True Detective, HBO’s new hit series, just completed its first season, and the dark, gritty drama has become a highly debated topic for many different reasons. One area that has created more controversy than most is the fact that the plot is entirely based around religious themes. Two detectives played by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson find themselves tracking a murderous Satanic cult that is heavily influenced by voodoo. Not surprisingly, this murder mystery takes place in the boon docks of Louisiana, where voodoo first started in America.
Catherine Albanese states in America: Religion and Religions that, “voodoo had been present in French Louisiana since its early days, when blacks had come from the Indies” (Albanese 141). Throughout the early to mid 1800s voodoo grew in Louisiana and began to spread across the south. As voodoo spread, New Orleans became known as a sort of “hotbed” for voodoo in America. Voodoo themes and practice can still be seen in the city and other parts of Louisiana today. With all this being true, it is fair to wonder if the voodoo recreated in True Detective is based on some of the voodoo that was, and still is, being practiced in Louisiana. All the answers to these questions can be found in Joseph Laycock’s article that goes in depth on the two mythologies that writer Nic Pizzolato used to create True Detective.
According to Laycock, Pizzolato’s first source when writing the show was an actual murder case that came out of Louisiana in 2005. Much like the case in the show, this case involved a Satanic cult that used animal sacrifices and child molestation in their voodoo based rituals. Pizzolato using an actual case gives the religious scenes that are depicted on the show credibility, but the second source he uses, The Yellow King by Robert W. Chambers, is what makes True Detective a fictional show. The Yellow King is a fictional book, but as Author Kent David Kelly told Laycock, it urges its readers to question if it is based off actual events and voodoo practices. It is this question of fact or fiction that has made the show so controversial and left its viewers asking to know more. Pizzolato managed to hold onto the book’s compelling and questionable background when adapting it’s themes into his show. True Detective fans have all the right to question the show and ask for more as the show left all of its viewers wanting to know how much truth is depicted in it, but its probable that even Pizzalato doesn’t have an answer for them. When the main source for a script is a book about voodoo that is believed by some to be fact and others to be fiction, then clearly the same questions that surround the book will surround the show. Therefore, as sad as it is for True Detective fans (like myself), we must stop digging for the answer of whats true or not and just appreciate the fact that Pizzolato seems to accurately depict some of the voodoo practices and themes that have been practiced in America since early in the 19th century.
The trailer alone speaks to how much this series revolves around voodoo religion.