown to an angle), while Rustin looks out into the distance ahead of him. Image via Sky and also used and adapted for the forthcoming DVD for Season one (TBC).