The True Detective Legacy

The LegacyAlthough subscribers to Sky got to see HBO’s True Detective when it was first broadcast earlier in the year, it has only just appeared on the NowTV service. But: all eight episodes are available, so you can binge on it. I don’t know how many people will have watched it on Sky (I’m guessing just under a million, or maybe 1.2 million, a similar audience reach to Game of Thrones).

I deliberately avoided reading much about the programme, read none of the reviews, and was merely vaguely aware of the King in Yellow references. I’m five episodes in and enjoying it, though I found the extended undercover bit at the end of episode 4 a bit grim and a bit of a drag.

My opinion, in short, based on the five episodes I’ve watched so far:

  • Somebody needs to send the memo calling time on the ‘instagram’ style of washed-out cinematography.
  • The two leads are excellent.
  • The serial killer plot is standard stuff, but lifted by the narrative techniques which are brilliant.
  • The conceit of having a multi-threaded, multi-timeline narrative seems like a gimmick, right up to the point where you realise (spoiler alert) that the detectives being interviewed are both lying and that what we’re seeing in the flashbacks doesn’t match their self-serving unreliable narration. Which the cops interviewing them clearly know or suspect.

Meanwhile, over on Sky Arts, Sky’s equivalent of BBC4…

The Legacy is a Scandi drama, but not in the crime genre, nor even in the political arena like the boring Borgen. My take on BBC4’s Scandi acquisitions was that it was great to see a fairly standard European style cop drama without the usual faces (the James Nesbitts, the Olivia Colemans etc.) turning up. But The Killing wasn’t all that interesting. The Bridge, on the other hand, very much was, thanks to its high concept of a twin investigation and its unusual lead character, Saga. (The Killing‘s Sara Lund was just your typical maverick cop, neglecting everything other than the case she obsessively investigates. Saga was a genuine oddity with a different way of thinking.)The Scandi drama ITV acquired (Those Who Kill) was a disappointment, so Sky took a risk in acquiring The Legacy. It might have been as boring as Borgen.

But it’s not. It’s actually both a fascinating exploration into the nature of legacy, and a soapy drama about a family squabbling over an inheritance. Its family dynamics are very well drawn. Spoilers in what follows.

A prominent artist dies suddenly, having not told any of her family that she was suffering from cancer. She has a complicated family. There’s the estranged older son, who refuses to enter her house, even though he conscientiously allows his kids to visit their grandmother. There’s the dutiful older daughter, who is the custodian of her mother’s artistic legacy while having none of the mother’s flare. There’s a younger son who is overseas and needs money for a project. And there’s another daughter, born of an extramarital affair and, unknowingly, living with her father and a woman she thinks is her mother. When the artist dies, her house and art are supposed to be bequeathed to a museum trust. But just before she passes, a pang of conscience or pique leads the artist to make contact with and write a letter leaving the house to the illegitimate daughter.

So it’s all set up. The dutiful daughter wants the museum; the illegitimate daughter wants a family connection but finds the squabbling over inheritance getting in the way of that. The estranged son wants what he sees as his right: his late father’s house; the younger son wants money so he can go back to his overseas project. The trust is declared invalid; the unwitnessed deathbed letter on the other hand seems legal. The scheming begins.

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