Real Detective

Police work is harrowing.

It’s not just finding the bodies and examining the remains. It’s also the emotional stress of reporting the deaths to the surviving family. It’s the pressure of trying to find a killer that may have more victims in sight. It’s the emotional drain of spending time with terrifyingly violent people.

Police work is hard. Real Detective, a Canadian series that focuses on grisly crimes committed south of the border, helps us see what that life is like from the inside. Each episode is a docudrama focusing on a different detective who describes one of his or her most memorable cases. They are rarely memorable for any happy reasons.

Interviews with the detective are inter-cut with reconstructions of the investigation that they perform along with (thankfully) non-gratuitous reconstructions of the crime. The trailer below makes it look a lot more violent than it really is:

Unlike TV whodunits, in most cases, it’s painfully obvious who committed the crime in each case. The problem for the police is proving it to such a degree that they can secure a conviction. Set twenty or so years in the past, DNA testing is still in its infancy, so each case requires painstaking work in piecing together the events that led up to the crime.

The best way of achieving a conviction is a confession, but that requires an almost incontestable amount of circumstantial evidence. Furthermore, the detective must get close to the suspect to worm their way into his or her confidence, and then wait for the inevitable slip. In missing person cases, this close contact may be essential just to find a body so that a murder investigation can begin.

Spending time with a psychopath clearly takes an emotional toll on the investigators, as they come up against some extremely cunning and manipulative people. Others are just crazy-violent, however, which makes the investigation no less difficult. Juries want to see a motive, and sometimes this is little more than an insane impulse on the part of the perpetrator.

The detective’s work is not helped by working in milieus where violent crime is rampant. Several times, more than one murder happens almost simultaneously. In one extraordinary example, two workers from the same circus are shot dead in the same week, but the killers and motives are completely different! That’s certainly not a workplace that you want to spend a lot of time in.

Real Detective, available now on Netflix, has left me with enormous respect for these law enforcement officials. They confront society’s darkest side on a daily basis, and yet keep on going, often because they are determined to attain justice for the victims. Among many of the lessons that I have learned from this series is how innocent most of these victims are, just unfortunate people who fell into the orbit of seriously dangerous individuals.

As one of the detectives says, “I believe in evil”.

11 responses to “Real Detective

  1. I haven’t seen this show and won’t watch it, but everything you’ve said is spot-on. Speaking as a former EMT who now works with deputies, one piece that gets overlooked is that we never (or rarely) see the end of the story. For brief moments in time we are horribly, intimately, connected to the victims or their families. In that moment of trauma, we’re there. But then we never find out what happened. Did they put their lives back together again? Did they manage to move on? How are they handling grief? Are they okay? You never hear the ending. Once in a great, great while, someone will think to send a thank you, or will come by to tell you they’re okay. But the majority of the time you’re left carrying that trauma with no closure. It wears on you.

      • Oh, the stories I could tell you. Some even funny. Like trying to crawl up inside the passenger window of an overturned semi truck, carrying an oxygen bottle and about 24 months pregnant…you should have heard the deputy yell at me. Oops. Forgot there for a minute what shape I wasn’t in. But yes, very wearing for all.

  2. I’ve just added this to my Netflix list and found something called Murder Mountain as a harrowing documentary series so that is my grim viewing all set up for the month. Also whilst we are on the subject of Netflix, if you haven’t watched Metro Manila that is a good film, it really shows the contrasts in the capital and is all too crushingly real.

    • I’m adding both to my ‘to watch’ list right now, if I can find them on Netflix here in Spain. Apparently it is different from country to country, but I would like to learn a lot more about the Philippines now that I have been reading about it on your blog.

      • Yesterday I watched five episodes (of six) of Murder Mountain, mainly because it was apparently truly shocking, and yes it was but in the same way as the Paradise Lost documentaries are. It is a fascinating look at the Cannabis production in a part of California.

        I wonder how different Netflix is between countries. I enjoyed The Bar and The Invisible Guest which I believe are Spanish films. And Time Crimes, I am a fan of films over your way, also (possibly) on Netflix.

        A lot of the cinema (and TV) in the Philippines is geared to romantic comedies and/or dramas but Heneral Luna may be on your Netflix too, that’s about a famous military figure, although I thought the use of comedy was a little strange in what is generally a serious film. I shall endeavour to explore the cinema here more and get to the Filipino literature that I have as well.

      • I’ve found Murder Mountain but I couldn’t get Metro Manila on my Netflix, although the system did recognise it. I’m looking forward to the former.
        As well as Spanish films, I really like Argentinian cinema, which has a very high reputation in the Spanish-speaking world. Over here you can search for them by ‘Argentinian films’ but I don’t know how that works overseas.

      • I put in a search on Netflix and a few films came up so I will have a proper look at them soon. I’m really hoping to get into films again this year, especially the films that are lesser known. None of this Disney franchise nonsense for me.