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Recap: Explosive 'True Detective' Season 1, Episode 4 'Who Goes There'

by Kevin Jagernauth
February 9, 2014 10:00 PM
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Over the course of three episodes, "True Detective" has been a steadily ratcheting the tension as Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) track down a serial killer that is haunting the surreal South like a monster. Last week's "The Locked Room" concluded with a goosebump-raising closing shot of the wanted, parole-breaking ex-convict Reggie Ledoux as he prowled across some as yet discovered landscape, as the cops tried to find him. He's the man Martin and Rust think is good for a number of murders, and kicking off "Who Goes There," they're on the hunt.

Their first stop is with Dora Lange's ex-husband, Charlie (Brad Carter), and unlike their first conversation with him, this one has results. Charlie used to roll with Reggie, and moreover shared with him some Polaroids Dora had taken for Charlie to look at when he went inside. He showed them to Reggie, whom Charlie admits was bonafide crazy, but he was also bigger than him, so he tolerated his odd ways. And while Charlie has no idea where Reggie is now, he gives them a name of someone who would know: Tyro Weems (Todd Giebenhain). Martin then tracks down Tyro and, at gunpoint, he gives up the crucial bit of information the detectives need: Reggie is cooking meth for a Texan bike gang, Iron Crusaders. And when Rust hears this, you can practically hear the hairs on his neck stand up on end.

As always, the actual case is the gateway for much, much more interesting stuff in the show. Rust is more than familiar with the Iron Crusaders from his former days on the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area force. And fearing that oversight from upper brass could botch the job, he readily volunteers to go "off book," taking a leave from work and going undercover. The usually reserved and taciturn Rust starts coming alive, his eyes nearly dancing when he tells Martin his plan. And while Martin wouldn't ordinarily go along with such an endeavour—even he has his limits—his personal life is in shambles.

After running hot for his mistress Lisa (Alexandra Daddario) in the previous episode, breaking down her door in the middle of the night when he finds out she's with another man, he goes cold here. Running into her after a trial appearance (she works as a court stenographer), she's galled that she didn't get an apology from him, and now, is barely receiving any acknowledgement of her existence. As she makes plain, both ways are disrespectful to her, but Martin in his own aloof way is now moving on. But Lisa is left thrown by his wildly swinging moods, and his indifference to her feelings, so she makes one decisive move that shatters Martin's world—she goes to Maggie (Michelle Monaghan) at their home and reveals everything about the affair. Already on the precipice, Maggie takes their daughters and leaves, with Martin arriving to an empty house and a single note explaining that it's all over. He's furious. But more than that, he's at rock bottom. He tries to confront her at the hospital where she works, but is firmly rebuffed and is nearly thrown out, until Rust comes to collect him. But Martin has one last word for his wife, for now: "I love you hon, I'm not giving up."

For Rust, that's where he needs his partner now—vulnerable. He makes it clear that he doesn't give a shit about Martin's personal problems (to which the partner replies, "You're the Michael Jordan of being a sonofabitch"), and it's likely why he's able to get him to go along with what comes next. (Though Rust does make one visit to Maggie to try and broker some peace, but it doesn't work out). In the present timeline, Martin and Rust both start veering away from the truth in talking to Detective Maynard Gilbough (Michael Potts) and Detective Thomas Papania (Tory Kittles), and with good reason. Rust's dangerous plan involves doctoring up his arms to make them look like they are covered in track marks, accessing his small arsenal of weapons and—in a move he doesn't explicitly fill Martin in on, though his partner is no dummy—stealing primo cocaine from the Evidence Room at the department as a peace offering to the Iron Crusaders. He'll be going to see the gang as a representative of a Mexican cartel who are looking to trade cocaine for meth. But "officially," Rust is going to visit his father, who is dying from leukemia in Alaska, and Martin—even through to the present storyline—backs up the story. Gilbough and Papania have a strong suspicion that there's more going on and, as far as they can tell, Rust's Dad may not have had a disease at all, but they can't prove otherwise. However, there is a very good reason that even seventeen years later, Martin and Rust are still protecting what really happened.

Rust hits the Iron Crusaders hangout and makes his business pitch. The interest is there and the quality of Rust's (stolen) cocaine, which he claims is from the cartel, is impressive. But before his contact will give his word to back the deal, Rust has to do something for him, right then and there—assist a small crew in heading to the projects to rob a stash house. If he does that, the deal is done, and Martin will get the access he needs to the gang's meth cook, Reggie Ledoux. What follows is something that, even in February, will undoubtedly be one of the most thrilling setpieces you'll see on any size screen this year. 

With the gang disguised as cops, running high on coke and meth (including Rust) from the first knock on the door at the stash house, what comes next is an astounding, unbroken, six-minute single-shot sequence of a robbery gone horribly, horribly wrong. Rust charges in maintaining some semblance of control as the gang members keep the occupants of the house held at gun point, while one of their rivals retrieves the drugs to hand over. But it's all going a little too slowly. While outside, the tension is rising with the cops (or fake cops) coming onto their turf, and then the one thing Martin pleaded against happening occurs: a gun goes off. It kicks off a nighttime firefight in the ghetto where Iron Crusaders have no backup plan and are hugely outnumbered. Once that shot goes off, Rust goes into survival mode and drags his confused contact by gunpoint outside, brings him to another house and calls a waiting and ready Martin to come and extract them.

With the camera still not cutting away—having followed Rust into the stash house, through all the rooms, back outside, into another home and back outside again as gunshots ring out, bodies fall and men run back and forth looking for cover and trading fire—Rust now has to bring his man through treacherous territory, across a couple of blocks, to rendezvous with Martin. And it's nervy, nailbiting, utterly astonishing stuff. It's hard to know where to throw all the praise here, but we'll start with director Cary Joji Fukunaga, who has now confirmed that he can do whatever the fuck he wants. From the edgy, coming of age tale "Sin Nombre" to the moving romance "Jane Eyre" and now to this, it seems there is nothing he can't do. This entire climactic sequence to "Who Goes There" is Martin Scorsese or Alfonso Cuaron-worthy, an accomplishment of first-rank talent executed near flawlessly. We'll definitely be remembering this come the end of the year.

But a shout out also needs to go to cinematographer Adam Arkapaw. If you've been wondering why "True Detective" has been looking so damn good, it's due to him, and he's one to keep an eye on moving forward. He's quietly built up an incredible résumé, lensing all of Jane Campion's first rate "Top Of The Lake," as well Aussie hits "Animal Kingdom" and "The Snowtown Murders." The guy is damn good, and we really hope people are breaking down his door to work with him, because they should be. In tonight's particular episode, from the eerie, otherwordly rave where Martin tracks down Tyro to the cluttered and claustrophobic atmosphere of the projects at night, aching with menace, Arkapaw is crucial in transmitting a South unlike anything we've seen in a long time, perhaps ever. Combined with Fukunaga, they have brought a texture to the show that is unmistakable and unique.

What else can be said about the finale without dipping into hyberbole? Over the hump and heading into the last four episodes, "True Detective" is running on a high that few shows can claim even well into a few seasons. Of course, it will be all about sticking the landing, but on its own, "Who Goes There" is the best episode of the season so far, hands down. [A]

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  • mark w | March 5, 2014 3:53 AMReply

    Finished this episode just now.

    It's seriously official: TV way way way way WAY better than movies.

  • peter | February 11, 2014 6:45 PMReply

    Why does Harrelson's character go to the biker gang club? I couldn't tell if he had forgotten something...

  • DS | February 17, 2014 1:25 PM

    Nerves. He just cannot control himself and has to re-assert himself.

  • Stan | February 11, 2014 11:23 AMReply

    I seems to me as if Ep4 was directed by someone else although I know it was not.
    The narrative set in ep1-3 gave way to a "die hard" moment if an effort to please someone somewhere and it was the wrong direction in my opinion. I hope ep4 was an aberration.

  • Blake | February 10, 2014 7:30 PMReply

    Thanks, love this really in-depth review! Episode 4 hit the half way point on a high... can't wait to see where it goes from here!

  • Job | February 10, 2014 5:22 PMReply

    How did we go from the police cavalcade to the trailer of crazy meth guy (ledoux) in ep 3 to the jail cell in ep 4? Did the cops drive around in circles like keystone cops for an hour? Show is great but I expected more explanation.

  • JOB | February 11, 2014 10:50 AM

    Thanks to SP for the explanation! No reason to speed in hot pursuit with lights flashing to question an imprisoned man...what's the rush? Maybe the sense of urgency to prevent another murder but doesn't fit the profile of the plodding detective work. Great show but seemed a reach to make us think of they were nabbing Ledoux.

  • Kris | February 11, 2014 10:30 AM

    It's 3 different timelines.

  • sp | February 10, 2014 6:07 PM

    at the end of episode 3, you're made to think that marty and rust are rushing off to snag ledoux but they're not. the closing shot of episode 3 is just a teaser of the monster they will eventually meet. in episode 3, once marty and rust find out that ledoux was a cell mate of Charlie's, they're actually speeding to the prison to interview him, which is where we find ourselves at the beginning of episode 4.

  • H25 | February 10, 2014 3:52 PMReply

    At the conclusion I was left thinking "What the F just happened? That was great"

  • Jenny Holcomb | February 10, 2014 1:09 PMReply

    Best part was Matthew McConaughey doing arm curls. Have mercy!

  • Nivington | February 10, 2014 12:07 PMReply

    I have a feeling Fukunaga's next movie Beasts of No Nation is going to be mindblowing.

  • The Grammar Socialist | February 10, 2014 11:33 AMReply

    Minor gripes with this otherwise well-written review:
    1. Martin wasn't part of the raid, he didn't "charge in" and hadn't warned the gang against guns going off either. That was Rust Cohle.
    2. It's a hot show, but the last sequence was "climactic" rather than "climatic".

  • Kevin | February 10, 2014 11:44 AM

    Yup, brainfart on Martin/Rust. Fixed, thanks.

  • FP | February 10, 2014 11:12 AMReply

    Kevin, you would do well to link your readers to Alfonso Cuaron's Children Of Men, which features an even more impressive unbroken sequence towards the end of the film in a refugee camp. Just one reason why Cuaron and his cinematographer are pretty much locks for Oscars this year. Other great sequences worthy of mention are Joe Wright's beach sequence in Atonement and Brian De Palma's opening 15 minutes of Snake Eyes.

    But yes, Fukunaga and Arkapaw and McConaughey are going to be talked about all year, for good reason. Maybe even another guaranteed award for McConaughey to go alongside his Oscar by Emmy time, or at least a Golden Globe in 2015.

  • buddy | February 10, 2014 11:36 PM

    Anyone know if the long take was shot on 35mm, like the rest of the series? Imdb lists no digital cameras on the production. Near as I could tell it was, which makes it even more impressive.

  • DDavis | February 10, 2014 5:35 PM

    *I tried to link an article, but it wouldn't accept my comment with the link. Just search "How did they pull off that final shot?" for a good recap.

    The short of it is, they filmed this at a real projects location, due to the inability to build a set to the scale that Fukunaga wanted the scene to be. They shot it 7 times, and left spots for edit points in case they needed them, (in large part due to having only a day and a half to get the shot.) The final shot that we saw, however, was a single take, unbroken. The fact that it's a single unbroken shot and having shot it at a real location without a lot of the advantages of working on a true set make it, in my opinion, one of the very best I've ever seen, and definitely the best ever shot for television.

  • Buddy | February 10, 2014 2:29 PM

    Yddub, I wondered that as well but not so according to an interview:
    google 'mtv true detective how did they pull off that final shot'. (Couldn't get link past spam blocker)

  • Yddub | February 10, 2014 12:06 PM

    I have a feeling that this 6 minute take is also two takes cut together (at least) when the camera goes up into the sky and back down I think that was probably a cut no?

  • Buddy | February 10, 2014 11:31 AM

    Except Cuaron has admitted that all of the 'single take' set pieces in CoM were edited together from smaller takes. Visual effects coordinator Frazier Churchill explains that the scene you referenced was 5 different takes on 2 locations, edited together to look seamless. Impressive in its own way, but not actual single take filmmaking. How much more would the much praised opening sequence of Gravity, already obviously CGI heavy, be editing trickery and not deserving of a traditional cinematography award.

  • Alexandria Constantinova | February 10, 2014 8:47 AMReply

    BF & I thought show made no sense at all last night. Hart behaved completely unprofessionally at job, endangering undercover Cohle, parallel story lines virtually disappeared, became nothing more than a convoluted shoot-em-up, ending in Cohle's kidnapping a character he could have kidnapped 30 minutes earlier. And how were all the police already there when Cohle un officially undercover & out of jurisdiction? It was like a friend of mine jokes: when in doubt about plot, send in a guy with a gun. Or, in this case, 50.

  • Jennifer | February 10, 2014 3:54 PM

    You're joking...right? Did we watch the same show? All of this was pretty clear...

    First off, Hart's behavior at the party was dumb, but he was getting worried and impatient and wanted to know where Cohle was because he was expecting to hear from him and didn't. He didn't know what to expect from the situation, which was very foreign to him. Their PD had no idea either one of them was out doing this (for good reason).

    Cohle didn't want to (and he didn't want to have to) "kidnap" his contact. He wanted him to get him in touch with Ledoux, who his gang has been dealing with, ideally without blowing his cover. But when everything went haywire, he did what he had to do to get them both out alive and keep the road to Reggie Ledoux unblocked.

    The cops were not cops that knew Hart or Cohle...they were area cops responding to a disturbance/shooting in the projects. That's why Cohle told Hart to listen on the Beaumont police scanner channel.

  • alexandria constantinova | February 10, 2014 1:55 PM

    sorry, didn't mean to post on two sites: was told comment wouldn't appear because no accout.

  • sp | February 10, 2014 1:49 PM

    uh, he was trying to gain trust with his bike gang contact. that's why he agreed to do the job. and when exactly could he have kidnapped him earlier, if that's all you think he wanted to get out of it? was he supposed to kidnap him when he was in the car with the gang's three other bike members? or maybe in the trailer when he was snorting cok? ya, ok.

  • T.J. | February 10, 2014 1:41 PM

    It was in the projects. The police showed up someplace that they are always near upon hearing gunshots. Big plot hole (eyeroll). Cohle wanted to reach the suspect one way. That plan fell apart and he improvised an alternative. Big plot hole (eyeroll). Get over yourself dude. You're standing in the way of your own enjoyment of a fantastic show.

  • Anonymous | February 10, 2014 11:26 AM

    You shouldn't be allowed to watch the show anymore. Call your cable company and cancel your subscription to HBO. You're just wasting your money.

  • Steve | February 10, 2014 3:14 AMReply

    It was the most incredible single take scene that I have ever scene and will probably go down as one of the best ever!. The choreography for that final scene is pure genius...there's no other way to put it. The planning, the coordination, the timing and the execution of this single, 6 minute, unedited scene will go down as one of the greatest achievements in filmmaking history.

  • Drew | February 10, 2014 12:42 PM

    It was a single take. No cuts. They left spots in where they COULD have cut, but in the end they went with one long take. Here's a source.

  • I like this show! | February 10, 2014 4:57 AM

    I stand corrected, it was one single take. Wow!

  • I like this show! | February 10, 2014 4:45 AM

    It wasn't unedited. I counted at least 6 times where the camera could have cut away. Albeit still incredibly impressive. It was merely the illusion of one single shot.

  • Noah | February 10, 2014 12:28 AMReply

    On point. Maybe it's the residual adrenaline from that final 15 minute sequence speaking, but this just entered into my top 5 episodes of television ever.

  • d | February 17, 2014 5:01 AM

    dfd dfd

  • bobl | February 9, 2014 10:42 PMReply

    Kudos to all involved. Intelligent tv for intelligent tv viewers. I am really impressed with the quality here... Acting directing cinematography and writing. Keep them coming!!! Matt and woody are really showing their fine skills.

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