Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Epiphany #20

No spoilers here of either True Detective or The Killing, just a bizarre defense of both, perhaps.

It is entirely possible that this is nothing more than a justification for sloppy plotting and writing.  I acknowledge that.  But please consider that it is also possible that a kind of literary shift is staring us in the face and we have yet to mark it or to ponder the reasons why.

So I'll start here:  Cold Case.  Remember Cold Case?   Or maybe it's still on.  I don't know because I've never watched it.  What I'm interested in is the concept behind the show--not that a good-looking female detective is solving old cases, but that the very name of the show confirms how many dead ends and unsolved cases are out there, in both fiction and reality, so many that the more interesting ones have become fodder for television.

In the real world of police work, the number of cases that are never followed up on, let alone that go unsolved, is staggering.  Just this week from various news sources, we get word that "rape kits" in the thousands all over the country have gone unprocessed for months or longer.

And so on to The Killing And True Detective.   Both shows have come under criticism for their use of false leads, apparently important details that prove not to be, and polarizing endings, either to a season or a series.  Both are not linear in their storytelling and do not tie up into neat packages.  Both have been called unsatisfying...

Unsatisfying?  There's a word worth examining.  In the hyper-realistic world of modern crime, we have expectations of police procedural that must be met in order for us to be satisfied?  The killer isn't interesting enough?  The conspiracy isn't vast enough?  The game of cat-and-mouse drags out either too long or not enough?

At what point does blunt, brutish killing make a comeback?  Or is it here and now?  I mean, there's nothing sophisticated about a pack of zombies.  At what point does the killer no longer need to be so clever that he or she is always a step ahead of plodding but intelligent police officers?  What if the killing is merely escalating and fearless?

Or maybe I'm not writing about detective shows at all.  Who is ever going to be smarter than the killers in The Following or The Fall or Luther anyway?

Maybe what I'm really suggesting is broader than that.  A literary movement?  If fiction is going to get as real as real can get, it must parallel our lives, both anonymous ones and those played out on reality television, and then the whole notion of plotting must change, arguably has changed.  Maybe the model for True Detective isn't the writing masters of the past, like Poe, who argued for a story having a single "effect," or Hemingway, who knew when at his best all kinds of details he could leave out of a story and still have them impact the narrative, or the others who planned their fictions in various way so that nothing was extraneous and everything fit or didn't belong.

Maybe the model for True Detective is................Pawn Stars.  Humor me for a few sentences.  The show is supposedly about closing the deal on potentially valuable merchandise, right?  After all, the pawnshop guys are a family who is very good at what they do.  And yet, the arc of each episode doesn't depend on whether they make a huge buy or not.  The show is just as interesting when a rare find turns out to be fake or worthless.  The show is just as meaningful when we see the "procedures" they use to arrive at their offer to the customer.  The show is just as "satisfying" when one of the main characters messes up as when he exceeds expectations.  Maybe even more so, because then we see how unrehearsed tensions can remind us that the stakes are financial and real.

Is it just possible that in a world where everyone can be a "detective" on the Internet but where little of what is discovered is universally believed, since someone else can probably find the opposite, that the sleuthing rather than the solving is what is really important?  Both The Killing and True Detective are particularly good at showing us how hardcore police work mutates and destroys lives and families and partnerships, and the shows reveal how that obsessiveness becomes a self-fulfilling, all-consuming world of false leads, dead ends, innocent bystanders who are in the wrong place at the wrong time, which usually turns out to be anywhere near those cops when on or off duty.  I don't know if that is satisfying, if it gives us the resolution we want, but it sure feels real.  Things don't tend to solve completely or tie up easily for us either.

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