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True Detective: Episodes 1, 2 & 3- Philosophy & Ethics


True Detective

Episodes 1, 2 & 3

Philosophy & Ethics

Written by: Ryan Fu @fu_beatz

HBO’s hit show, True Detective, is one the best and underrated shows on cable television. The show follows the lives of two detectives, Rust Cohle and Martin Hart, as they become entangled during a 17-year hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana. It is not your typical crime drama, as it goes further into one’s soul. As it’s show motto “Man is the Cruelest Animal”, showing humans are the most dangerous things on Earth, even though we are far more intelligent then the animals we eat, we show signs we are no different from the animals we kill. As the detectives try to figure out who the killer is that is committing all these heinous crimes, they also try figure out who they are. The detectives are very different in a lot of ways but very similar as a partnership.


Martin Hart played by Woody Harrelson, is your typical 9-5er with a family. He is very sociable and wants to be loved by everyone. He consistently shows everyone that he is a good guy and that he is in perfect in control of himself, his job and his family. The truth he is losing all control. Martin is in denial of what is going on with his life. He is in so much denial, that he can’t see his marriage crumbling right in front of him. He chooses not to look further into himself and to figure why he is going on a destructive path. He is feeling the pressures of life and he DECOMPRESSES in a negative way. He says he loves his family because it gives him boundaries and rules but then neglects his kids and cheats on his wife and beats up his mistress’s boyfriend.

“Did she suck your dick?!!! I am not a psycho.”


He believes that cheating on your wife is “a key to a healthy marriage.”

As Martin states there are a lot of pressures being a father and being in charge. I believe not confronting those pressures is greatly affecting Martin in a negative way.

“You know at a certain age, you know who you are. I know who I am. There is a victory in that.”


Does Martin really know who he is? His own wife played by Michelle Monaghan is much more self aware of her situation with her husband, challenges Martin to tell the truth.

But Martin can’t come to the truth. Whether he is afraid or he already knows the truth, he does not want to confront it. True Detective is about learning the real truth in things and finding the occasional monster at the end of those truths. Maybe Martin does not want to come to know the real Martin Hart because he might find a monster waiting for him.


If Martin Hart is the straight man in this partnership, then Rust Cohle played by Matthew McConaughey is your wild card. Matthew aka The Taxman, beautifully plays a realist, a pessimist and a tortured man. He is self aware of himself and people around him. After his death of his daughter, he delved into the meaning of life. He believes human consciousness is a misstep.

“Everybody is Nobody.”

We are programmed to think we are someone, but we are nothing. When Martin challenges him why he doesn’t kill himself, Rust explains that it’s his programming that is keeping him alive and he can’t commit suicide. Many philosophers would say suicide is not the best option because you will always have the chances to better your life.

“This town is a like a memory of a town. Now it’s fading, nothing left but a jungle.”


Rust is not sociable and doesn’t give a two fucks if people like him. You might say he has lost faith in people. He believes people are frail. He believes religion is for the weak.

“Throwing a coin into a wishing well.”

He wonders if the job made him this way or was it the way he was made him for job.


He consistently tries to figure himself out and digs deeper into his psyche and soul, which is the complete opposite of Martin. Where Martin can’t come to the truth, Rust stares it right in the face and sees his own monsters. Rust also tells Martin to his face that he is living in denial.

“People incapable of guilt usually have a good time.”

Rust is your modern day philosopher, always willing to go further down the rabbit hole. He talks about time and death and the finality of it all.

“Nothing is never over.”

He talks about everyone’s locked room in their heads and he believes how you come to terms with who you are will determine how you are going to be in the real world. Socrates believe that you need to consistently ask yourself who you are, to better yourself. He believed that it is by realizing how little we know that we can eventually gain true knowledge, since preconceived untrue beliefs make it difficult to find the truth.


These two characters are trying to find their own truths. Just like the rest of us, one step at a time, finding a better or a scarier version of yourself. At the end of everyone’s story you are either the hero or monster of your life. Are you more like Martin or are you more like Rust? Are you good or bad?  Can you be both?


“I know I’m a bad man. The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.”



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