At the beginning of this week, with Emmy voting campaign in full swing, a story surfaced online that posed the question whether True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto, a nominee for writing the episode “The Secret Fate of All Life,” plagiarized horror writer Thomas Ligotti. The story listed numerous side-by-side comparisons of works by Ligotti and lines by Matthew McConaughey’s True Detective character Rust Cohle, who shares dark philosophy views with a number of others thinkers, including Ligotti. There are many similar ideas and even a couple of lines that sound pretty close –“Nowhere to go, no one to see, nothing to do, nothing to be” (Cohle), “There would be nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to be, and no one to know” (Ligotti) — but no real smoking gun of chunks of original material lifted. Still, Pizzolatto and HBO are not taking the accusations lightly, responding today with firm statements to Deadline that vehemently deny any plagiarism. Here they are:
Nothing in the television show True Detective was plagiarized. The philosophical thoughts expressed by Rust Cohle do not represent any thought or idea unique to any one author; rather these are the philosophical tenets of a pessimistic, anti-natalist philosophy with an historic tradition including Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, E.M. Cioran, and various other philosophers, all of whom express these ideas. As an autodidact pessimist, Cohle speaks toward that philosophy with erudition and in his own words. The ideas within this philosophy are certainly not exclusive to any writer.
True Detective is a work of exceptional originality and the story, plot, characters and dialogue are that of Nic Pizzolatto. Philosophical concepts are free for anyone to use, including writers of fiction, and there have been many such examples in the past. Exploring and engaging with ideas and themes that philosophers and novelists have wrestled with over time is one of the show’s many strengths — we stand by the show, its writing and Nic Pizzolatto entirely.
The timing of the story is intriguing as the similarities in the views expressed by Cohle in True Detective and Ligotti in his works first surfaced in January when Pizzolatto admitted some influence from him as well as other philosophers like Nietzsche. But the conversation never rose to accusations of plagiarism until now, when True Detective is a big Emmy contender, including for best drama series and best writing.