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Devil-nets of clues: True Detective and the search for meaning

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This article examines the first season of the hit television series True Detective (2014) with respect to the claim that it deliberately adopted a form fitting the new world of digital television. The article argues that this embrace is less than complete: the show seeks an immersive, novelistic experience rather than something entirely new. It further argues that this immersive experience is supported by the series’ richly detailed background and by its invocation of various aspects of weird fiction. The article also discusses some of the institutional factors shaping the series: the availability of the puzzle film genre as an interpretive framework, the existence of an audience interested in assuming the attitude of what Jason Mittell has called the forensic fan, and the choice of a traditional, one-episode-per-week release schedule. Finally, the article discusses the show’s ending and the disappointed reactions of critics and fans, arguing that the idea that the show intended to exploit digitization by adopting a more game-like approach, offering clues that could only be found using digital tools, is undercut by the many loose ends left unresolved by the finale. The article concludes that the density and detail of the series’ background, inviting viewers to explore, should be regarded not as providing pieces of a puzzle to be solved, but as an opportunity to deepen viewer engagement.
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Keywords: Cary Joji Fukunaga; H. P. Lovecraft; Nic Pizzolatto; True Detective; complex TV; digital distribution; puzzle films; weird fiction

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Copenhagen

Publication date: June 1, 2016

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  • Northern Lights: Film and Media Studies Yearbook was first published in 2002 and places particular emphasis on film, television and new media. The yearbook, although carrying a theme each issue, welcomes a broad range of articles along with shorter review pieces.
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