True Detective Season 1 Episode 2 Deconstructed

by: Michael Shields

True Detective’s forbidding second episode “Seeing Things” demonstrates how truly “strange is the night where black stars rise”….

It will always be remarkable the lengths to which a human being will go to justify their actions. What we will do to allow ourselves the many things we shouldn’t posses is remarkable. In that same vein, it is also stunning the places we will allow our mind to wander to make peace with that which has broken us. These ideas, and those of their umbral ilk, were explored with finesse in True Detective’s second chapter, “Seeing Things.”

True Detective is assuredly about the hunt for a murderer. And during this investigation we are slowly learning more about Dora Hart, the part-time prostitute found “drugged, bound, tortured with a knife, strangled, posed out there” in a field wearing a crown of thorns and antlers – a sight burned into our collective frontal lobe. But it is hard to not find oneself more captivated with the ongoing character study of the two men charged with finding this monster. Their stories are compelling, the demons that drive them even more so.

There is scene from last week that adhered to us, sinking its teeth in deep like a vulpine tick. A scene in which Detective Hart made the mistake of trying to get to know his partner, only to learn that Detective Cohle believes the entire world to be one ghetto, a “giant gutter in outer space,” and how mankind’s best bet is to collectively stop reproducing and volunteer for extinction. This week, the scene that will assuredly linger is Detective Cohle’s shocking admission that the neurological damage from years of sanctioned drug use now causes him “chemical flashbacks” and hallucinations. In that conversation1, as Detective Cohle sits drinking and disarranged, he delves into the history of a stint in a psychiatric hospital and, more importantly, the loss of his daughter which we learn was from a car accident – one he now believes might have been a bizarre act of cosmic good will. “Isn’t that a beautiful way to go out?” he asks, “dying painlessly, as a happy child.” A shocking example of the things we tell ourselves to right the wrongs, and a profoundly vexing thought delivered by an incredibly complicated man.

To commence the season, a bright light has been cast upon the aberrant demons that plague Rust Cohle’s thoughts and the way in which he deals with them. But what about Hart, a man who confesses, “You gotta decompress before you go being the family man”? There were whiffs, whispers, and traces of duress of his own, and in “Seeing Things” we find out where he seeks repose for that which stirs within. What was more interesting than the arms he seeks comfort in, is his justifications for doing so. “It’s for the good of the family,” he states with utter conviction, “the key to a healthy marriage.” Hart is well acquainted with the nature of the beast which employs him, and his main concern is ensuring that he can wipe away the traumas of the job before he goes home to his wife and kids. But this is the type of work that follows you home despite your best efforts, a fact impetuously driven home when we observe the unique games Hart’s children play with their dolls.

True Detective continues to move deliberately ahead, brilliant in tone and mood. It took a mere three minutes into “Seeing Things” for a full onset of heebie-jeebies to engulf us while we were introduced to Dora Hart’s mother2, whose many years working with chemicals have left her fingers chapped and riddled, and her head pounding with ache. A sinister photo of a blonde child (Dora?) surrounded by men on horseback in pointed, Klan-like hoods upon the wall behind Mrs. Hart reminds us just how intimidating and demonic a world we are entering, and a trip to a hillbilly bunny ranch not only opens up Detective Hart’s conflicted bleeding heart, but also opens our eyes to an underworld that will assuredly alter those who enter it.

An investigation is slowly but surely coming together, exhuming itself at the pace of a swarthy, humid Louisiana day, and has progresses us towards an incinerated church with an eerily familiar looking antler painting on one its decaying walls. And as each clue pointedly leads to the next, what we have mostly investigated are two men, one of who is aloof, frail, and intellectual but is capable of extreme and efficient violence, and another who seems to understand the unforgiving system he is operating in, and the hopelessness of it all. But these two men need each other in their relentless quest to solve this case just like a candle needs its wick to burn. The flame has been lit and the wick is astonishingly long, promising us the viewer a long, slow burn out until the case is solved.

Although Detective Cohle expounds upon the hubris it takes to yank a soul out of non-existence, he continues on a incessant journey to unearth the soul responsible for freeing those from existence’s shackles. “This has scope,” he says of the case, while Detective Hart describes the investigation as “looking for a narrative.” But the narrative we find within the walls of True Detective, much like Dora Hart’s diary, “reads like fantasy”; a continuous act of juggling, where the balls that land in your hand vary from the all-too-real to the incredibly surreal. In Dora’s diary we hear mention of a king in yellow. Minimal research uncovers the fact that “The King in Yellow” is a horror anthology written by Robert W. Chambers, a grouping of supernatural stories where all the characters are linked together by a mystifying play entitled, “The King in Yellow.” This play, the story tells, drives all the characters mad when he or she reads it. These stories are underlined by terrors of the unknown, and hint at an unspeakable truth behind existence, one that the human mind cannot process. The parallels between True Detective and this frightful anthology are many, and the truths uncovered in each may tell us more about ourselves than we may care to know. But facing yourself in the mirror3, and standing up to the hard truths in life, is essential to discovery, to knowing what this all really means, if anything.

The picture is beginning to come into focus, and as it meticulously becomes clear we just might be able to understand who these two men are, and the journey that led them to present day. And it is increasingly becoming evident that in the understanding there will ultimately be satisfaction. Because to know who we are, as Detective Cohle simply states, “there’s a victory in that.”

  1. The Wire’s Clay Davis would be honored in hearing the “shiiiiiiitt” Detective Cohle dropped during that interrogation! []
  2. I am still shivering thinking about, and unrelentingly questioning, why she would say “”Why wouldn’t a father bathe his own child?” in regards to Dora’s father. Implications of sexual abuse abound. []
  3. Speaking of mirrors, the image of Cohle’s mirror, which is merely the size of a quarter, still has me rattled. Only big enough to reflect a single eye, as if to him all that matters is looking into his soul, not the distraction of vanity. []

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *