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Can We Talk About One of the Most Impressive Sequences in Television History?

By Dustin Rowles | TV Reviews | February 10, 2014 | Comments ()


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Spoilers for HBO’s True Detective, but if you’re not watching it, quit your job, go home, and catch up because, good lord, this show is breathtaking.

Up until last night’s episode, the series has been a tour de force of writing and acting, particularly on the part of Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle. The first three episodes felt, in a way, like a mystery: We were tracking clues toward a serial killer, and though conspiracy theories run rampant on this show, the reason why they’re all probably wrong is because — as writer/creator Nic Pizzolatto stated at the outset — True Detective is not a whodunnit. True Detective is about a manhunt.

That manhunt took center stage in last night’s episode, as Rust Cohle went undercover in a vicious redneck drug gang in order to get a lead on the serial killer, Reggie Ledoux. It’s the same gang he’d worked undercover in for years while he was in narcotics, and though he tooks three shots in the stomach during his time undercover and was presumed dead, he decided to return, knowing that if he were to be found out as a cop, he’d only be shot in the head. “The stakes were low,” he told his partner, Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson). A shot in the head was the best worst case scenario. The worst worst-case scenario would’ve been to have his face pulled off and be fed his testicles until he choked to death, all the while staring into a mirror.

And yes, while I will concede that the more philosophically centered, conversational episodes that opened the season took a backseat in this episode to standard cop-show fare, the approach that director Cary Fukunaga took was anything but standard. I point you to the final six-minute sequence: A breathtaking, intense, blistering sequence involving a heist gone wrong.

Cohle, undercover with his redneck gang posed as police officers, goes into the stash house of a black gang with the intention of ripping them off. However, during the course of the heist, the people outside of the apartment in the housing project that’s being held up — presuming police brutality — start to riot. The heist goes awry, gunshots start ringing out, bodies start falling, there’s a fight involving a baseball bat, the police arrive, a helicopter hovers overhead. Meanwhile, Rust is attempting to move his unwitting target, Ginger, through the violence and over a chain-link fence and to the safety of an awaiting Hart, who speeds off with Rust and Ginger.

Did I mention that this final six minutes was done in one single amazing tracking shot?

Oners are not new to Fukunaga, who had executed them in Jane Eyre and Sin Nombre, but a shot like this is very unique for television. To pull it off, Fukunaga had a day and a half in the schedule to perfect it. An actual housing project was used.

MTV talked to Fukunaga about how he pulled off that final, impressive sequence:

Watching just the fences portion of the oner back, the camera floats over the high barrier in a movement that almost looks effortless. Getting the shot, however, was anything but. Because the location was an actual housing project, the “True Detective” crew wasn’t allowed to take down any portion of the fence, so they had to improvise. “At one point, we were going to build a ramp, and the operator was going to walk up it,” Fukunaga said. “But that wasn’t very safe.” The solution ended up involving placing the Steadicam operator on an elevated jib, or a weighted crane, which carried him over the fence and back down to earth.

Once the camera movements were figured out, the production carefully choreographed everything that had to happen in front of the lens with the help of a stunt team led by Mark Norby, who personally worked with McConaughey to develop a fighting style for Cohle. The crew even built a replica of the stash house for the stunt team to practice in before the big shoot.

“We had ADs [assistant directors] all over the neighborhood because we had to release extras, crowd running background, police cars, stunt drivers. There were actual gun shots and stones being thrown through windows. There were a lot of things to put together,” Fukunaga said. “Even the action, the stunt sequences were complicated. We’re working on a television schedule. It isn’t like a film where you can spend a lot of time working the stunts out with the actors. We only had a day and a half to get Matthew and everyone else on the same page.”

All told, the sequence clocks in at around six minutes. Fukunaga and the crew ran through the whole thing seven times while the cameras were rolling. The director built in possible edit points if two takes had to be combined to make the perfect version of the shot, but anyone who is wondering should know that the sequence everyone saw in the episode is, in fact, a true single take and one of the great achievements of filmmaking for television.

And now you understand even better why McConaughey and Harrelson would take on a television show of this nature: Because the only thing separating it from film is the length and how it’s being watched at home.

Someone uploaded that sequence to YouTube. If you haven’t seen it yet, wait and watch it in the context of the entire show. If you have, watch it again, so you can fully appreciate how incredible it was.

Someone over on Reddit also outlined the route taken during the sequence.

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  • Dominic

    I think it does help to have started from the beginning of the episode , before us see the end . As the desperation throughout the episode , from Marty begging for his wife to the biker leader who JUST had to make this heist , builds and builds...
    " All the fuckin' you do and you can't recognize crazy pussy ! ?
    The scenes with the IAD cops are getting tedious , as the action is all in the flashbacks maybe there's some drama with Rust walking out of the room next episode ....
    the drug-using scenes were acted well hashly real with those bugged out eyes Is that supposed to be some non-gay way snorting coke off a male friend's hand ??? by doing it from the skin between your thumb and finger ....
    I 'm actually very tired of cop shows , so I'm not trying to bug out over this one . what I noticed , is that it's a "standard" HBO drama : lotta close-ups , lotta horizon shots in and out of focus , crazr but real characters , the humor understated but borne of normal human interaction , not contrived scenarios ( like Showtime's "dramas" ) . The pacing is similar to the Wire , which was 40% a cop show ... . And the music is awesome as usual , this being another show that alows Southern blues music to frame it ... ....
    .

  • petitesuissesse

    Amazing shot, amazing show. Ethical question for film makers: On-Location-Shooting in a distressed area...it is more realistic, yes, but is it ethical to cause more trauma to an already traumatic area? I live in a possibly crappy neighborhood. There have been 3 shootings on my block in 2 years. I don't know if that's a lot, because I live in a large city. Anyway, those 3 shootings haven't been fun to witness. I don't know how I would feel if a TV show or a movie decided to shoot a drug killing on my street. There's other things (positive things) going on in my neighborhood that are never part of the viewing public's image of us (fiction or non-fiction). I'm not critiquing the show, because it is undoubtedly great, I'm questioning if there are any ethics to film location? Is this something discussed in film schoool? In studios?

  • manting

    Louisiana offers huge incentives to film there. So its financially beneficial to both Louisiana and HBO to film there. In the film industry "ethics" are rarely if ever discussed - its more of an equation that weighs perception vs cost with cost being the much more important part of the equation.

  • petitesuissesse

    I wonder if the people whose properties are used will see any of that revenue? Personally, I find this show quite beautiful. There was a pretty simple shot in the 3rd episode that showed exactly how under sea-level a lot of places are. I like that Not New York is part of the scenery. Hopefully this will ultimately help the local economy?

  • manting

    I watched the comedy Hell Baby recently - I recommend it - and there are scenes in it that are simply several minutes long tributes to a famous New Orleans Poboy shop. Having lived there for several years there I things I look for that would make a movie or tv show seem authentic Louisiana. About the only thing I liked about True Blood was the prominence of Abita beer.
    As for generating revenue - the cast and crew need to eat, places to stay, extras need to be hired, equipment/cars rented, and locations need to be rented. They also need to construct sets, pay local taxes, obtain permits, and a slew of other things that pump money into the Louisiana economy and create jobs. So filming there is mutually beneficial to both HBO and Louisiana and its no coincidence that HBO is now filming 3 shows there.\
    By the way if you have never had Abita Turbodog then you need to get on that. Its the best beer brewed in the U.S. They also have a beer called restoration ale that has some of its proceeds (I dont know the exact number) from each sale go to a fund to help rebuild New Orleans.

  • petitesuissesse

    This makes me feel so much better about watching this amazing show and enjoying it! Thanks!

  • Missy Di

    I am thoroughly enjoying the quiet vagueness of this show and the slow build of a climax that is so overlooked nowadays. The carefully designed scenes... old typewriters behind Cohle juxtaposed with the digital cameras of the detectives, the white washed brick wall in Marty's room when he is lying to his wife. Its all a delicious feast of existential dialogue and imagery that makes me beg for more than the pithy 8 episodes HBO gave this. I want to see whole seasons of these two characters doing this. I watched all the episodes again and picked out bits and pieces of relevancy that I overlooked the first time around. Ugh, such a good show...McConaughey is off the chain. :)

  • e jerry powell

    That was FUCKING BANANAS. I knew going in that the scenario was not not going to go well, but the way the camera took everything in was Russian Ark kind of epic. It completely cleared the shit that was "Looking for $220/Hour" from my palate. I sat absolutely dumbfounded for five minutes after it ended.

  • Tim

    Is it weird that the sequence reminded me of something that might be part of a Call of Duty mission? (Like, a really awesome one)

  • stella

    I just wanted express how proud I am of Mr McConaughey. You go Matt!

  • nate

    I love this show. What's so cool is that it takes place in my area. We live in Orange TX. I go to Beaumont just about every weekend. I actually use to live in Lake Charles too which is right over the line in LA. When I saw the orange/beaumont interstate sign on the show I turned to my wife and said awesome, lol.

  • Debra Kessing

    This show was so hyped I didn't dare believe it was that good - it is :)
    Without a doubt the best acting of McConaughy's career (some of the
    best acting I have seen in anyone's career.) I cannot BELIEVE he was
    wasting this talent in those rom coms/

  • TheAggroCraig

    Long tracking shots like that just do it for me. I always notice a couple of minutes in and it makes me even more excited. Then it's bunk time.

  • BizzyBzz

    Last night's episode was, in the great words of Penny Hartz, uh-MAH-zing. I don't think I breathed once through the whole thing.

  • manting

    The show is sick and that scene was amazing. Did anyone else catch the Cthulhu mythos references the last two episdoes? "Carcosa" and "The king in yellow." What is their end game with that?

  • Bea Pants

    I don't know, but as a Lovecraft Fan I flipped right out both times they were mentioned.

  • I'm currently playing CoC with a great GM, and we're going through some weird Carcosa/King in Yellow stuff right now, so when they dropped that in seemingly out of nowhere in the second ep, it was like some weird TV/gaming cross-over, and I seriously started worrying (in a good way) where this show was going.

  • manting

    How often does your DM use the words Ickthyoid or batrachian? Im gonna guess a lot.

  • manting

    When they interrogate the convict he tells them that Ledouox talks about sacrifices, worshiping at old stones in the woods, and lots of rich folks being involved, it seems that people are worshiping the old ones and that it may become central to the story.

  • Bea Pants

    I remember. It's been mentioned twice now so it would be odd to have it be incidental. I honestly can't figure out where this show is going to go and I love it.

  • manting

    Im thinking at some point we may hear "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn."

  • BWeaves

    My mind put in cuts every time the camera passed a wall.

  • The best thing about it is that you don't really consider it until after the camera pans up and you see what happened. While it's going on, it's just "hold your breath and watch" time.

  • mlurve

    I almost passed out watching this because I was too enthralled to remember to breathe

  • Less Lee Moore

    Hahahaha, me too.

  • aroorda

    I was wondering when we were going to take a break from reviewing: American Horror Story train wreck and talk about the best show on TV.

  • manting

    This show deserves, nay demands a weekly review. After they see how much talkback is generated Im sure it will get one.

  • Mrcreosote

    My only complaint about the show was that it went a little slowly sometimes-from atmosphere to just dragging. Well, they must have heard that as well, because the show bitch-slapped that complaint out my mouth last night.
    Did the bikers really think that their police unis were effective with that insane facial hair?

  • Derrick Burris

    I was wondering the same thing about the facial hair while the "raid' was happening lol

  • Bea Pants

    The same thing occurred to me also. I guess they figured the disguises wouldn't hold up to close inspection but if they got in and out quickly they could bank on the fear of the uniform keep the crowd in check. Unfortunately it had the opposite effect.

  • Aaron Schulz

    i just think they didnt count on the fact that driving a non police cruiser and never announcing yourself as police was a pretty dead giveaway.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    That's Haircist!

  • Evolve Today

    I was amazed by it, and I didn't ever realize it was a long shot til after.

  • Eva

    Wow. Phenomenal. I haven't even watched this show and I went against your advice and watched the clip anyway and, just, wow. I am watching every episode of this show immediately. Thank God I don't have anything else to do today.

  • Eva

    Just finished all 4 episodes. Pretty fantastic!

  • TheAggroCraig

    Welcome to the dawn.

  • Aaron Schulz

    Yeah time to get HBO, between this and GoT i think i can justify the price now.

  • Dominic

    It's $240. a year for me now , from Comcast . Only they screwed us over with this new price hike and we got it free for two years as compensation .... without True Blood it'll only be for Bill Mahr and Movies for me

  • Bert_McGurt

    A little off topic here, but I'm interested in finding out where and how Rust learned to fight. The couple of times we've seen him throw down, he looks to be pretty damn comfortable with it.

  • manting

    His dad? He talks about him being a survivalist and a vet so that's where I think he learned.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Yeah, that's a significant possibility!

    Speaking of which, I found it interesting that Rust maintained that cover story with the (present-day) detectives of going on leave to "visit his dad". Is he just worried about the statute of limitations on the raid, being that he wasn't there in an "official" capacity?

  • Mrcreosote

    He was undercover in a biker gang for four years. I assume there were some fisticuffs during that time. Also, police hand to hand training. And his box of toys tells me he's no stranger to unpleasant outcomes.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Oh, undoubtedly that helped, but his style seems more refined than a biker brawler. And in that scene where Marty pins him against the lockers he looks like he's calmly about to break his hands. I think his experience extends well past bike gangs and police training.

  • Dominic

    break his thumbs OFF his hands is what he'd have done to Woody , with the proper leverage ..Martial arts hand strength training

  • Shannon

    I love this line "but if you’re not watching it, quit your job, go home, and catch up because, good lord, this show is breathtaking."
    Yes. Yes, it is.
    Just the other day I was talking to someone about the amazing 5 1/2 minute shot Joe Wright did in Atonement. I was so engrossed in last nights episode that I never, not for a second of those entire six minutes, noticed that it was all one masterful shot.
    Just incredible.

  • manting

    The final battle scene in Children of Men also certainly comes to mind. That shot has so many moving parts its ridiculous.

  • linnyloo

    SUCH a fan of both of those movies, and the cinematography is definitely one reason. Excellent one-shot sequences just have a way of sucking you in, and making you feel like you're embedded. I love 'em.

  • manting

    The opening sequence to The Player is also relevant. Its funny because during the shot they are talking about other long one shot scenes in film history. Its like 8 minutes long.

  • Bennetttt

    This was an amazing sequence. True Detective is definitely my favorite show, and sadly there are only 4 more episodes.

  • lowercase_ryan

    I didn't realize it was all one shot until C Rob posted on facebook. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Wow.

  • Guest

    The only thing bad about this show is the people that don't like it. I'm sure there's a few here.

  • Sassy Pikachu

    Times like this I am really angry that I do not have HBO. Need to see if I can find it on OnDemand or something.

  • manting

    you can certainly find it streaming online.

  • megaera

    Use a friend/family member's account as the HBO execs have more or less ok'd. I think they remembered how ticked people were when they couldn't get GoT online unless they torrented. It's the same philosophy as the drug dealer's "free samples".

  • AlexaCastro

    I honestly don't see a big problem with torrenting shows of this quality. I always torrent Game of Thrones, and I own both seasons on Blu-Ray now. When season 3 comes out I'm buying that too. And you can bet your sweet tush I'm buying the shit out of True Detective on blu-ray when it's out.

  • manting

    Instead of torrenting try streaming. Check out Solarmovie.

  • Less Lee Moore

    Yes, me too. And probably the soundtrack, too.

  • That sequence rivals anything GoT has done thus far -- Blackwater included -- and might go down as one of the most impressive scenes in TV history. I can't believe they pulled it off. I didn't even realize the camera didn't cut until about three minutes in.

    The best part was how well it served the story. Like Gravity's opening shot, this wasn't a gimmick or showpiece. It was the most effective way of showcasing a dangerous, fluid, tense situation. Just outstanding work all the way around.

  • PoV Hector

    That comes down to opinion. To me, blackwater was better

  • John W

    That was amazing.

  • Merski

    This is most definitely a stupid question, but does anyone else out there have trouble making out what the f*ck is being said on the show? Sometimes entire dialogues are hard to follow. I find myself constantly rewinding scenes because nobody seems to enunciate. It seems to take a lot away from my viewing pleasure...

  • Robert Colontonio

    i used closed captioning.otherwise i'd be lost a lot of the time cuz most of them have a tendency to mumble

  • Dominic

    However if u really need the words to follow it , then their acting is lacking, to you at least . I looked at the episode with Woody's and " Miss Alien eyes " ' s sex scene . yeah it's a little rough to follow . Just watch the facial mannerisms , u get the story .. This happens with me and British shows mostly Cockney is IMPOSSIB:E to follow unless u wear headphones

  • e jerry powell

    It takes me a little bit to get back my southern with each episode, and I still live in fucking Texas. Those boys can turn on the Texas a couple notches past what I was raised with in the Panhandle (where Rust went to rehab).

  • Jenn Hamm

    CC, my friend. I have an auditory processing issue and watch everything on CC, but it really just enforces how amazing this particular show is- I'm glad not to miss a word. And the acting literally takes my breathe away. MM is mesmerizing.

  • Sean

    I just watch it twice.

  • Jaideep Bhide

    Phew, I thought I was the only one facing that problem. I really want to like this show but man, it's just so annoying to rewind and replay every 10 minutes just in order to make head or tail of what is being said.

  • menevets

    Closed captioning. I usually watch TD with it on. Same as I did for The Wire and Deadwood. I watch via HBOGO - great closed captioning options make it less intrusive, but I turn on CC for many other shows on other platforms.

  • manting

    did you catch the "short eyes" reference? Its when they are interrogating the guy in prison about his former cellmate.

  • I had to explain it to my housemate, but I only knew the term from having seen the film Short Eyes: http://imdb.com/title/tt007670...

  • manting

    I think it was a prison term first but Short Eyes is where I heard of it.

  • Jenn Hamm

    I had to look it up. Gave me the chills.

  • manting

    if you ever watch Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia theres an episode where Dennis is mistaken for a sex offender. A child molester. The guys name - Wendel "short eyes."

  • John W

    When the show was first announced I thought, boy that's going to be a whole lotta Texas drawl to get used to with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey as the leads.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    At the end of that episode I looked at my wife and said "Holy shit! Holy. Fucking. Shit. That was awesome!" Then I sat there stupified for a moment and asked her if she realized that the heist was all one shot. She considered what I had said for a moment and responded, "Holy shit! Holy. Fucking. Shit."

    I wanted to re-watch the episode but we opted for the new The Walking Dead. We made a bad choice.

  • e jerry powell

    It's not as though HBO isn't going to air it several more times this week, though.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    Or that I don't have it saved on DVR.

  • Sean

    Ha, I said the same thing. To myself however. But 3 minutes later I got a phone call from a friend who had watched. Her first words "Holy shit!" Then she told me that she had to go to the bathroom, which is why it took her 3 minutes to call me to say "holy shit'.

  • Brittany L. Smith

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    ☗☗☗ ☗☗☗⨺ ☗☗☗ ☗᥀☗☗☗ ☗☗☗And the acting literally takes my breathe away. MM is mesmerizing.

  • Robert Colontonio

    who gives a fuck.stop advertising your scams on comment boards you fucking parasite

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