How Rachel McAdams’ True Detective Character Obliterates Every TV Girl-Cop Cliche
“A good woman mitigates our baser tendencies.”
When Vince Vaughn’s shady moneyman utters these words at the end of True Detective‘s season-two premiere, it feels like an omen for both us and Vaughn’s character. We’re going to see a lot more women than we did in season one, and he’s going to find out that they’re there to do a lot more than manage his testosterone. (By the way, the next thing Vaughn’s character says is about IVF. IVF! Pretty much the last thing I’d expect he and Colin Farrell to be discussing over whiskey in a hardboiled crime thriller.)
But we don’t need omens to know that this is True Detective‘s female-driven turning point; we have Rachel McAdams. And in a mere hour of television, across just a handful of scenes padded by other characters’ action, she’s already busted up the lady-cop prototype years of Law & Order ‘n’ Company have conditioned us to expect. We love procedurals, but we’re more than happy to see McAdams ducking these well-worn girl-cop cliches:
She doesn’t speak in bouncy banter The second you hear McAdams respond to her partner’s attempt at small talk with a curt “Don’t talk about my family,” you get it: She’s a lone wolf, and she won’t be wasting her time or brainpower on coming off cute. No sneakily sexy one-liners here, no sir, and I wouldn’t hold your breath for a love-hate turned love-love partner hookup. This is True Detective Rachel McAdams, not every other Rachel McAdams movie Rachel McAdams.
Speaking of sexy: She has zero patience for zero chemistry In this show, where everything amounts to something, we’d be wise to keep in mind that the first time we ever meet Rachel’s Ani, she’s in the midst of ejecting a date who couldn’t keep up with her in the bedroom. I know it seems like I’m celebrating pure bitchiness at this point, but how many series have introduced their tough closed-off girl lead by having her slip out of a guy’s apartment, all sass and Samantha-isms, murmuring something witty about her job being her boyfriend right now? Fifteen hundred, give or take? So we can’t help but enjoy a girl who truly lives up to the closed-off thing by telling a guy to pack it up and then glaring at him with supreme impatience—like she thinks the time she has to wait for him to leave so she can make coffee will never end.
She does work at the crime scene I found myself riveted by McAdams’ fully tensed body rushing the webcam strip club, by her barking orders at each performer to state “I am an American” to test their English. Only then did I realize how many female TV cops I’ve watched do only one or all of the following at a crime scene: (a) lift up the CAUTION tape for her and her partner to walk under it; (b) stare meaningfully at her partner as he solves the crime aloud; (c) walk over to someone and say, “Boss. You better take a look at this.”
Her off-the-clock story lines pass the Bechdel test Right away, we’re acquainted with the fact that the stakes in Ani’s life have everything to do with her sister, Athena, a wayward junkie. It’s a refreshing move, pinning Ani’s happiness to a female relationship rather than a potential romantic interest.
And, oh yeah, she actually looks like an overworked cop Now, listen, I’m sure most stressed policewomen have the skin, hair, teeth, body, and exquisite eyebrows of Mariska Hargitay. But the rest of them probably look more like McAdams in this series: She wears barely a trace of makeup, and her roots are about 14 weeks overdue. Of course, her style does adhere to one girl-cop cliche: She wears a leather jacket, TV’s unanimously agreed-upon shortcut to badassery. But since she could probably kill us 26 ways, we’re inclined to let that one slide.
More from McAdams herself on her process: