Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version



Communication, Culture & Critique 10:1 (March 2017), pp. 39–57.

doi: 10.1111/cccr.12148


Copyright © 2016 International Communication Association; published by Wiley. Used by permission.


This article argues that the use of toxic visual and narrative tropes in contemporary dramatic television can expand our capacity to envision and critique the deadly effects of industrial pollution. The HBO series True Detective is an exemplary case study in how evocative toxic images can be integrated into familiar television narratives to animate society’s deadly relationship with toxic chemicals. The petrochemical mise-en-scène of True Detective enlivens the toxic image with inferential power, or visual enthymemes, that invite audiences to draw connections between traumas that unfold through narrative action and omnipresence of toxic iconography. Developing a concept of the toxic screen, this article illustrates how televisual portraits amplify the inferential power of images to convey the pain of toxic exposure.