By Jennifer L. Knox | Press Play March 10, 2014 at 1:17PM
The stars of last night’s finale of True Detective were Errol Childress’ Cary Grant accent, his mentally challenged stepsister, his creepy labyrinth, and Rust’s epiphany about love in the universe—which sucked up air time at the expense of about 90% of the case details—details that, for my money, were far more interesting than Rust’s epiphany. Will Rust exact revenge on the Tuttle family? Will Marty and Rust continue to fight crime together as private dicks? Why was Billy’s mouth sewn shut? If he was dead, why was he so well-preserved? Will we ever find out why Errol had those burn marks on his face? What was the song Errol was whistling? While speculative pairings for Season 2 abound on Twitter, actor Matthew McConaughey recently told a reporter, “We won't be back for season two…Season one was finite. Eight episodes, that's the [end of conversation].”
So how are you going to quench that thirst for a tall glass of hardboiled noir topped with a side order of pedophile rings, smothered in police corruption until season 2—if there is one? Try Red Riding, based on David Peace’s books, The Red-Riding Quartet. Set against a backdrop of the Yorkshire Ripper murders, Red Riding’s narrative complexity combined with grizzly brutality gave birth to a new subset of hardboiled crime dubbed “Yorkshire Noir.” Three of Peace’s books were made into episodes for Britain's Channel 4, which ran in 2009 and were released theatrically in the states in 2010.
True Detective stole big from Red Riding. It’s a far more savage depiction of police corruption and poverty with fewer allusions to the occult and philosophy. The three episodes run from 1.5-1.75 hours each. With all the rewinding you’ll do to make sure you caught the dialogue, your total viewing time will be about the same as True Detective—though Red Riding can’t compete with the time suck of poking around Reddit for Yellow King theories or Googling “capuchon Mardi Gras.” Sorry. Nothing will fill that hole.
Warning: Spoilers abound below, but with Red Riding’s thick-as-Hasty-pudding accents, it helps to have a leg up. You can read the books first, watch with subtitles, precede/follow your viewing with episode synopses, or all of the above—the way some people do with Game of Thrones. It’s worth it.
1. Three Is A Magic Number
Both True Detective and Red Riding jump through three different time periods. In True Detective: 1995, 2002, and 2012; in Red Riding: 1976, 1980, and 1983. The time jumps and fractured narrative throughout True Detective, and in the second two episodes of Red Riding allow us to witness the evolution of the characters—as well as their cognitive dissonance. We see the mistakes they’re making as they make them—and that they’re telling lies as they tell them. We watch Marty give the court reporter a rim job in the past, while his voice over in the present lectures, “A man without a family can be a bad thing.” But as Rust will tell you, linear time’s for squares.
Time jumps give the storylines more ambiguity and slipperiness. In both, every crucial, case-breaking detail has been reported to, and ignored by, the cops. Files and evidence have been lost, hidden, and destroyed. But because we’re time jumping, if it’s an important detail, we’ll touch on it again and again. Most detective stories trot out their flashbacks at the end, like Murder She Wrote, which always made clues found in the linear present glint and yell, “Look at me! I’m a broken fireplace poker!”
2. Location, Location, Location
Place is as crucial in both True Detective and Red Riding as any of the stories’ characters. For True Detective, the hurricane-ravaged bayou landscape of Louisiana reminds us all that men and their machinations inevitably fall victim to nature’s insatiable maw. Think of all those long aerial shots of the water slicing the land to lace. If you stand still long enough, kudzu’s gonna choke you out.
Red Riding takes place in the green-grey drizzle of Yorkshire. Historically, the land’s awash in blood. One long shot of a doomed little girl wandering home along Yorkshire’s ancient, narrow streets—flanked by dilapidated shacks that look like Charlie Bucket’s house in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, from which a rheumy set of eyes peers out a toaster-sized window—says it all: these angelic little moppets have been fodder for the grinding stone from time immemorial.
3. Cops Gone Wild
When Rust says, “I'm police. I can do terrible things to people with impunity,” it means he’s capable of doing bad things. When a bunch of cops boisterously toast, “To the North! Where we do what we bloody want!” we know they are doing bad things.
In both shows, the gray concrete towers and power lines of factories and plants loom in the background, reminding us that police and pedophiles aren’t the only ones killing off the residents. The poor are prey; cops, religious jerkoffs, and corporations are hunting them for sport. No one’s watching. No one cares. Bludgeoned on the ground, choked by the air.
5. Thick Regional Accents
Certainly, “With all the dick swagger you roll you can't spot crazy pussy?” was one of True Detective’s shiniest gems, but if Rianne Olivier’s crab trappin granddad’s “Ehbuhdy dink dey gone beh sometin dey nat” made you swoon, Red Riding is for you. These lads are not only slogging through Yorkshirese, they’re hardcore mumblers and furtive whisperers to boot. Subtitles help, but David Morrissey (the Governor for The Walking Dead and Time Lord Jason Lake on Doctor Who) is especially incomprehensible—yet one of the most compelling characters in the series. You just gotta sit back and let his deee-licious chocolate-colored corduroy suit and tan tie do the talking.
6. ‘Staches Make the Men
As do sideburns, beards, mutton chops, bugger grips, mouth mirkens, and chin chocolate. In Red Riding and True Detective’s sea of face pubes, it’s the clean-shaven characters who seem out-of-step with the world and estranged from their own consciences. As 2010 Rust gets in the Gregg Allman face lace race , his perceptions of the case and himself grow clearer (“I know who I am. And after all these years, there's a victory in that”) whereas clean-cut Marty doesn’t know who he really is until he cries in his hospital bed. In Red Riding, the squeaky-cleanest character, Assistant Chief Constable Peter Hunter, is thoroughly despised by everyone, including the woman he had an affair with and wants to have an affair with again (she really doesn’t want to).
In True Detective, bodies are adorned with deer antlers; in Red Riding, severed swan wings are sewn onto a young victims’ back—and wolves, pigs, and rats figure prominently.
8. Ritualistic Abuse & Murder
I was glad the glimpse we saw of the video tape recording of Marie Fontenot’s murder was mostly blocked by Marty’s back—and the grainy black and white snippet we could see looked like an early episode of Dark Shadows. Most of the violence on True Detective was “witnessed” through the retelling of people’s stories. We weren’t forced to watch violence happen—except for shooting Reggie LeDoux—and damn, that felt good. We saw the crime scenes and the survivors—not the act of violence, but the aftermath. While Red Riding normally excels in the violence department, it turns the camera away in a similar scene to the one where Marty discovering the kidnapped children in the storage shed* at Reggie LeDoux’s cook house. Red Riding skips the gory visuals on that one, too. The violence perpetuated against children in Red Riding is seen only in one dimly lit flashback**, which is as haunting as that scene from The Shining with the man in the tuxedo and the person (?) in the bear suit.
9. Transsexual Prostitute Survivors of Ritualistic Abuse & Murder
BJ and Johnny Joanie: the boys who got away grew up very, very gay (and one of them lives in a storage shed*). Just once, I’d like to see a show in which the boy who survives ritualistic abuse grows up to be Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Guy Fieri or someone like that.
10. *Storage Sheds & Garages (pronounced gairijiz)
When you need to lay low. How low? Like Jim Nabors singing “The Impossible Dream” low.
11. Ludicrously One-Dimensional Female Characters
Red Riding and True Detective are both Bechdel Bombs. Aside from the trailer park madam, (“Girls walk this earth all the time screwing for free. Why is it you add business to the mix and boys like you can't stand the thought? I'll tell you: It’s ‘cause suddenly you don't own it, the way you thought you did.”), the women characters in True Detective are fairly brainless: they’re dead, sluts, dead sluts, guileless children, nagging wives, or old, sick women.
When Maggie tries to break out of her dutifully duped wife role by having an affair with Rust, he gives her a taste of some Real Man Lovin’—without all that fairy tale frosting on top that Marty’s been keeping her down with. And how does that Real Man Lovin’ taste to Maggie? Like licking a Port Authority payphone: totally scary and gross. So she pulls her little pink panties back on and high tails it home—implying good women can’t handle real male sexuality: it’s too gross. Eeeeeew! Which reminds me of that Louis CK bit about men being naturally besieged by disgusting sexual thoughts:
“Women try to compete. [in a woman's voice] ‘Well, I'm a pervert. You don't know. I have really sick sexual thoughts.’ No, you have no idea. You have no idea. See, you get to have those thoughts. I have to have them. You're a tourist in sexual perversion. I'm a prisoner there. You're Jane Fonda on a tank. I'm John McCain in the hut. It's a nightmare. I can't lift my arms.”
The most developed female character in Red Riding is the stunned mother of one of victims who’s playing both sides of the fence and leaking information to her daughter’s wealthy killer. She’s a blond, breathy, sad, soft-focus nitwit. The other is a medium who wails a lot. I like her, but she does indeed wail a lot.
Is it possible to create a similar police corruption/pedophile ring premise with a female protagonist? Sure. Jane Campion did it in Top of the Lake, along with bringing other very unique female characters to the story (Holly Hunter plays a character I’ve never seen anywhere) and lots of unexpected twists. It’s another great show to alleviate True Detective withdraw, but Top of the Lake becomes much more about its cop protagonist (Elisabeth Moss)—and her intimate relationships—than the criminals she’s chasing. And it lacks the estrangement of noir.
True Detective and Red Riding are pure noir—which the Oxford Dictionary defines as fiction characterized by cynicism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity. It’s a genre in which women, historically, have been double-D wooden window dressing. There’s such a complete absence of actualized female characters in both True Detective and Red Riding—in the midst of such intelligent writing—it’s beyond oversight. It’s a kind of willful blindness: because Marty (and most of the other men on the show) can’t see women as three-dimensional characters, let’s not have any. But then again, how many evolved women would be caught dead in the storyline of True Detective or Red Riding? There’s a reason why smart women do not attend dog fights. True Detective might have a season 2, and a chance to redeem itself. I could easily see the cast of American Horror Story: Coven eatin’ them Tuttle boys alive. Throw Patricia Arquette in there, and cue a Cajun rendition of the theme from Cops.
12. Mentally Challenged Men with Physically-challenged Testicles
If you think women get the short end of the stick in True Detective and Red Riding, try being a mentally challenged man. True Detective’s Burt with his bowl cut and Red Riding’s Michael Mishkin with his finger twisting twitch share 1) a childlike inability to withstand the violence of poverty, and 2) nonfunctional testicles. They’ve been unburdened with all that scary sexuality simmering under Cole’s surface and right on top of Marty’s. In True Detective Burt has been maimed by criminals, whereas in Red Riding, Michael’s disfigurement is congenital, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t suffered at the hands of cops.
This is a key difference in the shows: when Marty’s beating the snot out of the skate punks, you can kind of understand why. They did double-team his daughter, after all. But in Red Riding, the violence is incomprehensible. No one beats Yorkshire cops at beating the shit out of people; they’re sadists, and the greatest source of the city’s pain—if not at their own hands, then by omission, by allowing others—through their wealth or influence—to inflict pain on the little people. As Sonchai, the Buddhist cop in Bangkok 8, tells us, cops are merely a few incarnations away from being criminals. Red Riding’s got a lot more bad cops on the payroll. Even the good ones are shits.
13. Kings & Crowns
Red Riding’s labyrinth can’t hold a candle to the Yellow King’s, but we learn that the same kind of games have been played there for many years. **“Mr. Piggott is king today. You be nice to Mr. Piggott.”
Jennifer L. Knox is the author of three books of poems, The Mystery of the Hidden Driveway, Drunk by Noon, and A Gringo Like Me—all available from Bloof Books—and Holliday, a chapbook of poems written in the voice of Doc Holliday. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and four times in the Best American Poetry series. She is at work on her first novel.